A staff member talks a bit about his background before joining the WordFest team. He also has a few book recommendations for the holidays! Check it out!
I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Everett Wilson, and I’m the Arts Administrator here at WordFest. My position includes a mixed bag of responsibilities ranging from programming research, to grant writing & reporting, all the way to marketing, box office assistance, occasional graphic design work, and the ongoing maintenance of the WordFest website.
I started at WordFest in May 2012 after spending a few years in Montreal where I pursued post-graduate studies in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill.
My area of interest was the role of the ‘public intellectual’ in politics and society — a topic that still captures my attention and which seems to lend itself well to the work I now do for WordFest, with our mission to bring readers and writers together to experience the power of story. Intellectuals might write non-fiction for the most part, but narrative is still at the heart of what they do. Without the ability to tell a good story, whatever point they had hoped to make would surely fall flat and fail to engage the reader meaningfully. Without the power of story, they likely wouldn’t be considered public intellectuals, at least as I define them.
There are many ways to define ‘public intellectuals.’ But I would say they have to meet the following criteria:
1) They must take thinking and writing — what I call the ‘life of the mind’ — as their vocation or calling, and be recognized as such by the public. They might be artists, writers, journalists, scholars, or even scientists in some cases.
2) They must have something critical to say about the world we live in, whether it be a commentary about the beliefs, assumptions and ideas that guide the choices we make as a society and culture, or just some form of provocative analysis on a hot topic in current affairs.
3) (…and the key ingredient) They must have a knack for conveying complicated and nuanced positions in an accessible form that a general audience can understand.
The last point is essential. If they’re easy to comprehend, but fall short on sophistication, they might very well be engaging opinion writers, for example, but not necessarily ‘public intellectuals.’ Likewise, if they’re able to come up with fascinating arguments, but can easily lose a general audience in a flurry of incomprehensible jargon, they’re not really ‘public’ intellectuals either. They might be better described as disinterested academics in some cases, or professional experts in other cases.
So why am I talking about my background and my interest in public intellectuals? Well, they inform the kinds of books that eventually find a prominent place in my library and, in particular, the top 3 books on my reading list for the holidays:
- Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger
- “This groundbreaking book shakes the foundations of our concept of knowledge, from the role of facts to the value of books and the authority of experts, providing a compelling vision of the future of knowledge in a connected world” (Source).
- Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility and the Human Imagination by Mark Kingwell
- “Most of these 17 essays focus on the degradation of contemporary political discourse, urban life, and culture. University of Toronto philosopher and Harper’s contributor Kingwell (The World We Want) notes that in lieu of “political literacy,” political conversation today is too often characterized by “insult-swapping and bogus claims,” so that “we can no longer hear, let alone appreciate… a just idea”” (Source).
- The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr
- “In this ground-breaking and compelling book, Nicholas Carr argues that not since Gutenberg invented printing has humanity been exposed to such a mind-altering technology. The Shallows draws on the latest research to show that the Net is literally re-wiring our brains inducing only superficial understanding” (Source).
Thanks for the book recommendations, Everett! We’re curious to know what our readers have on their holiday book list. Feel free to share your own recommendations in the comment field below, or Tweet your wish list to @WordFestTweets.