Before he became a novelist and poet, and a professor and a MacArthur Fellow, Ben Lerner competed in debate. He was a policy debater during high school in the 1990s in Topeka, Kan., and was also a national champion in extemporaneous speaking. Not coincidentally, the main character in his new novel, a high-school senior in Kansas named Adam Gordon, is very good at both of those disciplines. In The Topeka School , Adam Gordon's parents' lives also revolve around speaking: They're psychologists who work in talk therapy and language research. (The author's own mother is the psychologist Harriet Lerner.) So the act of speech is central to Lerner's new, autobiographically informed book. "The young Adam Gordon ... is kind of torn between these different...
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How High School Debate In 1990s Kansas Explains The Present: A Novel Argument