JWU College of Arts & Sciences

Exploring the Search for Identity with Andrew Solomon


 The love for your children is unlike any other love in the world, and until you have a child, you have no idea what that feels like, Andrew Solomon said, sharing a quote from his mother that would prove to be a recurring theme throughout his lecture on JWU's Providence Campus

Andrew Solomon, PhD, is a writer and lecturer on politics, culture and psychology, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, and President of PEN American Center. Visiting as the final Cultural Life Series speaker of the 2016-2017 academic year,  Solomon shared the process of writing his most recent best-seller: “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, which tells the stories of families raising exceptional children who not only learn to deal with their challenges, but also find profound meaning in doing so.

It all started with an assignment to write about members of the deaf community. After fully immersing himself in this culture, Solomon began to draw parallels between the experiences of deaf and gay individuals. For example, both groups were typically born to parents who did not also exhibit this aspect of their identity, i.e., the children were born to hearing or heterosexual parents, respectively. Solomon also found that in both instances, most of these individuals did not get to fully explore this particular aspect of their identity until  they were teenagers. He began to wonder if other groups of individuals had similar experiences. Far From the Tree includes insights into the lives of autistic individuals, deaf individuals, prodigies, individuals with down syndrome, and their parents.

We live in a time of social progress, but we also live in a time of medical progress, Solomon said. I'm a great believer in social progress and medical progress, but I believe they're on separate paths and they don't see each other very often.

He went on the explain that while both forms of progress are important, medical progress could potentially lead to the elimination of some of these conditions. He used deafness as an example. The majority of young deaf children will now receive a cochlear implant, which will allow them to hear, but what does this mean for others who were diagnosed before the invention and widespread use of this technology? Many of the parents Solomon interviewed expressed a similar sentiment: if they could, they would save their children from experiencing these hardships, but they agree that to lose these communities and cultures entirely would be a great loss. 

I was struck over and over again by how these parents accepted these children and their challenges," Solomon said. I think the real story here is how these parents ended up grateful for children they thought they never would have wanted.

Learn more about Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity here.  

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Topics: Providence Cultural Life Series