Author Deirdre Mask addresses relationship between location and identity at Purdue University Northwest’s One Book, One University event

Author Deirdre Mask addresses relationship between location and identity at Purdue University Northwest’s One Book, One University event

What could be considered a simple combination of names and numbers may just be the missing link to fully complete one’s life story - a street address. Purdue University Northwest (PNW) invited its campus and surrounding communities to take a deeper dive into exactly how much meaning one’s address holds during Author Deirdre Mask’s keynote speech for PNW’s One Book, One University program on Wednesday, April 5.

Purdue University Northwest One Book One University 2023

Purdue University Northwest One Book One University 2023 27 Photos
Purdue University Northwest One Book One University 2023Purdue University Northwest One Book One University 2023Purdue University Northwest One Book One University 2023Purdue University Northwest One Book One University 2023

Mask, a North Carolina native who penned her book “The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth and Power,” was writing a letter home while living in Ireland when the topic piqued her interest. With the seed of an idea planted, the journalist set out on a journey to travel the globe to address the topic that was now at the center of attention - what does it truly mean to have an address?

“I started researching it, and I came across the Universal Postal Union, which I think is the most interesting organization,” Mask said. “On there, I came across a statistic that there were probably a billion people in the world without addresses, and this sounded odd. It sent me on this path to figure out why people don't have addresses and what this meant, and it ballooned into a book.”

During her presentation, Mask reflected on the topic of her book and just how much power numbers and names can hold both now and at various points throughout world history. The relationship with which people view where they live has fluctuated greatly over time. However, no matter the viewpoint, it all points back to the themes of recognition and having a place in the world.

She noted that numbers have always had great influence over people - how they’re viewed is a matter of perspective alongside current events of the time. 

Mask additionally argued that the name has just as much influence if not more than the numbers themselves. Names, she explained, can be markers of important historical events and are also rooted in tradition. They can be a key factor in where someone grew up or can point to the house where many core family memories are made over time.

“If you want to look at race relations in this country, it can be really interesting to look at streets named after Martin Luther King,” Mask said. “If you look at streets named Martin Luther King, which tend to be in Black neighborhoods, that can tell you something about what's happening in Black America.”

“The Address Book” was chosen as the One Book, One University book selection for the academic year for its impactful ties to many of today’s current events. The program began a little over 10 years ago and offers a selection of books that speak to PNW students about the world around them.

“Our goal is to identify a topic that's very multidisciplinary because we want students from nursing to engineering to sociology to philosophy to have a rich experience with a book,” said Richard E. Rupp, associate professor of political science. “Our committee is very mindful of looking for really creative, brilliant writing from an author who shows incredible innovation and curiosity.”

"Part of that effort is allowing us to interact with the community, because One Book, One University is not only a university event, it's a community event as well,” added Kenneth (Chris) Holford, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at PNW. “We always pick a book each year that's of importance to Northwest Indiana, so I think it brings exposure to the role the university plays as a metropolitan institution serving the Region." 

“The Address Book” certainly served this purpose. Chelsea Lott, an East Chicago Central High School junior enrolled in dual-credit courses through PNW, had never moved from her hometown, but the text allowed her to think about the divisions within her city, giving her a brand-new perspective on a place she’s called home her entire life.

“It was really interesting how Mask can take what I would initially think to be a mundane topic and make it so entertaining and interesting to learn about,” Lott said. “I would have never thought about going deep into the reasons behind addresses, their importance, and their ties to identity, race, wealth, and power.”

The text additionally had just as meaningful an impact on the professors who taught the subject matter as it did the students. Amanda Zelechoski, PNW professor of psychology, allowed herself to reflect on the material both to connect it to her own experiences and how to relate it back to her group of students as well. 

“I think just reading it to read it would be one thing, but knowing I wanted to use it in my course, I read it a little differently and tried to think through my students’ eyes, see how they might consume that information,” she said.

Mask was incredibly thankful to share her words and discuss them with the PNW community. 

“It's just so wonderful to be here and get a chance to talk to so many people who are so interested in these topics, so thank you very much to them and to Purdue University Northwest as well,” she said. 

Purdue University Northwest continues to shape the lives of thousands of students each year through its locations at 2200 169th Street in Hammond and at 1401 S. U.S. 421 in Westville. For more information, visit