Saluting alumni authors
At Reunion Weekend 2003, a celebration of books (and music, and art)
Whatever their success in the marketplace, writers earn "psychic income" simply in the act of writing. That phrase, evoking the many rewards to be found in authorship, floated happily over the alumni authors celebration during Reunion Weekend this spring and set the tone for several events highlighting the literary (and other) talents of Kenyon graduates.
The authors celebration, which started in 2001 and has now become an annual Reunion event, honors alumni who have published books in the past five years. The Greenslade Special Collections Room of Olin Library, with its historic exhibits and portraits, provides the perfect setting for the reception, where the authors speak briefly about their books and often about the serendipitous encounters, life-changing events, professional accomplishments, and dogged persistence that brought those books to life.
This year's edition-devoted (like the Reunion) mainly to alumni who graduated in years ending in 3 or 8-took place on Saturday afternoon, May 24, and featured the usual astonishing range of subjects, genres, and personal stories.
Henry J. Abraham '48 H'72 P'79, '84, a renowned scholar of the U.S. Supreme Court (and a former Kenyon trustee), spoke about his classic textbook The Judicial Process: An Introductory Analysis of the Courts of the United States, England, and France (Oxford University Press) as well as about his book on the history of the Supreme Court appointment process, Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Clinton (Rowman and Littlefield). It was Abraham who first invoked the term "psychic income" at the gathering, perhaps in recognition of the fact that, while he is a revered figure and genuine celebrity in his field, neither Oprah nor Hollywood is likely to come calling soon.
Philosopher William Bechtel '73 spoke about Connectionism and the Mind: Parallel Processing, Dynamics, and Evolution in Networks (Blackwell), written jointly with his wife, Adele Abrahamsen, and a major examination of a key approach to cognitive science. Originally printed in 1991, the book was updated and reissued in 2002.
The pleasures of journalism-in which a book-length project often becomes deeply meaningful on a personal level to the writer-suffused the remarks of Debra Berkowitz Darvick '78, who recently wrote This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection, and Joy (Eakin Press). These personal stories, presented in the voices of the fifty-two people whom Darvick interviewed, traverse a year of Jewish holidays and life-cycle events, offering a wealth of insights into the ways that contemporary Jews fashion their identity.
Dean Burgess '58 introduced his intriguing historical novel, An Unclean Act (Permanent Press), based on a true story about the divorce of a Puritan couple in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. The book has been praised for the depth of its research and its impressive historical detail. Burgess, incidentally, is a direct descendent of Thomas Burge, one of the novel's protagonists.
Pamela Janis '78 offered two perspectives, one as a writer of her own work, the other as a "writer-for-hire"-a ghostwriter in common parlance, or, as Janis put it more evocatively, a "midwife." She recounted how a cancer scare inspired the idea for her book Thank You Everyone: A Lifetime of Gratitude in Letters, which she went on to write and publish even though the scare turned out to be a false alarm. If the challenge for a personal work like this is to find one's own voice, the task in her ghostwriting is to inhabit someone else's. A recent example is The 5 Principles of Ageless Living (Atria Books), which Janis midwifed for Dayle Haddon.
Poet Allison Joseph '88, who serves on the advisory board of the Kenyon Review, read from her recent volume of poetry, Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon University Press). She chose a poem set at Kenyon, "Cammie Cuts My Hair," which originated in a very real problem that Joseph faced as one the few African-American women on campus-how to get her hair cut. In the poem, which can be read as an extended metaphor on the affirmation of identity in an unlikely setting, she marvels at how it was a white woman (Cammie McGovern '85, the R.A. in Joseph's dorm and now a novelist) "who gives me back my hair," hair that emerges "alive to itself, a deeper color, truer black."
Sheppard B. Kominars '53 dicussed the book that he wrote with his daughter, Kathryn D. Kominars, Accepting Ourselves and Others: A Journey into Recovery from Addictive and Compulsive Behaviors for Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals ( Hazelden). The book, which was reviewed in the Bulletin several years ago, offers an authoritative perspective, since Kominars is gay and his daughter is a lesbian. During Reunion Weekend, Kominars also offered a popular, and much appreciated, workshop on journal-writing called "Write for Life."
F. Frank LeFever '53 P'86, a neuoropsychologist, spoke about his work as the coeditor of three volumes of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. These are Adult Attention Deficit Disorder: Brain Mechanisms and Life Outcomes; Neuroscience of the Mind on the Centennial of Freud's Project for a Scientific Psychology; and Windows on the Brain: Neuropsychology's Technological Frontiers-in which LeFever also has an article.
How many authors can say that their book will be translated into Chinese? One is Robert Lundin '78, coauthor of Don't Call Me Nuts!: Coping with the Stigma of Mental Illness. Lundin spoke not only about the book but also about the literary journal he edits, The Awakenings Review, which features the work of people who have had personal experience with mental illness, as a consumer, survivor, ex-patient, family member, or friend.
Wade "Woody" Newman '78 came to the reception immediately after a reading that he gave in Ransom Hall, featuring works from his new poetry collection, Poisoned Apples (Pivot Press). At the reading, which filled the Norton Room to overflowing, Newman also spoke about the evolution of his interest in more formal verse, his diverse subject matter, and the contrasts between his literary life and his workaday identity as a corporate "headhunter." That last theme recurred at the reception, where Newman read his poem "Business and Poetry," which notes that "an all-night corporate annual review / Will not sing a body into something electric." Because his publisher is a small press, Newman urges those interested in buying the book to do so via the Web, at www.expansivepoetryonline.com.
