CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham -- this year's Gazette-WVU Festival of Ideas speaker -- has a Charleston connection, sort of.Former Charleston lawyer-legislator Charles Peters went to the nation's capital and created The Washington Monthly, a crusading political commentary magazine. Meacham was among the idealistic young writers who voiced their beliefs in its pages. He served as the magazine's editor from 1993 to 1995.Meacham went on to become top editor of Newsweek and to write major books. His "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House," won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009. His latest best-selling biography is "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power." After leaving Newsweek, Meacham became executive vice president of Random House Publishing.The free public Festival of Ideas program is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 12 at the Clay Center. A reception and book-signing will follow the lecture.
This will be Meacham's second visit to the Charleston cultural event. He also spoke at a 2004 session.Meacham was born in 1969 at Chattanooga, Tenn., the grandson of a colorful judge who wrote novels about sailing ships of the Napoleonic era. Judge Meacham whetted his grandson's zeal for history, literature and politics.The grandson graduated summa cum laude from the University of the South at Sewanee, Tenn. He married a Mississippi native and they have three children.In addition to his writing, Meacham also has been co-host of the "Need to Know" PBS television program, and serves on boards of various universities, cultural organizations and historical groups.A longtime Episcopal vestryman, Meacham jolted churchgoers with his 2009 Newsweek cover story, "The End of Christian America," which outlined the rapid rise of secular Americans who don't attend worship. He is an adviser to the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.The free public Festival of Ideas series was launched in 1999 by The Charleston Gazette and West Virginia University to augment the cultural life of the Kanawha Valley. For 14 years, it has presented numerous speakers such as Seymour Hersch, Fareed Zakaria, Gore Vidal, Arianna Huffington, Walter Isaacson and others.