Amherst Fall 2013

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Fall 2013

What you thought about railroads is probably wrong Living in Emily Dickinson’s House JFK, 50 Years Later Fundraising Success

Treasure Hunting Dan Brown ’86 is one of the best-selling authors of all time. How does he do it?


Ì FALL 2013 | VOLUME 66





Dan Brown ’86 on reading Dante, scoping out chase scenes and why he’d never write a character as evil as Cruella de Vil 18 OUR HOUSE, EMILY’S HOUSE BY JEAN MCCLURE MUDGE

After outbidding the A&P grocery, Amherst sought a tenant for Emily Dickinson’s house, and a family of five moved in. 24 FROST + KENNEDY

Fifty years ago helicopters landed on Pratt Field and President John F. Kennedy gave a speech about privilege, poetry and Robert Frost. 28 THE SHORT-LINERS BY ROGER M. WILLIAMS ’56

George Betke ’59 and Mike Smith ’68 know something that most people don’t: The railroad industry has seldom, if ever, been in better shape than it is today. Ì



Photograph of Dan Brown ’86 by Asia Kepka

2 VOICES 4 COLLEGE ROW WAITING FOR THE VAN at Logan Airport STATS on the new firstyear class THE FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN raised $502 million AND MORE

12 SPORTS FOOTBALL Last year three brothers were nursing injuries in the living room. This fall they fought it out on the field fi

34 POINT OF VIEW NOTEBOOK DAYS Tess Taylor ’00 said she was “being a writer,” but she felt like a fake

36 BEYOND CAMPUS FLYING Randy Davis ’76 has chauff ffeured wolves, emperor penguins and a Catholic saint DINING Alden Booth ’83 and Lissa Greenough ’83 own The People’s Pint HEALTH A lawyer and an actor are fighting suicide’s stigma SECOND ACT How the U.S. Army led Josh Cole ’99 to medical school ENERGY Lois Epstein’83 heads The Wilderness Society’s Arctic Program

42 AMHERST CREATES THEATER A new play by Ralph Lee ’57 and Robert Bagg ’57 FICTION Six Years, by Harlan Coben ’84, and The Partner Track, by Helen Wan ’95 NONFICTION A guidebook to air travel BIOGRAPHY Michael Gorra ’79 on Henry James

128 REMEMBER WHEN On Nov. 22, 1963, one sophomore returned from his 11:20 class to hear the president had been shot.

“I did have classic city determination—a crate of books, a few connections, a lead on a waitressing job in a converted funeral parlor.” TESS TAYLOR ’00 PAGE 34



MORE NEWS l PRESIDENT BIDDY MARTIN, who has more than 6,000 Twitter followers, has now added commentary to her online repertoire. Her first fi refl flection is about free speech in academia.

l Trustee Julie Segre ’87 was named a Federal Employee of the Year for research that ended a 2011 outbreak of a fatal “superbug.” AUDIO AND VIDEO l In a speech to new students, New Yorker writer and Amherst parent ELIZABETH KOLBERT said the state of the earth is much worse than her 2006 book about climate change described.

j THE VIEW FROM Emily Dickinson’s bed-

room in the 1960s, when a professor and his family lived in the house. The table and chair are Dickinson family pieces. Page 18



l Author and four-time National Magazine Award finalist CHARLES C. MANN ’76 gave a talk on “1493: Entwining ecology and history.” l Psychology Professor CATHERINE SANDERSON spoke with the Today show about what does—and does not—make people happy. l Daniel Diner ’14 walked around campus and asked: “What advice do you have for the freshman class?” PHOTO SETS l Browse photos from HOMECOMING weekend, the CAMPAIGN CELEBRATION and a 1920s-themed FALL FORMAL.


“The maddening mystery—What do these professors want?—reinforced my sense that I didn’t belong. I’m glad the era of English 1 is over.”


It was a pleasure to read about the legacy of English 1 (“Amherst English: An Appreciation,” Summer 2013). But a statistical detail in Rand Cooper’s accurate portrait took me aback: Yet for every student who felt bullied there were three who felt challenged to rise to the occasion, spurred on by what one student called “this ‘we-are-tearing-youdown-so-that-you-will-put-yourself-back-together’ attitude.” The quotation, I assume, is from Robin Varnum’s book Fencing with Words. The arithmetic I take to be Cooper’s, and I take issue with it. Like Cooper, I had John Cameron for English 11 in the mid1970s. I was the one who felt bullied. The only thing I knew for sure in the fall of 1974 was: I do not belong at Amherst College. The epigones of English 1 may have “spurred on” some, teaching their privileged, entitled, well-prepared freshmen that they weren’t as smart as they thought. The maddening mystery—What do these professors want?—didn’t teach me anything and reinforced my sense that I didn’t belong. That sentiment is not uncommon among first-year fi students at Amherst, especially now, because (I hope) more students arrive at Amherst “less-wellprepared.” I’m glad the era of English 1 is over. Paul Statt ’78 PHILADELPHIA 2 Amherst Fall 2013



An A

He thought he was getting away with something. But really he was learning something.