Pierce E. Scranton Jr. '68 P'97 spoke about Playing Hurt: Treating and Evaluating the Warriors of the NFL (Brassey's). The book, reviewed in an earlier Bulletin, is a fascinating insider's portrait of the world of professional football from Scranton's perspective as an orthopedic surgeon who for seventeen years was team physician of the Seattle Seahawks.
Julia Miller Vick '73 provided a good example of how one's expertise, coupled with writing ability and a publisher who sees a need in the marketplace, can result in a successful book. Vick and coauthor Mary Morris Heiberger wrote The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press) based on their work in career services at the University of Pennsylvania. The book, now in its third edition, offers an enormous amount of practical advice on all aspects of job-hunting in tight academic market, from interviewing to constructing a personal Web site.
Other authors featured at the reception, although they either couldn't attend or didn't speak, were:
Maureen Foley '98, whose Epileptic won the 2001 chapbook contest sponsored by her publisher, Dead Metaphor Press.
Jeffrey Henderson'68, who has published translations of the plays of Aristophanes for the Loeb Classical Library.
Adam Meyer'83, author of Black-Jewish Relations in African American and Jewish American Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press).
Christopher Schmidt-Nowara '88, who wrote Empire and Antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1874 (University of Pittsburgh Press).
It's worth mentioning two other cultural events that made this Reunion Weekend exceptionally rewarding. One was an exhibition of the nature art of the late Ann E. Lacy '73, a painter and natural-history illustrator best known for her work about the landscape and wildlife of the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The Kenyon Bookstore was selling two of Lacy's creations, a beautifully illustrated poster map of the Adirondack region and a book, Adirondack Wildguide: A Natural History of the Adirondack Park, published by the Adirondack Conservancy and the Adirondack Council, with text by Michael G. DiNunzio.
The other event was the family sing-along led by Justin Roberts '92, a gifted, high-energy singer-songwriter based in Chicago. Roberts delighted an audience of children and parents who packed the Storer Recital Hall. His CDs include Great Big Sun, Yellow Bus, and Not Naptime, winner of the 2003 Parents' Choice Gold Award.
Shadow Ball: A Novel of Baseball and Chicago
Cooperstown Chronicles: Love and Other Camp Games
by Peter Rutkoff
These very different books, written by the director of Kenyon's program in American studies, have in common a gift for evoking time, place, and social milieu. In Shadow Ball (published by McFarland and Company), Rutkoff the historian and student of baseball immerses us in the city of Chicago, in 1919, to imagine how baseball might possibly have come close to being integrated decades before Jackie Robinson. The city itself-its distinctive neighborhoods, squalor and wealth, ethnic density, tense race and labor relations-becomes a vivid character in the novel, which stages a drama mingling fictional characters with such actual historic figures as White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and the legendary African-American baseball impresario Rube Foster.
Cooperstown Chronicles, by contrast, is an intimate book, a group of interwoven tales-short stories that form an extended memoir-set at a summer camp in upstate New York during the 1950s and 1960s. If the themes are personal and universal (love, sex, growing up), the milieu is highly particular, for this is an "ethical," "noncompetitive," interracial camp for left-wing New Yorkers. The strong sense of a small, specific world, with characters who reappear from story to story, accentuates the intimacy, as does the persective of memory, the knowledge that this is a world that has disappeared. Fittingly, Cooperstown Chronicles has been printed (by Birch Brook Press) on an old-fashioned letterpress in a charming volume featuring hand-colored wood engravings.
Blood for Dignity: The Story of the First Integrated Combat Unit in the U.S. Army
By David P. Colley '64
St. Martin's Press
Black and white Americans served together in combat units in the Continental Army under George Washington. In every war after that, segregation was the rule-until, that is, the closing year of World War II in Europe, when a desperate need for fresh soldiers led General Dwight D. Eisenhower to form new all-black platoons that would be led by white officers and join established white infantry outfits. Colley tells this story for the first time in Blood for Dignity, which conveys the drama of the war, and of the racial issues, by following the experiences of a single platoon. He covers not only their triumphs but also their bitter disappointment when the army reimposed segregation at the end of the fighting. This is an important book about a previously neglected chapter in American history.
High Schools on a Human Scale: How Small Schools Can Transform American Education
By Thomas Toch '77
One of America's leading education journalists, Thomas Toch gave us a wide-ranging, extremely valuable book about issues in education two years ago when he published In the Name of Excellence: The Struggle to Reform the Nation's Schools, Why It's Failing, and What Should Be Done. This new book is equally valuable. High Schools on a Human Scale describes four very different schools that have rejected the bureaucracy and anonymity of typical large "comprehensive" public high schools. Smallness, Toch shows, can help foster autonomy, a sense of community, focus, and high standards-in effect, a new kind of high school. The book, sponsored in part by the small-school initiative of the Bill and Medlinda Gates Foundation, includes a useful appendix of model high schools and a bibliography of research on small high schools.
AnnHostetler '76, Empty Room with Light, DreamSeeker Books (Cascadia), poetry
Reed Camacho Kinney '86, The Seed of Love: Chronicles of a Hippie Commune in Mexico, and the Lives of Its People during the Tumultuous Times 1968-1970, 1stBooks Library
Mitchel B. Sosis'68, Anesthesia Equipment Manual, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins)
Seasbiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand of the class of 1989, has become something of a legend itself-a huge bestseller and (as of this summer) a feature film. Random House has now published a beautiful collector's edition of Seabiscuit, with 150 archival photographs chosen by Hillenbrand. It would be wrong to say that any of these photos is worth a thousand of Hillenbrand's words, which by themselves paint such a vivid picture of character, time, and place; but the photos do complement the text and add to the value of the book as a valuable historical record no less than an irresistible tale.
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