Pulitzer winner Matthew Desmond to discuss CLSC selection ‘Evicted’

When it comes to the Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “More than Shelter: Redefining the American Home,” and the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle’s vertical theme for the 2022 season of “Home,”  both program platforms wanted to select an author for Week Seven whose writing truly relates to both topics.

“It was very important for us to have the conversation that Matthew Desmond brings up in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” said Sony Ton-Aime, Chautauqua’s Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts. “Desmond met with a lot of people struggling to make rent, but also with homeowners to really get a full picture of the eviction situation in the United States.”

At 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9 in the Amphitheater, sociologist and author Matthew Desmond will give a joint lecture for the CLS and CLSC on his Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, Evicted.

“He met with people over a long period of time to see how renters were struggling to make payments,” Ton-Aime said. “Evicted, itself, is a scientific book written in the form of a novel.”

Desmond is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and principal investigator of The Eviction Lab. For Evicted, he spent a year doing fieldwork in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

For his work, he’s been awarded a Fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation, colloquially known as the “Genius Award.” 

The power of Evicted, Ton-Aime said, is that it doesn’t tell one side of the story; it tells the side of the landlords and renters, as well as the justice system.

“It is a seminal book when it comes to the housing situation in the U.S.,” Ton-Aime said. “It is a book that I believe everyone should read and that everyone can learn something about.”

That almost-universal importance extends to communities like Chautauqua, said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

“I’ve talked to so many in the Chautauqua community who have been deeply moved, troubled and unsettled by this very moral work that Matthew Desmond has done,” he said. “We’ve wanted to have him here for a number of years.”

Ewalt said he’s eager for Desmond’s remarks early in Week Seven, so Chautauquans can be unsettled by his research into the eviction crisis as they explore solutions with other lecturers this week.

“What does it mean to provide a deeper understanding of poverty and inequity, both through the eviction epidemic and the deeply personal stories of families?” he asked. “The structure of the book itself works both the heart and the mind, allowing us to understand an issue not in some abstract way, but in an empathetic way. We can understand that through data, this crisis affects families just like ours.”

In Evicted, Desmond frequently writes about the gravity of the situation, not just for the families he follows in his book, but for the United States as a whole.

“No moral code or ethical principle,” Desmond wrote in Evicted, “no piece of Scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”

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The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.