“Words will break your heart and rake your mind, but they are the best tools we have to express what it is that draws us all together and what makes us human at the core,” Tom Zoellner said on the night of Oct. 20 while he was speaking at Eastern.
In his speech, titled “The Power of Words,” Zoellner discussed how words can be used as tools to change the world. He also guided the students through different aspects of writing. Zoellner co-wrote An Ordinary Man, the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, and also authored The Heartless Stone.
Zoellner explained the four unconscious things “that happen whenever a person sits down at a keyboard or picks up a pen.” A writer, he said, gets into his characters, experiences physical loneliness but gains mental companionship, acts on one’s preconceived notions, and discusses new ideas.
Zoellner referenced the Bible multiple times. On one of these occasions, he used James 3:5 to explain the effects of words: “A tongue as a rudder. A tongue as an ember that starts an inferno,” Zoellner said. “These are unexpected and powerful images.”
Zoellner stated that words have the ability to change the world for better or for worse, and new “mystic” connections like the one mentioned in the book of James are an effective way to do this.
Zoellner also talked about An Ordinary Man, Eastern’s “One University, One Book” reading for the ’08-’09 school year. When asked about the experience, Zoellner said, “He [Rusesabagina] is the author, and I am the writer of the book. We sat for many long conversations, and no pen ever touched paper, except for whatever notes I would scribble.”
The other book Zoellner wrote, The Heartless Stone, is considered the first book to offer an investigative look at the modern diamond industry. Zoellner traveled to six different continents to write this book and admitted getting into serious troubles, like having a gun pointed at his head. Like his first book, The Heartless Stone was also a huge success. Zoellner is currently working on a book based on the history of uranium, the most powerful element on earth, which will be published in March.
Zoellner believes that no one is capable of being a flawless writer so he encouraged the audience to have positive feelings about their own written works. “Perfectionism is the enemy of good writing,” he said. Imperfect writings let people approach a topic from different points of view and give them the opportunity to learn from their previous mistakes.
“I want to encourage all of you to not give up on writing,” Zoellner said. “Keep ordering and reordering your words in new combinations, in the ceaseless process of trying to nudge the private world, your private world, and also the public world.”