Appreciation A THE NUMBER KEPT CHANGing. Was it 374 years, as President Biddy Martin stated in her congratulatory remarks? Or 421 years, as listed on the invitation? Or some other figure? Any way you tally it, the collective amount of time notched by the members of the English department who were formally retired last spring is daunting, and a grateful appreciation of their service—its quantity and quality—brought scores of former students to the Lord Jeffery Inn in May to celebrate and thank Professors Cameron, Chickering, Guttmann, O’Connell, Peterson, Pritchard, Townsend and von Schmidt. The teaching careers of the most senior retirees go all the way back to 1958—the year I and my now middleaged mates in the Class of 1980 were born. In the America of that distant year, Eisenhower was president, Beatles were pests in your garden and Vietnam was an obscure French colonial struggle. As for Amherst, it was 900 white males in ties,

26 Amherst Summer 2013

Illustration by Keith Negley Illustratio

STRANGE COVER CHOICE Strange choice for the rear cover of “Summer 2013”! Those of us who survived two wars subject to the draft and have made longtime contributions to the “fairest college” are depicted as none other than fun-loving participants in the annual lighting of the bonfire, fi whereas current students are shown as serious organic farmers. This is like depicting the students of today as gathered around a communal “bong.” David K. Winslow ’53 BROOKHAVEN,, N.Y. THEN & NOW


In the 1950s a not-angry mob of torch-wielding students came together for a campus bonfire. This June student interns drove tomato stakes into the soil of the “Florida field” (so named for its shape) at Book & Plow Farm, a four-acre operation on college land. The internships allow students to sample the life of an organic farmer (which, if they're lucky, now includes sampling the fruits of this earlysummer labor).

1950s College Bonfire

2013 Book & Plow Farm






Amherst Summer 2013 27

FOLLOWING THE CABLE I was delighted to read the interview with Andrew Blum ’99 about his tracing the Internet through its sub-surface labyrinth (“Behind the Glowing Screen,” Spring 2013). That tends to confirm fi my suspicion that the system is indeed finite, with not-unlimited capacity. The discourse jargon suggests otherwise, such as the references to “the Cloud,” where limitless bits of data supposedly can be stored forever. The Cloud actually is, or are, big black boxes tucked away in remote buildings, and like everything else eventually will fi fill to capacity. When that point of collapse is reached, we may find fi the first-class lettter gets to its destination quicker. Hold on to your “forever stamps.” W.G. Sayres ’53 WAYNE, MAINE A ANOTHER SELF-INTERESTED IDEALIST The Common, the Amherst-based print and online literary magazine focusing on a strong sense of place, is honored tto partner with the visionary Amherst College Press (“Librarians Will Lead tthe Revolution,” Winter 2013). While


magazine’s self-interest is refl flected in seeking to better understand our human place in the world while training a future generation of readers and editors. The benefit fi of this eff ffort, and of the scholarly works to be produced by ACP, extends to underserved readers and thinkers around the world who are able to access not only quality literature but also an important ongoing conversation. Jennifer Acker ’00 CAMPUS eAcker is editor of The Common. CORRECTION The Summer 2013 article on John Potter ’68 misidentifi fied the place in which he spent Thanksgiving during his year at sea. It was Marblehead, Mass. ROB MATTSON

ACP will publish scholarship and The Common publishes fiction, essays, poetry and art, the two new, idealistic ventures share core values that distinguish them from runof-the-mill presses. Foremost is the emphasis on editing, which librarian Bryn Geff ffert calls “the last great bulwark against slipping standards.” In 2012, Vanity Fairr editor and Amherst board chair Cullen Murphy ’74 told Amherstt that every editor shares “faith in the power of the written word. It’s not just the power to communicate. Even more fundamentally, the very process of writing is essential to the process of thinking.” At The Common, I mentor Amherst student interns in all aspects of the editorial process. Like ACP, The Common is “at once self-interested and altruistic.” The

On Facebook and Twitter, readers commented on stories in the Summer 2013 magazine, including those on Amherst English and the literary love letters on the bathroom walls in Frost. SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS

Summer 2013


via Twitter

Henry Bao-Viet Nguyen ’13 and Lacie Goldberg ’13 have never

Five run a hotel. students That’s why one and a CEO sought CEO them out. Amherst English ends an era

Emily Gold Boutilier (413) 542-8275 ALUMNI EDITOR

Betsy Cannon Smith ’84 (413) 542-2031 DESIGN DIRECTOR



Lawrence Douglas David Hixon ’75 Ron Lieber ’93 Elizabeth Minkel ’07 Megan Morey Meredith Rollins ’93 Peter Rooney


Summer 2013

’11 ,


its readers. Please send them to or Amherstt Magazine, PO Box 5000, Amherst, MA 01002. Letters must be 300 words or fewer and should address the content in the magazine.

