Visiting authors bring compelling presentations to RWU

On Oct. 15., first year students filed into the field house around 7 p.m., quickly filling the seats for Dr. Danielle Allen’s presentation on her book, “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.” 

“Our Declaration” was RWU’s common reading book for the class of 2023. Students were asked to submit questions in their writing classes and Roger Seminars, which would then be asked when Allen came.   

Allen’s book is a close reading on the Declaration of Independence and looks at the document’s meaning line by line, leading to thought-provoking realizations. When Allen took the stage at RWU, applause erupted from the audience. Allen said she came up with the idea to write the book from a night class she taught. In the presentation she told students, “I wrote this book for you,” and revealed a shocking fact that only 30% of millennials believe democracy is essential. 

When speaking, the author honed in on the second line of the Declaration of Independence, saying if anything, this is the one part she wanted students to remember.

Allen brought relevant topics to the table, talking about Hong Kong and how protests occurring there show the need for democracy. 

“I love democracy. I want you guys to love it too,” Allen said.

It was a shame, however, that most students in the audience did not exhibit appropriate respect for the presenter. Constant chatter and goofing off persisted throughout the event, making it hard to concentrate on Allen and hear what she had to say. Looking around, those students not talking with friends had their heads down, staring at their phones. 

The behavior did not cast a positive representation of the university. There were individuals in the crowd who paid attention, but they were few and far between. 

Overall, Allen’s presentation on “Our Declaration” added insight on the Declaration of Independence through intimate examination. Her passion for the topic was noticeable and made the event even more inspiring.

Author Christopher Castellani talked about his newest book, “Leading Men,” in the library on Oct. 16 to a group of students, RWU faculty and members of the Rogers Free Library in Bristol. Castellani’s historical fiction novel follows the life of Frank Merlo, who was known as Tennessee Williams’ lover. 

Castellani used the first half of his presentation to address two commonly asked questions: How much of the book is made up? Where did this idea come from? 

Castellani remarked that Truman Capote’s party in Portofino, Italy and the romantic relationship between Merlo and Williams did occur. The idea of the story came about in the 1990s from Castellani’s interest in Merlo and Williams’ lives. Merlo, dying from cancer, was left waiting for Williams to visit him before he passed. The sad result was Williams never came.

Hearing this, Castellani wondered what could’ve happened to the two’s relationship between their time in Portofino, Italy and 10 years later when Merlo passed away. Castellani found the story of the two lovers riveting and kept it in the back of his mind for years. He knew he wanted to write something, but didn’t know what.

During Castellani’s college grad program, he wrote a short story out of the ideas he had and the research he’d collected. Still, a short story didn’t delve as deep as he wanted. Eventually, after publishing three other books, Castellani felt as though he finally had a full story on Merlo and Williams and hit the ground running with the idea. 

According to Castellani, not much has been recorded about Merlo’s life but reading Merlo’s journals, which helped the author get inside Merlo’s head. Between the research and writing, “Leading Men” had been in the works for 16 years. Castellani also wanted to please Merlo’s existing family with the book. To his excitement, the family said they loved it and invited him over for dinner. 

Castellani’s book strictly focuses on Merlo for a reason. He wanted to tell Merlo’s story since it is lesser known. Although there is not a lot of first-hand information on Merlo, Castellani wanted to express what he thought Merlo would be like.

During the second half of the presentation, Castellani read from several pages of “Leading Men.” It was obvious that the room was enraptured in Castellani’s text. The room was so quiet and still while he read, one could hear a pin drop. The presentation was entertaining, informative and all-around worth attending.