The University of San Diego and KPBS welcomed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks (pictured, left) and the local community to campus on Wednesday for a One Book, One San Diego special presentation by Brooks, who discussed her 2011 New York Times best-selling book, Caleb’s Crossing.
The event was part of a fall kick-off for the all-city book reading selection and it gave community members a chance to hear the Australian novelist discuss inspiration for the book, the writing process and the history of Harvard’s Indian College. She spoke about her own upbringing and her experiences in journalism as a foreign correspondent. She answered questions and then signed copies of the book outside Warren Auditorium in SOLES’ Mother Rosalie Hill Hall.
Brooks’ appearance marked a first for Copley Library’s involvement with the One Book, One San Diego program, now in its seventh year. The community event is a partnership between KPBS, San Diego Public Library and the San Diego County Library and other supporters. Martha Adkins, Copley Library assistant professor and reference librarian, is a member of One Book, One San Diego’s advisory committee. She said hosting Wednesday’s event at USD was wonderful and will hopefully be one of many types of collaborative opportunities.
“The library is thrilled to partner with KPBS on One Book, One San Diego,” said Theresa Byrd, USD Dean of the University Library. “This is a wonderful program that promotes reading and gives Copley Library and USD the opportunity to invite the community to our campus.”
Caleb’s Crossing, though, was the focus. A brief book synopsis: “In 1665, Caleb becomes the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. It’s a tale of love, faith, magic and adventure. Bethia Mayfield, who years after an education that is closed by her sex, at 12, encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonel elite. Bethia finds herself indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb’s crossing of cultures.”
Brooks talked about the strategy she had to write a novel with historic implications, and she spoke of her fact-finding methods and the dignity involved in the details —particularly pinning down voices and language to maintain authenticity — for writing the book. And, because there wasn’t a previous written account of Caleb’s journey, it heightened Brooks’ desire to write this story.
“If I’m going to do a book or story I have to have that void,” she said. “If there was a journal that he’d kept about what he had done, there would be no need for a novelist to tell this story. It would have required a narrator.”
The character of Bethia Mayfield, however, serves as a narrator-type character, as she goes through a crossing of cultures, much like Caleb, who is a member of the Wampanoag tribe.
Brooks earned the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for her 2005 fiction novel, March, and has written other standout novels such as Year of Wonders and People of the Book. The latter two are international best sellers and have been translated into 25 different languages. Other books authored by Brooks are nonfiction selections, Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Brooks has also written for the Sydney Morning Herald in her native Australia and, later, The Wall Street Journal.
Wednesday’s event concluded Brooks’ appearances in San Diego. Community readings of Caleb’s Crossing will take place each Tuesday in October (1, 8, 15, 22, 29) and Nov. 5 and 12 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the University Community Branch Library in San Diego.
— Ryan T. Blystone