“There will be a slow line in that bathroom.” JANE HALLING , via Facebook



WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU Ì WE Amherstt welcomes letters from

“Spot-on piece about @AmherstCollege English profs and the house style in current alum magazine. Took many of their classes, back in the day.” TED LOOS ’91 , via Twitter

“The summer issue of the alumni mag was in my mailbox one minute, in my hands the next, & devoured during lunch. Excellent!”


“One alum to another, can I send you a sandwich or something?” KESTER ALLEN ’97E , responding to Campeau.

Amherstt (USPS 024-280) is published quarterly by Amherst College at Amherst, Massachusetts 01002-5000, and is sent free to all alumni. Periodicals postage paid at Amherst, Massachusetts 01002-5000 and additional mailing offices. ffi Postmaster: Please send Form 3579 to Amherst, AC # 2220, PO Box 5000, Amherst College, Amherst, MA 01002-5000.

How to be happy after college

Amherst Fall 2013 3

news and views from campus

College Row

for theVan Ì Waiting As they sat with their luggage in Boston’s international terminal, groups of new students began their orientation to college—and to the United States.

4 Amherst Fall 2013

m Photographs by Jessica Scranton

NEW FACES U Huddled within a barricade of suitcases at Logan Airport, three new acquaintances sat waiting g for a ride. Unlike their American classmates, who’d arrive on campus with full cars and parents in tow, these members of the Class of 2017 had flown fl into Boston alone. Now the students—Khishigsuren Jargalsaikhan, from Mongolia; Samantha Tatenda Nyovanie, from Zimbabwe; and Adrian Chan, from MOREe THIS PAGE,

clockwise from top: Mia Ólafsdóttir Kaaber ’17 of Iceland gets a welcome-to-Boston hug from Nancy Yun Tang ’14. Tang with Joyce Wamala ’17 of Zimbabwe. Wamala, Kaaber and Luka Matej Devenica ’17 of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pascual Cortes-Monroy ’17 shows his passport. FACING PAGE, clockwise from top: Cortes-Monroy arrives from Chile. Tran Bao ’17 (with Amherst sign) and Nhi Truong ’17 of Vietnam. Jayson Paul ’16 greets Devenica. Takudzwa Taphema ’17 and classmates head to Amherst. Kasope Alesh ’14 waits for new arrivals. For many Amherst students flying to Logan that day, it was their first time in the United States.

Amherst Fall 2013 5

Hong Kong—were waiting for a van to campus. The transport is coordinated each year by the International Students Association and the International Student Life Fellow. On Aug. 22, four shuttles carried 18 new international students from Logan to Amherst. But how does such a journey begin? Chan learned about Amherst when an admission offi fficer visited his high school. “I wanted to go to a liberal arts school with need-blind admissions,” he said. “I needed lots of finanfi cial aid.” His two new classmates nodded in agreement. “Not very many people from Mongolia go abroad for school or go to America,” said Jargalsaikhan. “We are only now starting to know about other schools.” Nyovanie’s brother went to MIT and has a friend at Amherst. This friend was a pushy guide: “He was asking, ‘Did you finish your essay yet? Your application?’ It was motivating to apply knowing there is someone from your country there.” She liked the liberal arts curriculum, so diff fferent from the British system of her country. “Zimbabwe was a British colony,” she began to explain. “Colonies!” Chan piped in. They fist-bumped fi over a shared imperial history. She asked, “Did you bring noodles from Hong Kong?” “No. There is an Asian store near Amherst,” Chan said. “Google Maps. So useful.” “Otherwise you could go to China City,” she offered. ff “I know, right? I could go to Chinatown.” “Oh, yes. Chinatown,” she nodded, studiously. Xiao Xiao ’16, a student 6 Amherst Fall 2013

from Singapore assigned to meet this group, blew in and handed over an envelope full of cash. “You can get lunch. There is $100. But there is another person coming, so, you know, don’t spend it all.” Soon they found the other student. Daniel Mariselli, from Peru by way of Florida, wore a purple Amherst shirt. “Are you going to Amherst?” Chan asked, perhaps unnecessarily. “Yes,” Mariselli said. This was to be his first time seeing the college. “I met some Williams students and almost got into fi fisticuff ffs with them,” he said with a smile. Upstairs, the group spent $48.72 on pulled-pork and turkey sandwiches. They ordered no drinks, having not yet learned the first fi rule of being an Amherst student: When the college gives you money, spend alll of it. Instead, they tucked change and receipts into an envelope and stood chatting in a circle. “I’m in Stearns,” one student off ffered. “Wait, you’re in Stearns? I’m in Stearns.” Jargalsaikhan, not in Stearns, gave her dorm. “That’s a good one, right?” she asked. Sandwiches acquired, they headed down the escalator. For most of the students at Logan that day, it was their first time in the United States. They’d brought their lives in just a few bags. (Takudzwa Tapfuma, from Zimbabwe, held just one tiny carry-on and a backpack.) Xiao hustled the group out to a parking lot. A white van awaited. Within moments, they were off ff on their first drive in America, off ff to their home for the next four years. ELIZABETH CHILES SHELBURNE ’01



About the Class of 2017 Amherst welcomed 466 members to the new firstfi year class, as well as 13 new transfer students. They are from 40 states and 30 foreign countries. They are Junior Olympians, Irish fiddle players and calligraphers. There’s even an embalmer’s assistant.

