Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the sixty-ninth, is of non-fiction author Ted Vestal.
Author Ted Vestal’s most recent writing has focused on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa and on the U.S. Supreme Court and human rights. In a career in International Education in both government service and the academy, he travelled the world in the cause of improving knowledge and understanding among people. He served as an executive in the Peace Corps in Washington and Ethiopia. In India, he was Resident Director of New York’s Educational Resources Center in New Delhi and was Director of OSU-Kyoto in Japan. He has been a professor, dean, and president of institutions of higher education. His writing is informed by 30 years of university teaching in fields ranging from comparative religions to civil liberties and civil rights.
A consultant to the Transitional Government of Ethiopia and an international election observer, Vestal testified in 1994 before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives on “Ethiopia: The Challenges Ahead.” In 2002, the Theodore M. Vestal Collection, featuring contemporary Ethiopian materials, was formally dedicated at the Oklahoma State University Library. In 2005 Ted held an endowed professorship in Current Issues of Ethiopian Studies at Hamburg University. During the past decade, he wrote expert witness affidavits and/or testified in over 110 political asylum cases involving Ethiopians and Eritreans seeking asylum in the United States. Vestal went to the University of North Texas on a music scholarship, attended Yale Law School, and received his Ph.D. in political science from Stanford. He is now Professor Emeritus at Oklahoma State University.
And now from the author himself:
In 1959, when I got out of the army and began my first full-time academic position at Southern Methodist University, I was fortunate to have several colleagues from what Tom Brokaw called the greatest generation. Those survivors of the Great Depression and veterans of World War II were wonderful role models for new, young faculty and openly talked about the purpose of the professorate being the search for truth. That goal informed their writing and teaching. Over the years, however, the idea of seeking the truth seems to receive less emphasis in the academy and among authors generally. Nevertheless, the search for truth should permeate the writing of all serious non-fiction.
It was providential that much of my professorial writing was about public law and those areas of political science concerned with judicial matters which enjoy a rich tradition of literary art and a generally high scholarly standard. When millions of dollars or a human life depend on the answer to a scholarly question, “the sinfulness of loose thinking and careless documentation is forcefully underlined.” That is why law review editors insist on authors’ checking and rechecking footnotes. Their work may be cited in courts, and they must have it correct.
Many contemporary writers about the law, in their eagerness to present facts and their laudable concern to tell the truth, have neglected the literary aspects of their craft. They have forgotten that there is an art of writing about the judiciary in strong, elegant, and enjoyable style. They have forgotten that an American literary tradition began over a hundred years ago with the establishment of the American Political Science Association (under its first president, Princeton Professor Woodrow Wilson). Writing about the Supreme Court was something that American political scientists did with peculiar brilliance. In the 21st Century, however, the art of writing about courts and the law has slowly dwindled in a chain reaction of dullness. The general public finds most writing in political science to be “either impossibly recondite or impossibly dull, and probably both.” Professors write dull, solid, “valuable” articles and train graduate students to do the same. Before you know it, the only political science or legal articles Americans are reading are written by journalists. Therefore, today’s political scientists and lawyers who would be authors have to learn from the best journalists and the best novelists too.
Non-fiction in America needs a rebirth of compelling and influential writing with high artistic value about politics and especially about the Supreme Court. Universities should take on the task of training high quality students to produce critical writing that honors the best belletristic tradition of our nonfiction prose. Hence my crusade to foster truthful, muscular, flexible, and feisty writing describing and dissecting the Supreme Court, its justices, and its work. The public needs such truthful writing to better understand the paradigms of the time. Teaching the art of such writing can be painful, but I believe it’s worth the effort.
You can find more about Ted and his writing via his website http://fp.okstate.edu/vestal.
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The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with fantasy author Ken Magee – the three hundred and sixteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo (Amazon to follow). And I have a new forum at http://morgenbailey.freeforums.org.