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Tolles Lecturer Suzan-Lori Parks Shares ‘A Million Suggestions’


Pieces of advice zoomed by the audience at the speed of sound during Pulitzer Prize-winning author Suzan-Lori Parks’ Tolles lecture at Hamilton on Saturday, March 5. Parks’ wise words, which she called “A Million Suggestions” and demonstrated artfully by making loud, garbled sounds into her microphone, provided valuable insights into the writing process and being a global citizen during a time of chaos.

Parks’ first suggestion to the audience was to entertain all “far-out ideas.” As she explained, Parks’ own journey to becoming a writer seemed, at many times, to be implausible. At the end of her high school career, when her English teacher discouraged her from studying literature and writing in college because of Parks’ poor performance on spelling quizzes, pursuing a career as a writer –  a dream she’d had since fourth grade –  seemed impractical and unwise.

Eventually, after a brief stint in the chemistry labs at her alma mater of Mount Holyoke College, Parks found her way back to English by taking a class taught by James Baldwin, her childhood hero. “I was able to re-member myself, literally,” she said. “Reigniting my passion put myself back together; it brought my members back together.”

The remainder of Parks’ suggestions ranged from meditating, to practicing radical inclusion of others, to taking the stairs, encompassing the minute details of everyday life and massive philosophical questions all at once. She illustrated this advice by providing examples of her personal writing process, historical messages from the Civil Rights movements, and quotes from important thinkers in her life.

After an inspiring and candid exploration of her career and her path to success as a writer, Parks shared her one-millionth and final suggestion: Enjoy the trip. She explained that succeeding and even simply surviving in hectic, unprecedented times require patience with oneself and the world, and a daily reaffirmed commitment to doing good.

“Sometimes you feel like all you’re getting is breadcrumbs, just crumbs of what you need to move forward,” she said. “And while that is a tough place to be, know that breadcrumbs are enough to get you home.”

The Tolles lecture is an annual series sponsored by the Winton J. Tolles Lecture Fund, established in 1991 by members of Hamilton’s Class of 1951 in memory of Winton Tolles, Class of 1928 and dean of the College from 1947 to 1972. The fund enables the College to bring to campus distinguished speakers in the fields of literature, journalism, and theater to lecture and meet with students.

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