"You know what I like about Sarah Vowell books?" Jon Stewart asked Vowell on an episode of The Daily Show a few years ago. "I laugh, and I learn."
On April 16, the writer, historian and comedian, who's known for her frequent contributions to This American Life and her six books that aim to link an American past to an American present, lectures at Tulane's Woldenberg Art Center at 6 p.m. The lecture will take place in the Freeman Auditorium and there will be a book signing after.
Vowell's most recent book, Unfamiliar Fishes, is about the annexation of Hawaii, and the author fleshes out the history of America's first plunge into imperialism with her usually witty wise-cracks and satire. In all of Vowell's books and essays and columns there's a good collection of party facts, lovingly described by the author who dug them up from obscurity. (I still break the ice sometimes with cool things I learned about John Wilkes Booth from the book Assassination Vacation, in which Vowell becomes obsessed with the assassinations of three Republican presidents and dives into the history of each.) But Vowell's books are more than that; they are well-researched, comprehensive forays into our country's past that manage to say something profound about who we are and why we are the way we are.
From her essay, You Sir, Are No Rosa Parks:
"I would also like to mention rocker, marksman and conservative activist Ted Nugent, who, in his autobiography "God, Guns and Rock 'n' Roll" refers to himself as "Rosa Parks with a loud guitar." That's so inaccurate; everyone knows he's more like Mary Matalin with a fancy deer rifle."
"It's not just people on the right like Katherine Harris and Ted Nugent who seem especially silly being likened to Parks. I first cringed at this "Rosa Parks c'est moi" phenomenon last October at Ralph Nader's lefty rally at Madison Square Garden. Ever sit in a coliseum full of people who think they're heroes? I was surrounded by thousands of well-meaning, well-fed white kids who loved it when filmmaker Michael Moore told them they should, like Rosa Parks, stand up to power, by which I think he meant vote for Nader so he could qualify for federal matching funds. When Nader himself mentioned abolitionists in Mississippi in 1836 and asked the crowd to "think how lonely it must have been," he was answered, according to my notes, with a "huge, weird cheer." I think I'm a fine enough person — why, the very next morning I was having people over for waffles. But I hope I'm not being falsely modest by pointing out that I'm no Harriet Tubman. And I'm certainly no Rosa Parks. As far as I'm concerned, about the only person in recent memory who has an unimpeachable right to compare himself to Parks is that Chinese student who stared down those tanks at Tiananmen Square."
The lecture, which is part of Tulane's Kylene and Bradley Beers Lecture Series, is free and open to the public.