David Margolick, author of Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, delivered the 2015 Montclair Book keynote address on September 24 to some 550 Montclair State University students, faculty, staff, and community members.
Margolick began by briefly summarizing the book before contextualizing it within the racial divide in existence following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954 that declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Margolick explained his inspiration for writing the book: seeing a photo of Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery together as adults, the ultimate visual representation of unity in the aftermath of U.S. racial tension. He was eager for others to know their story and felt compelled to tell it, as Margolick believes writers should write the stories they come across, rather than waiting for another author to do so.
His speech had a great appeal for aspiring nonfiction writers, who could appreciate his advice on writing with honesty, posing questions with the mindset of a reporter, representing people as accurately as possible, and enduring the meticulous—and often lengthy—process of retelling a pivotal story based on how individuals remember moments of their past. However, Margolick also spoke largely to the fundamental themes of humanity present in the book and Elizabeth and Hazel’s relationship apart from the text, such as the salt of old wounds, the nature of forgiveness, the challenges associated with socioeconomic dynamics, the attempts to reconcile varying interests and competing perspectives, and much more. He concluded with a call to action: that the audience members consider ways to bring the now-estranged Elizabeth and Hazel together again, perhaps by writing letters to President Obama suggesting he invite the two to the White House. This, Margolick believes, would be a tough offer for Elizabeth and Hazel to pass up and perhaps a final opportunity for renewed reconciliation.
The audience’s overwhelming interest in Margolick’s address was evidenced by the amount of participants who stepped up to the microphone during the Q&A portion of the event. The content of questions ranged from Elizabeth and Hazel’s current relationship, to Margolick’s writing process, to how Margolick believes the story would have been different had the photo captured two men or a man and a woman instead of two women. Following the Q&A, many attendees lined the hallway for Margolick to sign their books, and the author graciously stayed for everyone.
On behalf of the entire Montclair State University community, the cosponsors of the Montclair Book Event—the Center for Writing Excellence, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the First-Year Writing Program, and Student Development and Campus Life—extend their sincere gratitude to David Margolick for participating in this outstanding event.
For more information about the Montclair Book Program, visit http://www.montclair.edu/center-for-writing-excellence/montclair-book/
To purchase a copy of Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, visit the Montclair State University bookstore.