Award-winning author Anthony Doerr headlines Ogden School District fundraiser

Monday , October 31, 2016 - 9:12 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Award-winning author Anthony Doerr is adding his name to a long list of writers who have attended the Ogden School District Foundation’s annual Fall Author Event.

The event is the foundation’s largest fundraiser every year, drawing about 1,000 people in recent years and filling the Ogden Eccles Conference Center. Other authors who have attended include Ray Bradbury, Amy Tan, Neil Gaiman and Ken Burns.

“I’m happy to come to a place that is pretty similar to where I live and not far away,” Doerr said in an interview with the Standard-Examiner. 

This year’s event on Nov. 10 has already sold out, despite the original author Fannie Flagg bowing out due to health concerns and being replaced by Doerr.

“He has always been at the top of the list,” event Co-Chairwoman Suzanne Lindquist said. “We’ve contacted his agent the last couple of years, and we’re thrilled he’s coming now. He was so understanding and gracious.”

Lindquist said the annual event usually draws between $100,000 and $120,000. “We need it,” she said. “We put a tremendous amount of money back into the schools."

Doerr, who according to his website was born and raised in Ohio, was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. He has also won four O. Henry prizes, the Barnes and Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, among other honors.

Doerr said he hopes to urge people to rethink their definitions of success and failure.

“With anything in life you have to be willing to risk something,” he said.

“All the Light We Cannot See,” which won Doerr’s Pulitzer, tells the story of a blind girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc and a German boy named Werner Pfennig in the era of World War II. The two young protagonists are both inquisitive, especially when it comes to radios, which are being used by both the Germans and the French resistance against Nazi occupation. They eventually meet and fall in love and their story unfolds.

Doerr said he decided to write about that time period because of his own fascination for radio that came from listening to baseball games in his youth. 

“It’s about radio, the war, propaganda,” he said. “It’s about two kids being curious and trying to live in discouraging situations. I was lucky to grow up in a time that allowed for that kind of freedom ... when you see how many resources young people have and what technology can bring to young kids who are curious. You can be a participant in world culture in ways you couldn’t be 80 years ago.”

Foundation President Cindy Kuntz said this year’s focus will be on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). New Bridge Elementary will have its 3-D printer on exhibit at the event; the students use in class.

“We try to give students opportunities even outside of the classroom to learn and enrich their lives,” Kuntz said

During his visit, Doerr will also work with some of the district’s writing students. He said it has been a sheer joy to see teenagers reading “All the Light We Cannot See,” and thinks it’s important for teachers to find a way to get students to enjoy reading.

“It expands your sense of who you are,” he said. “It complicates who you are. You feel less alone in the world.”

Event Co-Chairwoman Pam Nelson said the event center is decorated in the theme of the author’s books and the foundation tries to go all-out. This year they’re even looking at serving French food, in line with Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “We try to have a theme that goes with their books and they usually walk into the conference center and they’re just kind of blown away.”

Nelson said she thinks the event is popular because people want to positively impact the district’s students.

“It’s really a well rounded event,” she said. “We’ve had everything from historical fiction writers to factual writers. We’ve had mountain climbers, Pulitzer Prize winners and even the national poet laureate one year.”

As of Wednesday, Oct. 26, event coordinators were still looking into the possibility of opening an extra room for those on a waiting list to watch Doerr’s presentation. Those interested in a spot on the waiting list can call 801-737-7305.

Doerr declined to comment on anything he’s currently writing but did say he has a project in the works. 

“I’m working on a new book, and it’s fun, and it’s scary, and it’s trying,” he said.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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