14% Ȥ۷ CA



[For the fi first time in Amherst history]



[A record-setting percentage for Amherst]



[The oldest new student is more than twice the age of the youngest]

First ȍ  ˒



[Almost 18 percent of new students are in the first generation in their families to attend college]

57% Ƞփ


Why Social Networks Matter


President Martin used her convocation address to counter attacks on liberal arts education.

Curious Professors The faculty continues to expand its ranks, adding 30 new members this academic year. The interests of these scholars include:



Baisa, assistant professor of economics, studies game theory with a focus on auction design. He is especially interested in what economic theory can say about the ways in which goods and services are sold.

SPEECHES U In this year’s

convocation address, President Biddy Martin took on those who question the value of a liberal arts education by describing her own background and the role Amherst plays in reducing prejudice and ignorance. “I’m a little worked up about some of the attacks on liberal arts education and higher education in general,” she told the Class of 2017 in Johnson Chapel. “Calls to keep higher ed accessible, affordable ff and of high quality are legitimate and have to be heeded, but some of the gleeful proclamations of disruption and demise are pernicious.” Like 18 percent of the new class, Martin was a first-generation college student. She said she was raised “in an environment and a family that feared education because it has the power to change us.” Because of her experiences, she said, she’s thought a lot “about the benefi fits of education, but also about what can be diffi fficult in it.” What can be diffi fficult, she said,

is “combining the intellectual quality of this community with an eff ffort to take better advantage of the diff fferences among us.” One way to break out of the “prison house of ignorance and prejudice,” she said, is for students to build not only “bonding” relationships with people who are comfortably similar to themselves but also “bridging” relationships with those from other backgrounds. Citing research by Amherst psychology professor Elizabeth Aries and others, who have found that white U.S. students from more privileged backgrounds tend to do the least crossing of boundaries in their friendship networks, Martin urged all students to use their time at Amherst to resist the “comfort and safety” of insular networks. “The friendships you form here matter, and they matter not only to you as individuals or to the institution, but they matter on a much larger stage,” she said. “The relationships we build here are experiments in the kind of social world we could imagine and would like to have.” PETER ROONEY

SMALL RNA: Yan Qi, assistant professor of biology, studies the regulatory roles of small RNAs in cellular stress response, using the nematode worm C. elegans. This semester she’s teaching a course in molecular genetics. TURNING POLLUTION INTO PRODUCTS: Nicholas

Ball, assistant professor of chemistry, develops ways to convert air, water and ground pollutants into useful feedstocks for chemical synthesis. PUERTO RICAN HISTORY:

Solsiree del Moral, associate professor of American studies and black studies, wrote a book about the cultural politics of schools in Puerto Rico between 1898 and 1952. POINTING: Carolyn

Palmquist, assistant professor of psychology, studies nonverbal communication—specifically, pointing—in children. CHINESE POLITICS: Kerry

Ratigan, assistant professor of political science, is teaching a course this semester on power and politics in contemporary China, and another on collective action and the politics of resistance. Her current research is on health policy adoption and implementation. Amherst Fall 2013 7


Success Against the Odds

↓ Amherst’s fundraising campaign roared past its initial goal, raising


20,338 DONORS


number of donors was an extraordinary 20,338. To Martin, the campaign’s success is an endorsement of its objectives: maintaining needblind admission and financial aid, capitalizing upon an increasingly diverse student body and fostering facultystudent research. ROB MATTSON (2)

FINANCE U In October 2008 Amherst faced a question that would shape its plans for years to come: With the stock market plunging and its own endowment taking a 23 percent hit, should it abandon its nascent fundraising campaign? The college chose to push forward. Almost five years and more than $502 million later, it’s safe to say the decision was sound. “The campaign was not only launched during a challenging time,” said President Biddy Martin in September, “but it succeeded during the worst downturn since the Great Depression.” The effort—which ff concluded Sept. 20–21 with a campus celebration—roared past its initial goal of $425 million. The


Also noteworthy are the high number of anonymous donations, totaling more than $138 million (including separate anonymous gifts of $100 million and $25 million), and the high proportion of unrestricted gifts, about 47 percent of the campaign total, Martin says. The campaign was the responsibility of Chief Advancement Off fficer Megan Morey, who worked with staff ff, trustees and a Campaign Executive Committee chaired by trustees Brian J. Conway ’80, Hope E. Pascucci ’90 and Jide J. Zeitlin ’85. Acknowledging the severity of the recession, organizers did not simply ask for money: “We encouraged and recognized alumni engagement as a form of giving,” Morey says. This engagement included volunteering, offering internships, attending Amherst events and interacting with the college through social media and on its website. “I’ve been hardpressed to come across somebody who didn’t at some point connect with the college in some way,” Morey says. “It’s incredible.” PETER ROONEY

