Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Visits Free Minds!

“I believe in the power of stories,” said author Lawrence Wright, sitting around a table with Free Minds students on March 28th. “People like me go out and collect stories, try to understand them, and frame them so others can understand.”

This was his explanation for what drove him to write his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the Cline Visiting Professor at the UT Humanities Institute, told students that he started writing The Looming Tower “basically on 9/11.” In order to understand what had happened, he had to find the human stories behind the catastrophe. “I wanted to answer the question: what happened to us and who are we as a result of that?”

This required extensive research at home and abroad. He interviewed 600 people, including Osama bin Laden’s son and his best childhood friend, as well as many “fixers” – local journalists who knew sources and acted as translators.

Students asked Wright how he kept all 600 of his sources straight (his answer: lots of note cards). The conversation around the table shifted from conspiracy theories to Wikileaks and the ethics of sharing potentially dangerous information.

In the end, students gave Wright a round of applause, and he returned the compliment. “I have much respect for adult students,” he said. “Learning continues all through life.”

Thanks to Humanities Institute director, Dr. Pauline Strong, for organizing Wright’s visit to Free Minds.

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