On Sept. 17, the Berkshire community welcomed Emily St. John Mandel, author of four novels, including most recently, this year’s All-School Read (ASR) selection, Station Eleven.
The ASR keynote event began at all-school meeting where two members of the sixth form, Maddie Devost '19 and Harley Frechette '19, interviewed Mandel on stage. Their conversation consisted of questions submitted by students and was followed by a Q&A with the audience.
Students, faculty, and staff entered Allen Theater to the sounds of Beethoven’s Ninth’s Symphony, in honor of Station Eleven’s fictional Traveling Symphony that sets out on the road performing works by Beethoven and Shakespeare after a flu pandemic wipes out 99% of the Earth’s population.
The notion that the arts would sustain civilization in a post-apocalyptic world is a central theme in the book. Mandel explained that the symphony’s motto, “Survival is insufficient,” is a phrase she borrowed from a Star Trek Voyager episode: “[It’s] a very elegant expression of something I believe to be true: Survival is never enough for us, which is why we have things like books and sports and music that go beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter.”
Mandel answered questions about the book’s plot, characters, and story structure, as well as her path to becoming a writer. “When I was growing up, writing was a hobby, but it was something that I found wouldn’t let me go,” she said. “The whole time I was writing Station Eleven, I had a part-time day job in a research lab, and I had really flexible hours which was incredibly fortunate. My writing process has always been a matter of trying to write whenever and wherever I can.”
After all-school meeting, Mandel visited with English classes in Crawford Family Lecture Hall, where she answered more questions about the writing and publishing process; she then had lunch with students and faculty in deWindt dining room. “I learned so much about writing and publishing a book,” said Gigi Brown '20, who attended lunch with the author. “Getting an inside scoop of her own path to a writing career was eye opening,” Brown continued.
“The All-School Read is a welcome opportunity each year at Berkshire to connect as a community over a shared reading experience,” said Head of School Pieter Mulder after the event. “The discussion with Ms. Mandel was a great moment for Berkshire, and I'm particularly proud of Maddie and Harley for their poise onstage and for leading the discussion so deftly. Ms. Mandel was smart, accessible, and funny, and her candor allowed students insight into her writing process while also illuminating some of Station Eleven's big themes... the fleeting nature of civilization, the power of the arts to sustain us, and the resilience of the human spirit.”
To see Berkshire’s own Museum of Civilization exhibit, inspired by the Museum of Civilization in Station Eleven and curated by Mr. Giordano and Mrs. Pollock, head to Geier Library or peruse the catalog here. You can learn more about Emily St. John Mandel here.