8 Amherst Fall 2013


Party Time The fundraising campaign ended with a campus-wide celebration. CAMPAIGN U The Lives of Consequence campaign officially ffi ended Sept. 20–21 with music, lectures, a portrait unveiling and an outdoor party. The portrait was of Richard Wilbur ’42, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, former U.S. poet laureate and now the John Woodruff ff Simpson Lecturer at Amherst (the same position once held by Robert Frost). At the unveiling in Johnson Chapel, where the painting will hang, President Biddy Martin noted Wilbur’s “ebullient and often surprising humor and celebration of everyday things.” Before reading a series of Wilbur poems, David Sofield, fi the Samuel Williston Professor of English, recalled his “fierce fi doubles tennis partnership” with the poet, their five years of teaching together and his belief that Wilbur knows “more poems by heart than anyone else in the world.” He alluded to Wilbur’s experience during World War II, “following combat all the way from south central Italy to France, Germany and Austria.” Sofi field then read Wilbur’s poem “Terza Rima,” published in The New Yorkerr in 2008. Later, Wilbur took the stage and read a selection of poems, including “The House” (also published in The New Yorker), r which he dedicated to his late wife, f Charlee. It concludes: “Only a foolish man would hope to fi find/ That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind./ Night after night, my love, I put to sea.” The portrait is by Sarah Belchetz-Swenson and was made possible with the support of Axel Schupf ’57. Other weekend highlights included a party on the Main Quad with live music, food and games; a keynote address by Amherst trustee Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor best known for his theory of multiple intelligences; and a pointcounterpoint conversation on affirmative ffi action between two alumni: Bert Rein ’61, plaintiff ff ’s counsel in the U.S. Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, and Paul Smith ’76, who achieved for his clients a landmark victory in Lawrence v. Texas. P.R.

← President Martin was one of several hundred at the weekend’s events.

Wrongful Deaths A real-life execution is the focus of a professor’s new opera. Performers at a rehearsal for the new opera Garden of Martyrs, composed by Associate Professor of Music Eric Sawyer

Sawyer conducts during a pre-premiere rehearsal in Buckley Recital Hall.


FACULTY U What makes for an operatic story? Murder and mayhem help, but just as important are simplicity and timelessness—“the kind of story that strikes an audience member as immediately familiar,” says composer Eric Sawyer, an associate professor of music at Amherst. The Garden of Martyrs, a 2005 historical novel by Michael C. White, has all of those elements. It’s based on the true story of two Irish immigrants falsely accused, convicted and executed for a murder near Springfield, fi Mass., at a time when Catholics were a new and threatening presence to many New Englanders. Sawyer’s latest project is an opera based on that novel. Created with librettist Harley Erdman, it premiered in September at the Academy of Music in Northampton, not a mile from the execution spot. The Springfield fi Symphony Orchestra and a coterie of professional directors, performers and designers provided the staging. The opera, like the book, is about Dominic Daley and James Halligan, who were hanged on June 5, 1806, in front of 15,000 eager onlookers. Many years later, modern forensics exonerated them. The other central character is Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, a priest who ministered to the convicts in their final days. Cheverus was a refugee from horrific fi brutalities in the wake of the French Revolution. Sawyer and Erdman pared

down White’s story to the essential scenarios and characters. Then, as Erdman wrote the libretto, each character became imbued “with a way of speaking, certain rhythms, certain melodic infl flections,”

says Sawyer. “The words come first, and they are the wellspring of musical ideas.” In the opera, Father Cheverus’ “fi final speech, where he faces a crowd of bloodthirsty people” on behalf of the prisoners, is a moment of “personal redemption,” says Sawyer. “The burden of survivors’ guilt” and a “dark secret from his past” plague Cheverus, who, in this telling, had compromised his principles to escape a massacre of priests in France. The Garden of Martyrs is Sawyer’s second opera. (His first is about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.) He hopes this new work stimulates discussion on a “story that repeats itself in America of newcomers who are treated with suspicion when

something goes wrong.” Today, he argues, Daley and Halligan would be branded as terrorists. While the libretto makes no explicit connection to the present, it “reminds us of the danger of biases and prejudices,” Erdman says—“of the destructive force of jumping to conclusions.” White consciously excluded himself from the opera’s creative process, and when he heard Sawyer’s music for the first time, he says, he “felt chills” at how it conveyed “the suff ffering and the feelings of my characters.” Watching the opera take shape was “almost like having a child,” White says. “I was seeing what came from me originally, but it was made into something wholly new.” ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER Amherst Fall 2013 9


5 The renovated Seligman House is meant to feel like home—if your home has an old ballroom.

Just Like Home Seligman House—a dorm on Route 9 that was empty for the past three years—just reopened after a $7 million renovation and expansion.

Ten women live on the all-female third floor.

The second floor is now a Japanese and Chinese language theme house for 19 students.


The ground floor houses 14 and is open for Room Draw.


There are exposed beams and natural wood flooring. “They kept the nooks and crannies and irregularly shaped rooms,” says Dean Allen Hart. “The ballroom with a large fireplace is still intact, while adding a study space and a nice kitchen area.”

