by Katie Butler Johnson
The Dallas Museum of Art has a program called “Arts & Letters Live” that brings nationally acclaimed authors and performers to Dallas for ticketed events.
When Arts & Letters Live releases its list of celebrities scheduled for the upcoming year, I pore over it. I’m like that proverbial kid in a candy store trying to make up my mind. This year I had no problem choosing. The authors of my top two all-time favorite books, Abraham Verghese’s “Cutting for Stone” and Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book,” were both on the list. I bought a ticket for each event.
On May 9th, four of us drove together down Central Expressway from McKinney to the DMA for the Verghese event. Having allowed time for Highway 75 rush hour problems which didn’t happen, we arrived early. That got us prime seats in the DMA’s Horchow Auditorium - in the center, just behind reserved seating. We watched as the seats filled and Verghese was introduced. He took hold of and held the room for over an hour. He’s a gifted speaker whose calming voice and brilliant wording captivate you. If you’ve never seen nor heard Verghese - google him. You can find him on UTube delivering an inspirational Ted Talk about the importance of a physician’s touch.
Verghese was born in Ethiopia in 1955. Today he is both a renowned professor at Stanford University Medical School and a best-selling author.
After achieving heights in his medical field, he put his career on hold and went back to school to hone his writing skills. He attended Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop in 1990/91 where he earned a Master of Fine Arts. He has a passion for storytelling and believes that “Stories are how we connect with each other.”
It took Verghese ten years to research and write his current novel, “The Covenant of Water,” while he continued to practice medicine. The book is an epic set in India from roughly 1900-1970, revolving around members of an ancient Christian community said to have been founded by Apostle Thomas. Opera made it one of her Book Club’s books. If you prefer to listen to rather than read books, Verghese’s is the voice on the audio version of the novel.
So many had requested tickets for Arts & Letter’s Live’s June 20th Geraldine Brooks’ event that the DMA changed the venue from its Horchow Auditorium, which seats 345, to the Olan Sanctuary at Temple Emanu-el, which seats 900. My friend and I got there early enough to get a seat in the 4th row.
The event was a conversation between Brooks and Rabbi Debra Robbins. Brooks spoke of growing up in Australia; meeting her future husband in journalism grad school; life as a war correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans; her novels; her love of horses and, believe it or not, her appreciation of . . . . SNAKES!
She shared how difficult it was when her husband, Pulitzer winning journalist Tony Horwitz, died unexpectantly of cardiac arrest in 2019. It took her a long time and much encouragement from friends like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Nina Totenberg to force herself to just SIT DOWN AND WRITE. “Horse” was the book she worked on as she worked through her grief. Today she lives with her dog Bear and a mare named Valentine by an old mill pond in Martha’s Vineyard.
Brooks and her husband were a powerhouse literary couple. They both earned Pulitzers: he in 1995 for covering stories of working conditions in low wage America; she in 2006 for fiction in writing “March.” If you haven’t read “March,” it centers around Robert March, the father mentioned but not fleshed out in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” Brooks’ novel follows March as he leaves his family to help the Union during the Civil War.
It's fun to get to know a little more than just what’s written on the book cover flap about the authors who create the stories and write the books we love. These Arts & Letter live events give us the opportunity to do just that.