Paige Williams, a staff writer at The New Yorker, will speak at Fall Convocation about The Dinosaur Artist, a true tale woven with human and legal drama, ethical questions and compromises, paleontology and science

In a time where almost nothing escapes the assignment of monetary value, something as rare (and seemingly priceless) as a dinosaur skeleton is no exception.

So it stands to reason that, in 2012, such an item—a nearly intact specimen of a Tyrannosaurus Rex-like species—would come up for sale at a New York auction house, with a million-dollar bid to match its novelty and condition.

What was of such surprise—and alarm to a host of international authorities—was the skeleton’s source: an amateur Florida-based fossil hunter who, driven to desperation by debt, smuggled the object out of Mongolia, where it had been unearthed from the Gobi Desert.

What followed was a real-life misadventure centered around the commodification of one of the rarest of remnants from our primordial past—the singularly scientific sold as souvenir—that bridges the worlds of paleontology, ethics, law, natural history and several cultures.

Paige Williams, a staff writer at The New Yorker, captures this saga in her first book in The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy (Hachette, 2018), which will serve as the university’s common reading selection this fall. Each incoming first-year Case Western Reserve University student will receive a complimentary copy to read during the summer. 

The university community will have a chance to see—and perhaps visit with—Williams on campus in August. As the 2019 Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author, Williams will serve as keynote speaker at fall convocation, a tradition that serves as the official opening of the new academic year.

Paige Williams
Paige Williams

“In the course of telling this remarkable true story, Paige Williams deftly leads us to reflect on the thorny questions it raises without providing any easy answers,” said Timothy Beal, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve and chair of the university’s Common Reading Selection Committee. “Her fascination with the story is contagious.”

The Fall Convocation annual event also features an academic procession and the presentation of the Distinguished University Professors; this year, the event is Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 4:45 p.m. in Severance Hall. Ticketing information will be made available this summer, as well as more details about a reception at the Tinkham Veale University Center following the ceremony.

Stemming from a 2013 magazine piece for The New Yorker, The Dinosaur Artist has received significant critical acclaim. Named a New York Times Notable Book of 2018, listed in Best Books of 2018 by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Smithsonian, and National Public Radio’s “Science Friday,” the book was also nominated for the top literary prize in Williams’s home state: the 2019 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters prize in nonfiction.

Winner of the National Magazine Award for feature writing in 2008, Williams serves as the Laventhol/Newsday Visiting Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

At The New Yorker, the subjects of her stories have included “suburban politics in Detroit, the death penalty in Alabama, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” and others, according to the publication’s website.

Meanwhile, the 24-foot-long and 8-foot-tall dinosaur skeleton is on display in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, after being repatriated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


For more information, contact Daniel Robison (daniel.robison@case.edu)