Dan Gilchrist viewed draft illustrations from The Wump World, by Bill Peet, for the first time at the U's Kerlan Collection. The Kerlan holds six sheets of studies for Peet's 1970 classic, as well as studies for several books by Chris Van Allsburg, author of The Polar Express, another U Reads pick this year.
U Reads: children's book leaves a lasting impression
A profile of U speechwriter Dan Gilchrist
By Ann Kirby McGill
From Brief Extra, March 24, 2004
"But the Wump world would never be quite the same." The final line in Bill Peet's classic tale of environmental destruction and the eventual reclamation of the world of the Wumps left a big impression on first-grader Dan Gilchrist in 1975. Now President Bruininks's speechwriter, a policy wonk, freelance journalist, and insightful cultural commentator, Gilchrist chose The Wump World for the 2004 U Reads list. Now in its second year, U Reads offers a list of books recommended by U faculty, staff, and students.
The Wump World, written and illustrated by Peet and published in 1970, tells the story of a peaceful race of furry animals who live happily in the wilderness until their planet is invaded by silvery, pollution-spewing aliens. The book carries a powerful message about preserving the natural world and the possibility of environmental renewal.
"The Wump World is the first book I remember reading as a young kid," says Gilchrist. "I thought the color pencil and ink drawings were amazing, but the story about the Wumps being overtaken by the Pollutians struck me as so unfair. That last line suggested hope, tinged by sadness."
Given Gilchrist's adult interest in public policy and politics, it's no surprise that the first book he remembers reading is fraught with so many critical policy issues-conservation and land-use, colonialism, "human" rights--although none of those things registered with the curious seven-year old. He liked the idyllic nature scenes, the cool, stylized machines, and the cute, furry Wumps. And he liked the Wumps' sense of relief and hope when the Pollutians finally departed. The son of a South African pediatrician and a U.S. artist, Gilchrist is the oldest of three children, raised in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. An early and avid reader, he began reading daily newspapers and current affairs magazines, like TIME, around the age of eight. After earning a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in international policy studies at Stanford University, he spent a year-and-a-half working for Senator Paul Wellstone and then five years in media services for the Minnesota House of Representatives. He came to the University as speechwriter in July 2000. Gilchrist describes himself as a generalist in a world of specialists, and that suits him just fine. Over the past four years, writing for two presidents with voracious reading habits of their own has shaped his reading list. "There's so much information in this job--so much knowledge to absorb," he says. "It's exciting to be exposed to the issues, to learn about the University and higher education. I get to talk with interesting people all across the University, and then read and write about issues and ideas that matter. It's intellectually satisfying, and a lot of fun."
Ann Kirby McGill is the director of constituent relations in University Relations and a frequent lunch companion of Gilchrist's.