A gathering of memories marks Brown’s 250th anniversary.
In celebration of her alma mater, educator and editor Judy Sternlight (class of ’82) has collected essays by writers, poets and artists who attended Brown since the 1950s. Most are warm remembrances of the quirkiest of the Ivy League colleges, boasting a “loosey-goosey, roll-with-it curriculum”: no core requirements, a liberal pass/fail policy and encouragement of independent study. Admissions criteria focused more on creativity than test scores. “I wasn’t supposed to make it to a place like Brown,” writes Jonathan Mooney (’00), whose dyslexia resulted in mediocre high school grades. At Brown, he writes, “I wasn’t the dumb kid anymore. I learned that I never was.” Many contributors bring up common teenage concerns: friends, self-image, sex, etc. Although some students found kindred spirits and even love, others felt marginalized by differences of race or class. A few professors earn special praise: John Hawkes, for one, impressed novelist Meg Wolitzer (’81) by creating an “open, unguarded, and charitable environment” in his workshops. Joanna Scott (’85 AM) recounts a memorable dinner with visiting professor Susan Sontag, whom students nicknamed “the Duchess.” Political and social activism was prominent in some students’ experiences: Ira Magaziner (’69) recalls the student uprisings that instigated dramatic curricular change. Among the book’s other notable contributors are Susan Cheever (’65), Jeffrey Eugenides (’82), Edwidge Danticat (’93 MFA), children’s author Lois Lowry (’58), Marilynne Robinson (’66), A.J. Jacobs (’90), David Shields (’78) and Rick Moody (’83). To interest readers other than Brown alumnae, Sternlight might have provided some college history (when, for example, was Pembroke, the women’s college, merged with Brown? How have Brown’s demographics changed over the years?), and rather than relegate contributors’ bios to the end, she could have placed them as headnotes, where they would provide useful context.
For its intended audience, this collection will be a welcome souvenir.