Literary Lion: Bestselling author Brown to give special evening lecture

Catherine Pomiecko | Staff Writer

After watching, “Chautauqua: An American Narrative,” Blythe Brown quickly called friend and lifelong Chautauquan Michael Rudell to volunteer her husband to speak at the Institution.

“She was so amazed by what (Chautauqua Institution) was that she went behind my back and got the wheels in motion,” said Dan Brown, bestselling author of several novels, including The Da Vinci Code.

Brown will speak at “An Evening with Author Dan Brown” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

“I am a huge fan of dialogue,” Brown said. “I write with the intention of creating dialogue. So the fact that a place like Chautauqua exists — a place where intellectual adults come and talk about big ideas — is fascinating to me.”

After more than three years of time conflicts, Brown will at last take the Amphitheater stage to discuss the paradoxes that are the driving force behind his work — the gray areas in fact and fiction, science and religion, right and wrong.

For Brown, the goal of each of his novels is to generate readers’ interest in and curiosity for these topics. His greatest reward is readers who are so engaged in the subject they read about that they go out and see it for themselves.

“You realize that that wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t read your book,” he said. “That’s a very good feeling to know that people are engaged. And that’s exactly what Chautauqua does.”

The format for the evening will be most akin to the lectures held in the Amphitheater, with a Q-and-A session and book signing following the presentation. The time and venue of the event allows guests from outside of the grounds to participate, said Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education.

“Literature has been a constant theme of the Institution since it was founded, and Chautauqua has been made up of readers,” Babcock said. “I expect to get a wonderful response.”

The son of a mathematics teacher and a church organist, Brown grew up in a paradoxical world of science and religion and of symbols and codes. He was raised on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy, surrounded by “a bunch of tweedy guys who made it fun to learn,” he said.

Brown frequently read and wrote as a child. In fact, at age 5, he dictated and illustrated his first book, titled The Giraffe, the Pig, and the Pants on Fire, transcribed for him by his mother.

Brown’s upbringing instilled in him an eternal love of learning. Today, he spends years traveling and researching to get a sense of the specifics that will drive the plots of his novels. And once in a while, he comes across an idea so big that it warrants a book.

“Generally, the best ideas are serendipitous,” he said.  “The plot drives the research, and the research drives the plot.”

The inspiration for his book Angels & Demons arose from a behind-the-scenes tour of the Passetto in Rome. Brown said the Pope’s escape route from the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo “struck a cord” with him and inspired that story.

The idea for Brown’s first novel, Digital Fortress, was sparked when the Secret Service showed up at Phillips Exeter Academy to investigate an email with potentially threatening information about the president. The incident turned out to be harmless, but Brown was so stunned by the National Security Agency’s ability to see the content of a personal email that he set out to write a novel about it.

“I literally one day sat up in bed and said, ‘I’m going to write a novel,’ and my wife patted me on the head and said, ‘Oh, that’s nice; you go ahead and write a novel,” Brown said. “A year later, I had Digital Fortress.”

Brown hopes to ignite a similar curiosity for learning in his readers.

“The best teachers make learning fun, and I hope these books are fun,” he said. “Eating your vegetables and it tasting like dessert is sort of what I’m hoping it’s like.”

Tonight, Brown also will discuss his experience with screenwriting. In adapting The Lost Symbol from a novel to a screenplay, Brown quickly came to realize the limitations and differences in writing for film.

“Imagine being a painter, with a full palette, creating a painting using 150 colors,” he said. “And then, someone walks up to you and hands you a palette that has three or four colors and says, ‘Do the same thing.’ It’s very difficult. But it’s a great exercise in efficiency, and I really enjoyed the process.”

With such a wide range of topics to be discussed by such a “widely and wildly popular” author, Babcock said she expects a successful event.

“He is just such a popular and well-regarded author,” she said. “We think that people will be just intrigued by his writing process.”