University News

Alums’ written stories give personal touch to U. history

Five writers who contributed to ‘The Brown Reader’ highlight college struggles, romances

By
Staff Writer
Monday, September 29, 2014

Laughter and smiles of nostalgia lit up the faces of the roughly two dozen alums and students who gathered in the Brown Bookstore this Saturday afternoon. The source of these high spirits was a reading by five authors who have contributed to “The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill.”

“The Brown Reader,” a collection of stories and illustrations by alums, was published in May in celebration of the University’s 250th anniversary. Judy Sternlight ’82 and Wendy Strothman ’72 P’07 spearheaded both the publication and Saturday’s event. Strothman said the idea for the book came to her when she was pondering ways in which she could feature the University and “immediately thought of all the incredible writers who had gone to Brown.”

The event featured M. Charles Bakst ’66, Marie Myung-Ok Lee ’86, Jonathan Mooney ’00, Sean Kelly ’84 and Mara Liasson ’77.

Bakst, a former Herald editor-in-chief, kicked off the event with a reading of his piece, titled “BDH Editor Soars, Stumbles, Snags a Wife.” He recounted the story of his encounter with a student from Pembroke College, Elizabeth Feroe ’67. Feroe was offended by his news story, “For Women at Pembroke College: Brown Health Center Prescribes Birth Control Pills,” and his subsequent editorials criticizing the “Victorian social system that obsessed over curfews and barred women from living in off-campus apartments.”

The last line of the piece — “On June 6, 1967, we were married. And we still are.” — drew gasps and squeals from the audience members as Bakst gestured to Feroe, seated in the first row.

Kelly, who was a cartoonist for The Herald from 1980 to 1984, sketched an illustration of the Van Wickle Gates, attempting to draw a parallel between walking through them as a first-year and entering heaven. “I saw the gates as an opportunity to play with the cliche of the pearly gates to present Brown as unique and timeless, a magical place,” he said. “Personally, I hope I end up in heaven, rather than that other place, which is Dartmouth,” he said.

Liasson recounted the story of how she became a freelance writer. As an undergraduate, she wrote a paper for an American history class that was published in “American Art Review.” When an art dealer showed up outside of her dorm room asking for her, Liasson’s roommate “flipped out and ran to find me at Faunce House, certain that I had gotten involved in drugs over the summer,” she recalled.

The authors expressed their excitement over the opportunity to publish in “The Brown Reader.”

“I have been waiting my whole life to write this,” said Myung-Ok Lee, who also wrote for The Herald. Myung-Ok Lee’s piece detailed her experience navigating the University’s open curriculum, which she found difficult due to her parents’ skepticism toward her liberal education. Ultimately, they accepted her choices when they saw “how I was absolutely at the place I needed to be in my life,” she read.

Mooney, author of “Learning Outside the Lines,” read from “The Dyslexic Brain Kicks Ass.” The title refers to Mooney’s friend Dave, who responded with these words when Mooney confessed that he had not learned to read until the age of twelve. Dave, along with his wife Becky, are “two of the many rare breeds of mutants who populated Brown, people whose interests and passions radiated in diverging and overlapping concentric circles that couldn’t be squared,” read Mooney.

When Strothman asked the audience whether any aspects of the authors’ work had impacted them, Cliff Weitzman ’16 said he had read Mooney’s book after his calculus teacher in high school had prohibited him from taking her course because he was dyslexic. “It was a very touching book to me, and it inspired me a lot,” he said.

Geraud Bablon ’14, who attended the event, said “The Brown Reader” was his “first introduction to what it means to be an alum and to have these shared experiences with all the people who have been on this campus.”

One audience member asked about any regrets the authors had or any changes they could have made to their Brown experiences. Liasson, to the agreement of most of the other authors, replied that she “had none at all.”

But Bakst said, “I wish I learned more and spent more time as a student. I also see this Korean barbeque truck parked in front of Caswell and Hegeman, and think, ‘Where were you when I needed you?’”