Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Because that's the word that kept coming to mind throughout our time with Jill Lepore, who last evening graced Villanova University as the third speaker in The Lore Kephart '86 Distinguished Historians Lecture Series. If I had allowed myself to wonder, theoretically, how one young woman could have already achieved so much in life—she's a professor of American History at Harvard and one of my very favorite writers at The New Yorker; she's published books on topics ranging from the Tea Party to the origins of American identity; she's gone to Dickens camp and read 38 volumes of original Ben Franklin; her work has won the Bancroft Prize and been a finalist for the Pulitzer; she's even co-authored a novel—I stopped wondering two minutes after she walked into the room. The answer is pretty basic, pretty simple: Jill Lepore doesn't waste an ounce of her intellect on posturing or presumption. Her enthusiasm is equal to her intelligence. Her facility with language, structure, theme is all in rather happy accordance with her capacity to sleuth her way toward truth.
She was extraordinary last night. She was—here it comes—electrifying as she spoke about Jane Franklin, Ben Franklin's sister and truest correspondent (for more on the topic, please click here). My mother would have loved Jill Lepore. She would have sat there as I sat there, on the edge of a seat in a crowded room, happy to be in the company of one that exhilarating, that engaged.
There are so many who make an event like this happen. I'm particularly grateful to my friend Paul Steege, a Villanova University associate professor of history who sits on the speaker selection committee, to Diane Brocchi, to Father Kail Ellis, to Marc Gallicchio, and to Adele Lindenmeyr. And of course, none of this would be possible without my father, Horace Kephart, who had the foresight to create this lecture series in memory of the woman he loved.