Acclaimed author holding reception at hometown library

Published 6:01 am Sunday, August 7, 2016

A New York Time best-selling author named one of Times Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People will be at Austin Public Library Tuesday before she leaves her hometown to set out on her next adventure.

“Lab Girl” author Hope Jahren, who people in Austin might know as Anne Jahren, will be at the library at 1 p.m. for a reception and book signing. The event is free and open to the public.

Jahren grew up in Austin as a girl who loved hanging out in her father’s then-Austin Community College science lab and has since worked several years as a professor, most recently at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

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Jahren encouraged people to stop by the library for the discussion, whether they’ve read the book or not — and they don’t even have to buy the book if they come, she joked.

She just wants people to come to visit and see Austin’s beautiful library too.

‘It’s worth a visit just to remind yourself that you can get almost anything you want in there,” she said. “And think about the story that you have — that only you have. Because winter’s coming and you gotta stay inside and do something. We all know you gotta have something to do.”

While lab girl touches on science, issues female scientists face, and her love of the natural world, Jahren’s talk on Tuesday will largely focus about the importance of telling your own story.

Jahren encourages people to write their own stories, because everyone has a story.

“Writing it down really helps you make sense out of your life,” she said.

Jahren didn’t initially set out to write her own story. She started trying to write a textbook, because she felt she was supposed to do that as an experienced professor.

“I tried to do that, but when I really wanted to talk about what we learned, I couldn’t separate that from how we did it and the unusual people that were important and I didn’t want to just talk about the things that went right; I wanted to talk about the things that went wrong,” she said. “And so it became a very different kind of book.”

Instead, she would go on to complete “Lab Girl,” a memoir on a life in science that took Jahren from her dad’s lab in Austin to Hawaii, where she writes about working with her best friend and lab partner, Bill.

Jahren has done several author talks, especially in the East Coast, but she’s looking forward to talking with people in her hometown of Austin where she won’t be surrounded by strangers and won’t be required to give certain background.

For example, some of the book takes place in Minnesota, and she described Minnesotans as people who work very hard but don’t always say much.

“Sometimes when I travel, people have a hard time understanding characters like that, but not here,” she said.

That also applies to Bill, whom she described as a strange guy who doesn’t talk much and you have to know for years to really get to know. But she described him as very hard working and loyal friend with very little drama.

“He’s a hero, but he’s not a flashy personality,” she said. “And a lot of readers find him a really quirky and strange, a goofy character. But in Minnesota, nobody is ever surprised by that character. Our lives are full of people like that.”

Through the attention of a best-selling book and the recognition from Time Magazine, Jahren’s been thrilled with the support she’s received from home. Her parents still live in Austin in her childhood home, and many of the friends she grew up with are teachers in Austin.

She set out to be honest in her book, and people have responded to that.

“People have been very, very supportive,” she said. “I worked hard to make sure it was the most genuine and honest and accurate representation I could make of both our good side and our bad side, of both my good side and my bad side. And people have been overwhelmingly supportive of that honesty, I think, especially in Austin, which is a wonderful thing.”

Though she’s spent most of her professional career at universities around the country, Jahren and her husband, Clint Conrad, and their son have spent recent summers in Austin, where they enjoy biking on the bike paths and hitting up local favorites like Steve’s Pizza, Tendermaid and Dairy Queen while spending time with Jahren’s family.

Jahren especially loves being Austin for the annual Freedom Fest celebration.

“We love the Fourth of July in Austin,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any city in the world that does as many fireworks as Austin does. I don’t Washington, D.C., has as good a fireworks show as Austin, Minnesota. It’s unbelievable.”

Jahren notes that her son loves Austin because he can ride his bike and has more independence here than the larger cities they’ve live in.

“It’s a great place to be a kid,” she said.

However, the couple will soon leave Austin again to head back to school, this time in Norway. Jahren is set to run a lab at the University of Oslo starting next month, and Clint will continue working as a geophysicist.

But they plan to keep coming home for summers in Austin.