What wisdom can Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times–bestselling author Dave Barry impart to college students? His new book, Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings, may give a hint to his insight, both deep and dubious.
Recently, Barry was able to share his philosophy — and so much more — at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), where collaboration between the school’s Lyman Center for the Performing Arts and its campus bookstore, which has been under Barnes & Noble College management since 1985, is bringing top authors to the New Haven, Connecticut, campus. The initiative, Join the Conversation, is presented by the WSHU Public Radio Group and Southern Connecticut State University, with books provided by the campus bookstore.
It’s a partnership that works. “We provide the hall, the ticketing, and the event staffing,” said Lyman Center Director Larry Tomascak. “WJFU helps us book the artist and works on publicity, and the bookstore supplies us with the books. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
Barry’s entertaining examination of what one generation can teach to another — or not — was the topic of both the book and the event, which drew over 200 people despite inclement weather. Guests had the opportunity to ask questions and have a copy of the book signed.
SCSU Bookstore Manager Larry Gal explained that he and Tomascak clicked immediately and have worked to find opportunities to work together. “He’s always trying to figure out how he can grow business for the university and I’m always trying to figure out how to grow business for the bookstore, so we began to discuss how to collaborate,” Gal said.
“As more and more authors with recently published books were finding their way onto campus we began to ask ourselves, ’Why don’t we sell books?’” Gal stated. “We began to sell them at events, which went really well, especially if the author was doing a signing.”
The visit was the latest on a growing list of prominent authors to stop by the campus. “If an author has a newly published book, it’s always great,” Gal recalled. “Mitch Albom was here last fall, soon after the release of The First Call from Heaven. We brought in the books and he spent about two hours signing them, which is unusual for an author of his stature. He really was quite gracious.” Nearly 500 people attended to hear Albom speak.
In addition to the Join the Conversation program, the bookstore also works with the Lyman Center on a university-sponsored event called The Common Read, a requirement for all SCSU freshmen. English Professor Tim Parrish spoke about his book, Fear and What Follows, a memoir about his spiral into racist violence during the latter years of desegregation in 1960s and ’70s Baton Rouge. And last year, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited to discuss My Beloved World, which recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench.
The alliance between the university and its bookstore stretches into a wide range of author events. Broadcast Journalist Jane Pauley spoke about her book, Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life. Last year, notable author Wally Lamb came to campus for a special screening of the film version of his bestselling novel, Wishin’ and Hopin’. (VIP tickets included an autographed book and a meet-and-greet with Lamb.) In May, Garrison Keillor, storyteller, humorist and host of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, will make an appearance at the Lyman Center for a solo performance. Keillor has authored numerous books, including short fiction, poetry and several novels.
For SCSU, the opportunity to draw students and community members to campus to experience authors in a different light has many plusses. “People love it,” Gal explained. “When Mitch Albom spoke at a Join the Conversation event, guests heard about his experiences working at an orphanage he supports in Haiti. It’s a chance to learn a bit about an author personally.”
And perhaps as much, it’s fun for the students, faculty … and its organizers. “It’s great to collaborate, create personal relationships, and grow your business at the same time,” Gal said. “And I believe it’s equally important to have fun with these projects, which we definitely do.”
The feeling, apparently, is mutual. “Working with the bookstore has been terrific,” Tomascak stated. “I can’t say enough good things about Larry and the team.”