Associate Dean of Students Allen Hart ’82 lived in the building in 1979–80, when it was Theta Delta Chi fraternity. He helped plan 10 Amherst Fall 2013

the renovation. “The guiding sentiments were to maintain a homey feel,” he says, “keeping as much as we could the sense of a house while

also building an addition that allowed us to double the bed count.” The renovation was the first in the building’s 80-year history.

Distinctive features include an original fireplace and much of the original wood paneling. Students involved in the planning wanted the building to look more like a home than a dorm, says Director of Residential Life Torin Moore, and they wanted plenty of social space.

Be a Mentor

A Year in Abu Dhabi This fall, readers of an Amherst-based literary magazine might notice a slight tilt to the Middle East.


Acker, editor of The Common, helped translate work by a Saudi Arabian author.

included university faculty, students and staff ff, with Acker often the only native English speaker in the room. Translators worked in pairs in the fall, and then the workshop shifted to a group translation of a single chapter of Al Karadib in the spring, doubling their sessions in order to complete it. That chapter appears on The Common’s website this fall and will eventually be in the print magazine. One of Acker’s main goals in her Middle Eastern sojourn was “bringing The Common to Abu Dhabi and bringing the Middle East to The Common. It’s an area of literature I don’t know very much about, and there are several excellent publishers and translators of Middle


PUBLICATIONS U The Common is a two-year-old literary magazine that focuses on “a modern sense of place.” Though based in one place—Amherst College—it has featured work from various corners of the world: South African poetry, for example, and translations from Russian and Spanish. This fall, readers might notice a slight tilt toward another place: the Middle East. That’s because its editor, Jennifer Acker ’00, spent the 2012–13 academic year in residence at NYU Abu Dhabi as a faculty fellow, where she taught the school’s first creative writing workshop. The time in Abu Dhabi also gave her the opportunity to make contacts with Middle Eastern writers. The October issue of The Common includes a short story, previously unpublished in English, by Jordanian writer Hisham Bustani. Acker says the story’s “innovative, modern style and preoccupation with the mental landscape of a woman in a traditional Arabic family” convinced her it was right for the magazine. In Abu Dhabi, Acker participated in a yearlong workshop that aimed to translate Al Karadib, the third novel in a trilogy by Saudi Arabian writer Turki el Hamad (who was recently imprisoned for five months for apostasy for remarks he made on Twitter). The workshop

A new program links students with alumni.

Eastern and Arabic literature.” She also wanted to meet authors and scholars in the region. “Of course, all of that can be done virtually to some extent, but these two pieces that are appearing in the magazine would not have come about through virtual eff fforts.” Acker—who was in Abu Dhabi with her husband, Nishi Shah, an associate professor of philosophy at Amherst—is now contemplating the possibility of a special issue devoted to the Middle East. In the meantime, she is pleased that The Common will serve as “a venue for these authors to be introduced to an American readership and to the Amherst community.” SUE DICKMAN ’89

Outside Keefe Campus Center on Sept. 13, Edith Cricien ’14 was enrolling students in Pathways, a new mentoring program that connects alumni with students in search of career and academic advice. To Cricien, the democratic nature of Pathways resonates. She says low-income students can be less adept at leveraging social networks and less likely to appreciate the importance of connections: “This is a great way to make the networking process less intimidating.” Alumni can mentor up to two students a semester. Mentors commit to speaking with mentees—online, by phone or in person—at least twice a week for one semester. “While aff ffluent students have generally had access to this type of guidance, this program helps level the playing field for lower-income students,” says Elizabeth Aries, an Amherst psychology professor who has written two books on race and class at Amherst. Alumni can sign up by filling out a profile at amherst. edu/alumni/pathways. Students browse profiles to choose mentors. Each selected mentor receives an email invitation to view the student’s profile. Alumni may either confirm or decline requests. Upon confirmation, students initiate the first contact. P.R. Amherst Fall 2013 11


The Brothers O’Malley Last year they were nursing injuries in the family living room, one brother on the couch and two on rolled-in beds. This fall they were back to fighting it out on the field.

12 Amherst Fall 2013


The O’Malleys: Bill ’84 and Sue with daughter Caitlin ’11 and sons (from left) Jake ’14, Brian ’17 and Sean. Opposite page: Jake (right) and Brian on Pratt Field

