Hughes Lectures are Enriching Experiences

By Gabriella Pozell, Staff Writer

On Oct. 21, I had the pleasure to attend the most recent Hughes Lecture by Doug Van Gundy.

Don’t let the word “lecture” fool you though, this wasn’t a dry or boring experience to say the least. From the moment Gundy arrived wearing his Ray-Ban glasses, Converse sneakers, and fiddle in hand, he had my attention. He was personable and fun, and joked with the audience throughout.

Van Gundy is an Appalachian poet and musician from Elkins, W.Va. in Randolph County. His family history extends as far as the 1780’s in West Virginia. He discussed his family background which puts him in a unique place as an artist. On one side of his family, he is the second person to have ever attended college, and on the other side, he is a fifth generation professor.

Van Gundy admitted that he didn’t always embrace his Appalachian identity. He used to distance himself from anything that resembled his home and attended college as far away as he could, in Salt Lake City. He also used to be in a rock and roll band, but that all changed in 1993 when he decided to study the fiddle.

Regarding Appalachian music and culture, he shared, “I tried to run away from it as hard as I could and then found myself drawn back. Whatever the spiritual equivalent of scurvy was, I was missing that vitamin.”

His experiences about trying to run away from his Appalachian roots really resonated with me. I’ll admit that as a young person growing up in the Ohio Valley, I have daydreamed on a regular basis about leaving it. Van Gundy taught me that we can take pride in our background and even translate that into art.

His Hughes Lecture focused on the intersection of music and poetry. With his fiddle, he demonstrated that music can give listeners’ access to emotion immediately. He then explained how writing’s power lies in its specificity. He summed it up by saying, “Music can say, “I’m sad.” Writing can say why.”

As both genres have their own strengths, he argued that they should borrow from each other to give each art form more depth and dimension. Even after his lecture was over, the magic continued. He held a spontaneous fiddle performance on the Quad for a few students who made some requests. Van Gundy played the fiddle with such great feeling that he transferred to his listeners. It was a powerful experience to witness.

Doug Van Gundy’s visit to West Liberty summed up what is so great about the Hughes Lecture Series. As students, we can read authors’ poems or listen to musicians’ works, but it is much more meaningful to be able to see them on a personal, human level. It is so inspiring to meet such passionate and creative people who are successful at what they do. That is what makes the Hughes Lecture program so enriching.

If you missed this Hughes Lecture, don’t hesitate to check out future presentations in the series. They are usually announced on the WLU website, on Hilltopper Headlines, and on posters throughout campus. For more information about Doug Van Gundy’s work, click here.