Friday, November 21, 2008

A Recent Evening With Maureen Dowd

Maureen Dowd walked to the podium as an expectant audience watched, waited and listened for her words. She carried a noticeably large book manuscript-size packet of papers she placed on the stand before her. Humorously, she noted that amount of written material appeared to be the equivalent of War and Peace, but she quickly reassured us we wouldn't be hearing it all. She added that speaking wasn't her strongest talent, so she needed this written support.

The occasion was Ms Dowd's recent appearance as a guest speaker at Claremont McKenna College's Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. (CMC was known as Claremont Men's College but, after becoming coeducational some years ago, they finally changed the college's name.) Ms Dowd is one of forty-one speakers throughout this Fall Semester invited to speak to the subject "Critical Topics in World History." Of the six underlying themes her talk was part of the one focused on "Perspectives on Election 2008: The Media Revolution."

This program was preceded by a dinner attended by students. After their dinner, any seats left in the room were available to community members who were admitted free. I learned later Ms Dowd's appearance was of such interest the couple seated next to me had driven from distant Loma Linda when freeway traffic would have extended the time of their drive even longer.

I arrived fifty minutes early to discover there was already a long line of interested individuals outside the Athenaeum waiting to enter. When we were allowed inside, an audible count was being made as we walked through the door, so that once the available seats had been filled they could end the admissions.

Eventually, the walls at the back of the room were lined with people standing. At the room's front from the speaker's podium radiating outward, long tables were lined on each side with students who were now receiving their dessert after having finished the dinner course.

I've enjoyed numerous events in varying campus locations through the years that have been presented by one or the other of the seven independent colleges composing the Claremont University Consortium. Years past I sat in some of their large college auditoriums and have been entertained by a variety of speakers and stage performers. Some that immediately come to mind are Benny Goodman, the clarinetist (without his orchestra, see YouTube video) then Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain (see YouTube video.) I especially recall Maya Angelou's appearance.

Now on this November Monday night, I was on the CMC campus, this time listening to Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed columnist, New York Times, author of a book I read several years ago: Bushworld: Enter At Your Own Risk. She is a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary. The Pulitzer committee particularly cited her columns on the impeachment of Bill Clinton after his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Maureen Dowd's talk at CMC included a brief description of growing up in Washington, D.C. where her father was a police detective and her mother a homemaker. She noted she still has numerous staunchly Republican relatives. Her family resided in an area where the school student body was composed of mixed races.

She continued recounting her personal history by briefly speaking of how she evolved into becoming a news writer after a beginning stint in sports reporting. In college she had been a Shakespearean fascinated by the social and political intrigues of those long classic stories. Their ageless universal plots center on human nature and the many shades of men and women's behavior from the loving to the perverse, so prevalent through the ages. After graduation, she became gainfully, happily and contentedly employed as a waitress, possibly as a respite from intense studies, I speculate. Eventually, her parents penetrated the comfort level of what might be described as an insulated cocoon that she was in no hurry to leave. They informed her, she said, that having paid for her higher education they expected her to seek work in a more professional arena offering a potential in keeping with her educational level.

Pressed to find and utilize her talents she progressed through various news organizations including The Washington Post and Time. Eventually she covered presidential campaigns and became a White House correspondent. Given her educational background she began to notice the Shakespearean aspect to the events, lives and activities of the individuals she was encountering for her news stories. Her writing, beginning to reflect this influence, has resulted in all those about whom she writes being subjected to her particular commentary perspective and style, regardless of their political party affiliation.

Her intent is to be non-partisan, she says, though she is sometimes accused of being otherwise. She believes those with opposing views equally see her as catering to the other side. Her words and opinions have been variously praised and criticized depending upon each reader's reaction. She clearly employs a biting wit on occasion that has been characterized as being quite acerbic. This facet surfaced in the stories she shared with us. I enjoy how she laces her words on serious issues with an underlying current of humor through the prism of her perspective.

You can enjoy Ms Dowd's observations in some of her thought provoking New York Times opinion pieces.

Her talk referenced many of the stories and individuals with whom she has had contact and/or about whom she has written including Hillary and Bill Clinton, John McCain, Sarah and Todd Palin, Barack and Michelle Obama, the Bushes, and Dick Cheney. The subject of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, their influence and possible lessons to be learned from them, introduced by a student's question after her talk prompted Ms Dowd to recall an experience. She related how her natural curiosity prompted her to ask Stewart in an interview when writing an article published in Rolling Stone how they're able to find so many of the videos they use on their television shows? Stewart, she said, told her very simply, "interns," researching and viewing lots of clips.

Her stories sometimes included references to personal friends, some of whom she has been linked romantically.

More of my experience will conclude in another written piece here about Maureen Dowd to be posted soon. Included will be her entertaining comments regarding some individuals named above, along with a few observational words from Ms Dowd's unique angle screened through her thought processes.


  1. WOW!!!!!!!! I really would have enjoyed that!!!! How lucky you are!!!!!

  2. I look forward to the next piece about her comments.

  3. I love the way Maureen Dowd can zing in on something. She really has her own way of making a point and it's excellent. Like Kenju I, too, look forward to the next piece.

  4. Her experiences are varied and she relates them so well. I appreciate those who can be in the midst of the forest and still see the trees.

  5. I LOVE Maureen Dowd and look forward each week to her two Op-Ed pieces....I love her humor and her biting wit and her "heart", too.....I think she is so right on the money 95% of the time!
    What a treat to have heard her speak! I look forward to your next installment, my dear.

  6. How interesting. I would have loved to see her speak and am glad i got a vicarious view at least. I also like Camile Paglia and would love to hear her someday also.