‘No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency’ Author Shares World View and ‘Small Things’
By Jake Weber; photos by Dave Lawrence | April 19, 2013
Alexander McCall Smith shared the wit and charm that have carried dozens of his works to international bestseller lists, as he gave the 2013 Joseph S. Calvaruso Keynote Address. McCall Smith's visit concluded Albion's 2013 Elkin R. Isaac Student Research Symposium, held April 17-18.
In considering "The Very Small Things of Life," Smith discussed everything from his founding of The Really Terrible Orchestra (he plays bassoon, but only notes below high E) to his appreciation for Muncie, Indiana. ("It's the only place I ever spoke where the whole audience of 350 were knitting.")
Addressing his role as a speaker during Albion's Year of Global Diversity, McCall Smith rebutted some of the criticism of his beloved "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series. "I am accused of looking at the world with rosy-colored spectacles, but …. My reality is just not getting the same air time, so to speak," he said. "Too often, the picture you get of sub-Saharan Africa is really a bleak one. I understand the reason for that, but it's important to realize that in these African countries, most people are leading good lives, and doing so with great integrity."
McCall also stressed the importance of "the local" in diversity. "This is perfectly consistent with understanding global diversity, which really calls for an understanding of what 'the local' is for others," he concluded.
Fielding an audience question about the discipline of writing, McCall Smith shared the secret of his prolific output. "You have to be organized; if you wait for inspiration, you'll wait forever," he said. "I go into a minor dissociative state; I actually don't have to think about what's going to happen … I don't hear words, I hear a sort-of rhythm. That's because I think fiction comes from the subconscious mind, which is always asking what might happen. … I think writing fiction is accessing that sort of mental activity."
Some 100 students from Albion College (plus French students from École supérieure de Vente, working with Gerstacker Institute students) participated in the 2013 Isaac Research Symposium, presenting research, scholarship, and creative activity pursued in the summer of 2012 and throughout the academic year. Including students from all departments, the presentations ranged from nanoparticle synthesis and business plan developments to Masai ethnoarchaeology and the intersection of quantum mechanics and music composition.