BY BEN BADUA ON A SATURDAY IN LATE SEPTEMBER, three O’Malleys arrived on Pratt Field. Jake O’Malley is a senior wide receiver on the Amherst football team. His younger brother, Brian, is a first-year fi wideout. Their older brother, Sean? He’s a wide receiver for Bowdoin, Amherst’s opponent that sunny afternoon. The family rivalry is not limited to the three brothers. Their father is Bill O’Malley ’84, who played football and basketball for the Jeffs. ff Their sister, Caitlin ’11, donned the Purple & White for women’s soccer. Their mother, Sue, went to Bowdoin. “We’re a pretty boring household,” says the patriarch. “The six of us have gone to a grand total of two schools.” For Sean, Jake and Brian, the rivalry began on their front lawn in Medfield, fi Mass., where Sean and Jake played fierce games of wiffl ffle ball, hockey and football with neighborhood friends. The problem: there were usually an odd number of 11- and 12-year-olds. The solution: draft 7-year-old Brian to even things out. “I remember playing against these huge kids, trying not to get hurt but usually ending up crying on the sidelines,” says Brian. “Sometimes I’d agitate Jake, but Sean was my protector. He’d save me from Jake’s wrath.” Sean and Jake starred for St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Mass., finishing their senior seasons with 6-2 records. During Sean’s fi first year at Bowdoin his team suff ffered a 13-12 loss Photograph by Rob Mattson

to Amherst. The next season Sean got a first crack at bragging rights against Jake, hauling in a team-high eight receptions for 64 yards. But the win ultimately went to the younger O’Malley; Amherst walked away with a lopsided 38-7 triumph. Wins the next two seasons made it three in a row for Amherst. “It reminds me off the Mannings getting together,” says their father. “Peyton and Eli both want to win. They play hard, but at the end of the game you see them give each other a nice hug and you realize that family is a lot more important than wins and losses.” Nonetheless, Jake has not let Sean forget that the wins have been slanted in Amherst’s favor. Jake was the Jeffs’ ff top receiver last year, catching a teamhigh 34 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Averaging 11.2 yards per reception, he was one of the league’s best pass catchers and nabbed a spot on the All Conference first-team. fi But he’s not the family’s only star. Sean holds the Bowdoin record for longest off ffensive play from scrimmage. And Brian became the only O’Malley brother to go undefeated during his senior year at St. Sebastian’s. The September on-field fi reunion almost didn’t happen. Sean tore his ACL in a preseason scrimmage in 2012, forcing him to sit out for a year. Jake suff ffered an equally devastating injury when he closed out last season against Williams: “When I first got cut blocked and kneed in the back, I thought I just got the wind knocked out of me,” Jake says. “I sat down and thought I’d catch

my breath, but I didn’t. I knew something was wrong.” He’d ruptured his kidney. Brian was the last to go down, breaking an ankle later that fall. Soon the three were reunited in their parents’ living room, Sean and Jake in rolled-in beds and Brian on the couch. “These kids have played football forever and thankfully for the longest time no one’s gotten hurt,” says their father. “Then all of a sudden all three are on the shelf.” Eleven months later, the Saturday showdown on Pratt Field off ffered Sean a final shot at knocking off ff Amherst before his brothers could claim lifetime bragging rights. The three acknowledged one another with head nods during pre-game stretches. Their sister made the trip from New York to join their parents in the stands. Which team did the family root for? “Seeing them out there, playing Division III football on a beautiful autumn day is all we care about,” says a diplomatic Bill. “The end of last year was tough, so having them healthy and having fun again means everything. Whenever Amherst and Bowdoin play, my wife and I secretly hope for a 40-40 tie and lots of O’Malleys in the endzone. To us, that would be the perfect outcome.” To others, the actual outcome was even better: The final score was 27-11, Amherst. Jake had four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Sorry, Sean. k Badua covers sports for Amherst magazine. Amherst Fall 2013 13

Treasure Dan Brown ’86 writes to his own taste, which a whole lot of people just

happen to share. Brown atop Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking Florence, Italy. Two prominent sites from his latest novel are visible in the background: the spire of Palazzo Vecchio and the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Brown was a Spanish major at Amherst.


DAN BROWN is not merely a best-selling novelist. His books have sold 200 million copies and appeared in 52 languages, making him one of the most successful authors of all time. Among his volumes are four that feature protagonist Robert Langdon, including 2003’s The Da Vinci Code and his latest, Inferno. In a recent talk in Johnson Chapel, Brown spoke about his writing and mentioned a new music composition by his brother, Gregory W. Brown ’98, that is based on a Catholic mass but replaces sacred texts with writings of Charles Darwin. “So,” said the novelist, whose Da Vinci Code drew criticism from the Catholic Church, “I suspect the Vatican may be banging on our door yet again.” Professor of Classics and Women’s and Gender Studies Rick Griffiths ffi interviewed Brown about such topics as Dante’s vision of hell, writing reluctant heroes and playing cat and mouse with bloggers.


