By Garrett Wissel
Elm Staff Writer
On Thursday, Sept. 21, Washington College held its annual First-Year Book Event in Decker Theatre. This year’s selected work was “Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape,” by Dr. Lauret Savoy, the David B. Truman professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
Co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Joseph H. McLain Lecture Series in Environmental Studies, the event featured a reading of select passages by Dr. Savoy and began a dialogue about race and identity before an assembled audience of WC faculty, staff, and students, as well as members of the community.
It’s this subject matter that earned “Trace” critical acclaim. It is the winner of the American Book Award (from the Before Columbus Foundation), winner of the ASLE Environmental Creative Writing Award, and a finalist for the PEN American Open Book Award.
The event page on the College’s website describes the First-Year Book Program as one that “introduces new students to WC’s wealth of opportunities to hear interesting lectures and presentations outside of the classroom,” and with this objective in mind, “Trace” serves as an ideal selection for the First-Year Book. Savoy’s website describes “Trace” as “a provocative mosaic of personal journeys and historical inquiry across a continent and time.”
Dr. James Hall, associate professor of English and director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, delivered the opening remarks at the seminar.
“Trace,” he said, “treats selfhood as having archeological layers, as having a history, and a geopolitical one at that.”
Savoy proceeded to offer a reading of three different chapters from her book, focusing on her own childhood experiences with location and memory, and also exploring how history has been skewed to ignore the stories of the less fortunate, such as enslaved Africans working on American plantations.
Following her readings, Savoy opened up the floor to questions about the meaning behind her work, as well as her own opinions on the current geopolitical climate.
According to Savoy, “Trace” is a demanding work towards its reader, asking for a great deal of introspection and analysis.
When asked about the ways in which she thinks college students specifically should tackle this task, she said, “I don’t think there’s a single one way. The one is to realize that questioning is alright, that questioning is important,” she said. “To live your life openly in relation to other people…not as if you’re an isolated person…but that we’re actually connected,” and choosing to acknowledge those connections by reaching out.
To Savoy, “Trace” is a deeply personal work that still manages to teach those same lessons about connecting with people, and recognizing those connections as building blocks to begin asking the hard questions about life, whether it be as a young child, a student, or an adult.
For Savoy, it all begins with action, and choosing to ask those difficult questions in the first place, because “History,” she said, “is less the events that happened and more the stories told about the events that happened.”
“Trace” is available for purchase on Amazon and most book retailers.