Blog / Working with Wonder


By Molly Boarati

State of Wonder closes Sunday, October 7, 2012.

In her Friday afternoon talk to the first-year students, novelist Ann Patchett explained how writing is like playing the cello: one must be committed and work hard over time in order to improve. There is no such thing as writers’ block — composing a novel is a slow, difficult process that requires determination, dedication, and patience. She continued to say how, in writing a work of literary fiction, she offers half of the experience, while the reader brings the other half. It is a collaborative effort that depends on her audience and each reader’s own perspectives on life.

For the second year in a row, we decided to do an installation in our Education Gallery inspired by Duke’s summer reading book. Patchett’s novel State of Wonder offered a particularly challenging set of ideas to capture with art from the permanent collection. How do you exhibit teacher-student relationships, drug-induced nightmares and cutting-edge medical advances? How can an installation translate the words off a page into a coherent display that captures the mystery, anxiety, and beauty of an entire book?

In the end, the installation took shape through a variety of objects from many different cultures and time periods. With Moche stirrup-spout vessels from Peru, Ashanti gold weights, and 20th-century prints of Brazil we were able to paint a collective picture of several themes addressed in State of Wonder. Eight faculty members also contributed by writing responses to the art work, sharing their professional opinions and personal reactions to the book and the objects themselves. Just as Ann Patchett needs the reader to complete her own writing, the State of Wonder installation required art from around the world and the participation of many others. Like with a book, the experience of art is most fruitful when we contribute our own perspectives and share them with those around us.

What will you bring to State of Wonder?

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