Tracy Kidder: Journalist and Advocate

Paul Farmer holds a number of impressive titles – most people would feel fulfilled with just one. It takes five full scrolls to reach the bottom of his biography page on Harvard’s website.

*courtesy of Lyceum Agency

To name a few, he is Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder of Partners in Health – a non profit, which most recently is best known for its work in Haiti.

He is also the inspiration for, and central character in, Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book “Mountains beyond Mountains: The quest of Dr. Paul Farmer: a man who would cure the world.”

Kidder addressed students, faculty and community members on Thursday at the newly renovated Harris Hall on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. He discussed – and promoted – his book as well as the work of Partners in Health.

In a graphic – and slow paced – slideshow, Kidder showed static images of the mal-nourished and extremely ill children Partners in Health has been helping over the years.

Kidder met Farmer in 1994, he said

“I like that he has that unique relationship [with Farmer] because most journalists don’t,” said Ryota Terada, a freshman at Northwestern University who read the book this summer as part of his assigned reading.

Kidder’s book was selected as this year’s One Book One Northwestern – a “campus-wide program that brings students, staff and faculty from across campus together around a single book,” according to the university website. “The project builds community at Northwestern by promoting conversation and collaboration across disciplines and schools.”

The university purchased 2000 copies of his book, President Morton Schapiro said.

But this isn’t the first time Kidder writes about Farmer. In 2000, he published a profile of him in the New Yorker. With a biography as long as Farmer’s, he is undoubtedly a busy person who is consistently on the go.

Many of the magazine’s female readers held a similar view of the piece, and they let Kidder know. In their letters, they often first acknowledged that Farmer was indeed an amazing person, followed by, “but I wouldn’t want to be married to him,” Kidder said.

Kidder couldn’t help but finally think: “I didn’t know he had proposed?”

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