Ivy Leaf - Fall 2003

Author, political critic, physicist, and physician highlight Distinguished Speaker Series


An author and activist for the abolishment of the death penalty, a syndicated columnist and political critic, the world's leading theoretical physicist, and a physician and social critic of healthcare reform headline an all-star cast for Penn State Altoona's 2003-2004 Distinguished Speaker Series.

The series kicked off on Tuesday, October 14, when Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and activist for the abolishment of the death penalty, presented her message "Dead Man Walking – The Journey Continues."

Sister Helen Prejean began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. Sister Helen turned her experiences into a book that not only made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, but was also nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. In January 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate. The movie received four Oscar nominations including Tim Robbins for Best Director, Sean Penn for Best Actor, Susan Sarandon for Best Actress, and Bruce Springsteen's "Dead Man Walkin'" for Best Song. Susan Sarandon won the award for Best Actress.

Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist who writes about Texas, national politics, and other bizarre happenings. She is a keen observer of our newly elected leader George W. Bush and author of Shrub, which details George W.'s dismal record in Texas and his road to the White House. She'll present her message, "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" on Monday, November 17, at 7:30 p.m.

As a novelist, political critic and syndicated columnist, Ivins' freelance work has appeared in Esquire, The Atlantic, The Nation, Harper's, TV Guide, and numerous other publications. She also does occasional commentary for National Public Radio and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Ivins served for three years on the board of the National News Council and is active in Amnesty International's Journalism Network, as well as the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. She writes about press issues for the American Civil Liberties Union and several journalism reviews. She has received a number of journalism awards, and was named Outstanding Alumna by Columbia University's School of Journalism in 1976.

Ivins has appeared as a weekly commentator on 60 Minutes, the perennially popular CBS newsmagazine. She is the author of the best-selling book, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?, a collection of essays on politics and journalism. Her second book, Nothin' But Good Times Ahead, was published in 1993. She published her third book, You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You: Politics In the Clinton Years, in 1998. Her most recent book is about George W. Bush entitled, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. She is now at work on a book about the consequences of the Bush presidency on regular people, to be released in Spring 2003. She has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize three times, and received 1992's Headliners Award for the best newspaper column in Texas.

Dr. Brian Greene, one of the world's leading theoretical physicists and a brilliant communicator of cutting-edge scientific concepts, will present his message, "Explaining the Elegant Universe" on Tuesday, February 3, 2004, at 7:30 p.m. He is a best-selling author, a Columbia University professor known for a number of groundbreaking discoveries and a riveting public speaker. In his national bestseller, The Elegant Universe (a Pulitzer finalist and winner of the Aventis Prize, Britain's top science book award), Greene recounts how the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics transformed our understanding of the universe, and he introduces us to string theory, a concept that might be the key to a unified theory of the universe.

With artful metaphors and often-humorous analogies, Greene succeeds in making the most sophisticated concepts in physics and cosmology accessible and entertaining to a general audience. "We're talking about the biggest questions of all time," says Greene. "Why is there a universe? What is space? What is time? How is it all put together? You don't have to be a physicist to find this stuff fascinating." He is currently working on his new book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, which will be released in 2004.

Greene is hosting a three-part NOVA special, "The Elegant Universe," on PBS (Fall 2003), which takes audiences on a thrilling journey through hidden dimensions, superstrings and black holes in a quest to unify all the laws of nature. Greene's "elegant universe" and study of string theory have been widely profiled by the media, including a one-hour segment on ABC's Brave New World series on Nightline (hosted by Robert Krulwich), The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN, Charlie Rose, Conan O'Brien, Scientific American, USA Today, and The New York Times.

Penn State Altoona's Distinguished Speaker Series concludes on Tuesday, March 2, 2004 at 7:30 p.m. with a visit from Dr. Jane M. Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, when she speaks on "Why Your Doctor Is Not In."

Dr. Orient started out to be a doctor, a professor of medicine, and a clinical researcher. But she got distracted. The first threat to her profession that she noticed was an article entitled "A Marxist View of Medical Care" in The Annals of Internal Medicine that cried out for a response. Researching the response led her into a number of nooks in the library that she had never explored as a chemistry and mathematics major—even to a dusty counterculture bookstore to get a copy of Mao Tsetung's Little Red Book. The eventual article was never published, at least not as a single work, but its author had been infected with a writing compulsion. After that, one thing led to another. Dr. Orient is now the author of more than 100 scientific articles, book chapters, editorials, book reviews, lectures, and essays.

Dr. Orient took a foray into fiction writing with the medical thriller Sutton's Law, published by Hacienda Publishing in 1997, and the science fiction books Neomorts and Moonshine. Her nonfiction work Your Doctor is Not In: Healthy Skepticism About National Health Care was published by Crown Publishing in 1994. Most recently, she has authored a textbook for medical students entitled Sapira's Art and Science of Bedside Diagnosis (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2000) and has prepared the literature examinations and vocabulary lessons in the Robinson Self-Teaching Home School Curriculum.