Thursday, September 6, 2012

Alice Hoffman's Lecture

Assignment #4

Alice Hoffman's Lecture

Walking into the makeshift auditorium, a sea of faces greeted me, most of them FYS freshmen, some faculty. The side of the basketball court we were situated on was illuminated by harsh floodlights hanging from the ceiling, not succeeding at making me feel more welcome than I already was. The crowd seated on the bleachers was buzzing as I went up to take my seat, not all that enthusiastic to be there. After a couple of minutes of waiting, one of the faculty went up to the podium and introduced Alice Hoffman, the author of the book The River King, among the other books and screenplays she wrote. Another person by the name of Dr. Pagan then told us about Alice Hoffman's career as a writer. After some applause, Alice Hoffman then took the stage.

The first thing I noticed about Alice Hoffman was how generic she looked. She looked as if she just drove her kids to soccer practice, and came back. She was wearing a small black sweater over a laced purple shirt, with matching black leggings. Mrs. Hoffman looked nice enough to me, kind of like an elementary school teacher. She introduced herself, and then told us a bit about her life. She never really dreamed about going to college, being from a working-class neighborhood, so she took a generic job (the name escapes me) which she quit after working there for half a day. That got a few chortles out of the audience. She then immediately signed up for college, following up her four years there at grad school in Stanford. I gleaned off of this that she was a highly educated woman, even if I didn't like the book The River King.

One interesting fact about Alice Hoffman is that she penned The River King while receiving treatment for cancer, which influenced her greatly in her writing. She likened the metal table she lay on during her treatments to a raft, which seemed like interesting inspiration to the book. "Writing was my only escape," she stated, in a matter-of-fact way. It made sense, as undergoing treatment for cancer is a very painful process, which some people don't even live through. So, that need for escapism in times of strife made sense.

She then started a questionnaire after her introduction, of which I thought dragged out the lecture somewhat. There were several questions which seemed inane, but one of them stood out to me. One of them was from the left side of the bleachers. "Who is the main character of The River King?"

Alice Hoffman's answer was intriguing. She first asked us who we thought was the main character. I was among the group who answered August Pierce. "In truth," she said, "The main character is whoever you want it to be, as I decided to write about a community, not a single character in particular." I thought that was rare, as it went against what I considered was proper storytelling, i.e. fleshing out a main character with other secondary characters supporting the main one. It was an interesting way to write a book, albeit against the norm.

Alice Hoffman also talked about the theme of bullying in The River King, as Gus Pierce was the ultimate victim. She stated that her inspiration for this aspect of the book was from her son, who was a victim of hazing and bullying at a prep school. It made sense, as a lot of writers find inspiration from the people and places around them. "Remaining silent is just playing into the bully's hands," informed Mrs. Hoffman. It seemed that way, as Gus Pierce remained silent during the book, and ended up floating face-down in the Haddan River.

I believe the lecture that Alice Hoffman gave was informative, but failed to captivate me. It didn't help that I didn't enjoy The River King, either. So, with my posterior numb from sitting on a bleacher for an hour and thirty minutes, I left with the crowd after giving token applause to the woman who's book I would promptly forget about after I'm done needing to do assignments on it.

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