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Freshman Book Author Invites Conversation on Life and Death

David Shields, author of “The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead,” spoke to more than 300 Loyola Marymount University freshmen about life and death on Thursday, Oct. 29 in Gersten Pavilion.

“It’s important to talk about death, and to learn to live a life that [recognizes] that human beings are mortal,” Shields told the students. “If we lived forever, we wouldn’t have to become wise on how to truly live within our limited life span.”

Each year, LMU’s incoming freshman class is assigned a book to read during the summer. Shields’ critically acclaimed book was chosen for its narrative structure, documentary methods and use of evidence to raise probing questions and thoughtful discussion.

“The freshman book creates a common intellectual experience,” said Kevin Peters, professor of English, and coordinator of the freshman book program. “This is a provocative book that invites critique and rewards interrogation. I hope students see that, and recognize the same in the many texts that will come into their lives.”

Inspired by the vitality of his 97-year-old father, Shields explores the arc of a human life with scientific data and personal anecdotes featuring his wife, teenage daughter and father.

“Life is simple, frightening and tragically beautiful,” Shields said. “My father learned he was going to die, I learned I was going to live. Now that I’ve written the book, I can truly say that I love my life with all my heart and soul.”

After his talk, Shields answered questions from the audience that ranged from literary strategies to why he wrote about such a personal story and reactions from his family.

“We all have an end point,” Shields said. “My book was meant to wake myself up, wake my reader up, with the knowledge of death.”

Shields, who teaches English at the University of Washington, offered advice to all students interested in writing who struggle to find interesting topics: “Write about what you’re passionately confused about.”

Posted Nov. 2, 2009