Monday, May 04, 2009

International Reading Association Annual Conference -- Opening Session

So far the conference has been great. I'm exhausted at the end of the day and my brain is bursting. So are my bags from the exhibits free books! Gotta love free books. Even if many of them are just advance reader copies.

I'll try to do a few posts on my favorite bits:

The Khaled Hosseini portion of the opening session.

His talk was about his journey toward becoming a writer. He said it was never a "choice" for him, like Jessica Rabbit, "It's how he was drawn."

Hosseini told us the story of his family's move from his happy childhood home in Kabul to Paris in 1976 for his dad's work and finally to San Jose, CA in 1980, because to return to Kabul meant certain death for his father and possibly all of them-- he told us California stories about the things his parents did to provide for them.

He told us specifically about the five steps he took to becoming a writer which included things like learning English in grade 9, working a variety of jobs, one of which was a security guard that had cameras on him so he couldn't do much other than sit... no reading etc. But he could write and write he did. Finally he became a doctor.

In the spring of 1999 he heard that kite flying, a central image from his childhood, was banned in Afghanistan and it prompted him to write a short story which he expected would be a pleasant story of kite flying. What emerged was a short story of betrayal, loss, friendship and forgiveness.

In March of 2001, he finally finished an expanded version of the short story. This was the novel The Kite Runner. Refused to believe he was a "success" until he heard a question about his book on Jeopardy. If Alex Trebek says so, I guess I am was his rationale!

He never claimed to be an expert on Afganistan and really felt inadequate when people would ask him to be such. Yet, in response to that expectation he's begun to learn. He shared with us the state of things in Afghanistan today and went on to explain where things went wrong. This was all very interesting and could probably be an entirely separate blog post. In September of 2007 he took a trip to Afghanistan and it was a life altering experience for Hossieni and it prompted him to create a foundation to fund projects for Afghan women and children which partners with the UN refugee organization HCR.

His bottom line in his talk: Apathy is the most dangerous thing in our world today. We've become lulled in our self-centered lives of comfort and we do nothing. Though that might seem cynical, the reality is so many of us realize suffering is inevitable and pervasive. Thus we are defeated and overwhelmed by it. We become fatalistic. But we are not helpless and we need to break the shackles of apathy. He doesn't want his kids to have an insular existence--he wants them to understand the world has suffering, but that we are NOT helpless and we can always DO something. It was an inspiring talk.

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