Editor’s Note: This post first appeared here December 16, 2010.
cross-posted at RuFreeman.com
A few years ago, when I was working at an elite liberal arts college, I held a freelance job as a writer for the college magazine. Part of my duties included covering speakers who came to campus, one of whom was Cornel West. The piece I wrote, ‘Single Man March,’ was drawn from the six pages of notes that I took, notes that transcribed every word that was being uttered in the room, from the introduction of the speaker to the last response from Mr. West to a question from the audience. I don’t always work that way. I’ve had the kind of education that trained me to pick out the important details from the mass of superfluous fluff that usually punctuates our speech. The things that give me a solid opening for an article or those that highlight a point I wish to make, appear in the auditory version of highlighted text in a book, and I write it down.
Cornel West however is a different cup of tea. His eminence and his intellect combines with his fast paced speech to make it literally impossible to simply wait for “the important pieces.” Every word, every sentence carries something of note, something worth listening to, something worth capturing in an overview. I do not believe in disturbing everybody else at a gathering with the clacking of my keyboard and Cornel West does not allow his speeches to be taped. The task before me then was to simply write down everything. Pen the paper and my ears; these were my tools. In writing about Mr. West, I described him using the words of a faculty member who had called him, with a nod and a smile, during her introduction, “and, yes, the violent and eloquent public intellectual he is.” She seemed, in her remarks, to be carrying over something they had talked about prior to their arrival on stage; at the private dinner, maybe.