Tracy Kidder spoke at the school where I work the other day. This was a pretty big deal. It's Tracy Kidder! Pulitzer Prize winning author! I was looking forward to hearing him talk.
I have not read anything by Tracy Kidder, shame on me. I actually have Strength in What Remains, his newest book, sitting on my bookshelf. I totally meant to read it before I saw him speak. Really I did. But there was always a YA book I wanted to read first getting in my way. I swear, as soon as I'm done with Sapphique, I will read it. It's good to read an adult, nonfiction book every now and then.
The talk, I'm sorry to say, was a disappointment. Tracy Kidder is not a good public speaker. Not at all. And I was surprised, which isn't really fair. I guess I just assumed, that being Tracy Kidder, he must have to give speeches and talks and lectures and do interviews all the time. And if he wasn't a good speaker, he'd take lessons and learn how to be one so he could present himself well. This was not the case. The speech sounded very canned. He was reading off a paper the whole time, and despite this, it felt disorganized and confused. He kept going off on tangents and then getting back to his shaky main point. How could he be reading from a script but still be totally disorganized? It just didn't make sense.
I totally missed his point, because I zoned out somewhere in the middle. My colleague thought he was mostly talking about his writing process. It seemed like mostly he was talking about what the book was about. Maybe if I'd read the book I would have an easier time following it, but if I'd read the book, why would I need him to tell me what the book was about?
I think the main problem, aside from the fact he's not a great public speaker, and some people just aren't, was that he didn't think about whom he was going to be talking to. Usually when we have speakers, they come understanding that this probably isn't their usual audience. It's a whole bunch of teenage girls. And they've thought about what's going to interest a whole bunch of teenage girls. What going to speak to them. Tracy Kidder very clearly did the speech he's been giving when talking about Strength in What Remains and it just didn't engage them.
I thought it was interesting that Kidder was making it very clear that he was NOT a humanitarian or an activist; he's just a writer and reporter and is reporting other people's stories. This was too bad, because I think the kids would have been much more interested in hearing about the people. The things he's done, the places he's been, the people he's met. Not about his writing process. Tracy Kidder is an interesting guy who no doubt has some interesting stories. It's a shame we didn't get to hear them. The kids were most engaged when Kidder showed some pictures from Ghana, but he didn't really have much to say about the them.
So in conclusion: Tracy Kidder, excellent writer, so I've been told, not such a great public speaker. This does not diminish the work he's done or the books he has written. I am looking forward to reading Strength in What Remains, but would not attended another one of his talks.