Last Thursday, Nov. 4, acclaimed author Tim O’Brien held a reading and Q&A session in the Interfaith Chapel. The free event was part of this year’s Big Read program, and was sponsored by UR’s English department, Writers and Books and the National Endowment for the Arts. O’Brien isn’t a singer-songwriter, nor did he direct any of the “X-Men” movies. Meanwhile, he did write “The Things They Carried,” the classic Vietnam novel that many people don’t graduate high school without reading for a class. So why, then, would his visit get such little promotion compared to other recent speakers? “I was pretty disappointed to hear about the Tim O’Brien event after it already happened,” senior Hilary Hoffman said. “I didn’t remember seeing anything about it on campus, and I would have really liked to see him speak. I only found out after a friend who is an English major told me about it, and she had only found out from her professor.”
Sure, all on-campus events are not created equal — a performance by OK Go is going to get a lot more attention than a visit from an author. But there’s the problem: those big events already get plenty of attention. Why not give smaller events, which would nonetheless draw a respectable audience, an extra push?
When UR is getting a visit from Brett Ratner or Matt Nathanson, it’s almost impossible to walk anywhere without seeing posters for the event well in advance. As for events like Alpha Traz and Anchor Slam, it actually is impossible to go anywhere without seeing posters — not to mention tables set up to promote the events, tiny promo cards left on dining tables, and Facebook event pages. A speaker like O’Brien will get several posters and notifications, but compared to other similar events, he is virtually ignored. The same thing happened with Meliora Weekend events -— advertisements for Jim Gaffigan’s performance were basically omnipresent, yet there was almost no mention of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz visiting the Interfaith Chapel the same weekend.
Sorority events and “celebrity” speakers are plugged so heavily because they have specific campus groups devoted to giving such strong promotion. For speakers with a more academic appeal, it’s up to UR’s academic departments to give those events a greater push. Whenever UR gets a speaker of stature, it’s something to be proud of, and just because an author is decidedly less famous than a comedian doesn’t mean he’s less deserving of promotional space throughout campus.

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