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Co-author of An Ordinary Man to speak in Baird Library

“I am not a politician or a poet. I built my career on words that are plain and ordinary … I did what I believed to be the ordinary things that an ordinary man would do.”

These are the humble and moving words of Paul Rusesabagina, the man whose courage saved the lives of many during the Rwandan Genocide and inspired the film Hotel Rwanda. Although the film has been well received, Rusesabagina wanted to tell more of the story than what was portrayed. Hence, he set out to write an autobiography, titled An Ordinary Man.

On Oct. 20, Tom Zoellner, who co-authored An Ordinary Man, will be speaking at Eastern on his experiences working with Rusesabagina and what he has learned through his career as a journalist. Zoellner will be speaking on “The Power of Words” at 7:30 p.m. in the Baird Library.

With the help of Zoellner, Rusesabagina has been able to share his experiences with many who cannot even fathom a world such as the one he lived in.

“My experience with the Rwandan Genocide was very much from a distance,” Zoellner said.

Zoellner said one of the biggest challenges he faced while writing Rusesabagina’s autobiography, An Ordinary Man, was attempting to understand what it would have been like to be there. Zoellner said that it is impossible.

Zoellner has spent countless hours with Rusesabagina trying to capture in words his meaningful and challenging story, but Zoellner points out that sometimes his time with Rusesabagina involved discussions about other things.

“Sometimes our discussions were all over the map, and sometimes we had just pure guy talk,” Zoellner said.

Zoellner hopes to bring a piece of the inspiration he has taken away from his experience with Rusesabagina to Eastern’s campus. Zoellner believes that we all have the opportunity to write, and, often, writing is an even larger aspect of our lives than we realize.

Rusesabagina experienced a despicable tragedy during his lifetime that he would not wish upon anyone. However, rather than hold these experiences inside and be silent, he has taken it upon himself to use the power of his words to impact the world in a way that is anything but ordinary.

“We all have enormous power to make the world a better place, and we also have power to make the world a worse place,” Zoellner said. “We all have a great responsibility to put pen to paper.”

Zoellner believes that sometimes the most powerful messages are simple, but the worst thing we can do is to not write at all.

Zoellner said, “I want to point out ways in which I’ve learned writing is one of the most noble professions of all.”

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