14 Amherst Fall 2013

Photograph by Claudio Sforza

Amherst Fall 2013 15

Now that you’ve lived with Dante as a colleague, rival, inspiration—as your Virgil—what do you see in him that you did not see before? What I didn’t recall from reading Dante originally was this idea of contrapasso, that our life on earth and the sins we commit are relevant to the punishments we feel in hell. So, if you are an adulterer on earth—well, guess what? In hell they’ve got something devised for you that’s appropriate to that. The punishment fits fi the crime. But your Inferno takes on issues—population explosion, bioterrorism—that get beyond Dante’s kind of individual responsibility. One of my challenges in writing novels is to take something ancient and make it relevant—for example, to fuse antimatter with the Vatican’s stance on science. In Inferno I came up with the idea of making the villain a skilled genetic engineer who is a Dante fanatic and a Dante scholar. He feels that Dante’s vision of hell is not so much history as it is prophecy. He becomes obsessed with this idea that Dante’s vision of a crowded, dark, hot world of sin and starvation is where we’re headed if we’re not careful. Is that why so much of the book is about fertility control? I have a sincere concern about world population and an understanding that the situation is so dire and the mathematics so frightening that whatever solution we find will be drastic. It won’t just be people handing out condoms. Mother Nature will find fi a way to trim the herd; if we don’t, she will. Seventy percent of the world population lives within 30 miles of the coast, and sea levels are rising fast—an interesting statistic. In this novel, Zobrist, the villain—or hero, depending on whose side you’re on—argues in favor of finding a humane, painless way to handle the situation as a species rather than constantly being in conflict fl with our planet. 16 Amherst Fall 2013

How did you become interested in codes and puzzlesolving? My dad is a math teacher and mathematician and wrote textbooks on mathematics. When I was a kid, on Christmas morning when we came down there were no presents under the tree. There was just an envelope. We would open it, and it would be a code. My sister and I would decipher the code. It would be a riddle or something that would point to another location in the house. We’d run to that location, maybe the refrigerator, open it up, and there’s another envelope, with another code. These codes could be mathematical or they could be pictures. And eventually, by the time we got through the whole house and back to the Christmas tree, all our presents had magically appeared. I grew up feeling like codes are fun. The concept of the treasure hunt is one of the oldest forms of storytelling. ASIA KEPKA

Why did you center your new Robert Langdon novel on Dante’s Inferno? On some level Dante called to me as something new and fresh. Yet the Divine Comedy is so filled fi with symbolism and religion that it felt like solid ground and familiar territory for Langdon. I first fi read a watered-down version of Inferno in Italian class in high school. I remember thinking it felt so modern for something written in the 1300s. It felt startlingly relevant to modern life. The Bible does not say much about hell; it talks about hell in ethereal terms. Classical mythology talks about hell, but also not specifi fically. It wasn’t until Dante that we had a codifi fied, structured, vivid vision of hell. In some ways, Dante invented our modern vision of hell.

“Cruella De Vil made coats out of Dalmatian puppies. I would never write a character that evil.”


Listen to the Amherst Reads interview at www. magazine

There’s the quest for the Golden Fleece, the quest for the Fountain of Youth. And in both of those, the quest is the story. That’s the same model I used for The Da Vinci Code. The value of the quest is not actually in finding that grail; it’s in what you learn in the process of trying to find the Grail, or the Golden Fleece, or the Fountain of Youth, or whatever it is. You’ve set extraordinary chase scenes in the ceilings and bowels of buildings. That’s very Dante-like. Do you build models of the buildings? I was in every space that I wrote about in Florence, Venice and Istanbul. After The Da Vinci Code, I was given access to places that—I’m not naïve—I wouldn’t have had access to before. I get letters from curators saying, “Come to Prague—we have an entire plot for you here.” Here’s the irony: I am always trying to write in secret. I don’t want people to know what I’m writing about. So I will go to Venice and be interested in St. Mark’s Cathedral, yet I can’t spend all my time there and ask all my questions about exactly what it is I want to write about, so half the questions I’m asking and half the places I’m going have nothing to do with the book. I take copious notes about things that I know are totally irrelevant. And sure enough, I end up seeing on a blog that somebody at the museum knows exactly what my next novel is. So it’s a little bit of a game of cat and mouse. Are you ever tempted to go into the blogosphere and correct misinformation anonymously?

I was told a long time ago never to pay attention to your critics or your fans, because you lose both ways. If you read that somebody loves what you’re doing, you become lazy and complacent, and if you read that somebody hates what you’re doing, you can become insecure and hesitant.

foreign languages—I wasn’t very good at it, but I enjoyed it. At Amherst I read a lot of Borges and García Márquez. After college I was in Tahiti, of all places, and found on a beach a copy of a modern thriller. I really hadn’t read one; I didn’t know the genre existed. This was a very light book by Sidney Sheldon—I mean the lightest of light. I read it and I thought, “Oh my God, this is the Hardy Boys for adults.” I started consuming that kind of literature—the whole Bourne series, a lot of different ff writers—and decided I wanted to try to fuse the thriller genre with something more classical: more paintings, fewer guns.

How do you hold people’s attention for hundreds of pages, over complicated plots? Writing thrillers is a lot like writing music. (I am a failed musician.) A symphony is about structure, theme, tempo, pacing and ambience; all these things are critical to writing a novel. Writing is about creating tension and release. Can they stop this virus? What does this code mean? Are they going to get away? If I’ve done my job well, these individual bits of tension will pull a reader through the entire book. You do monumental outlines for these plots. Do you build outlines from the beginning or the end? My outline for Inferno was about 100 pages. I never start an outline without knowing the ending: You’ve got to have something to aim at. Of course, that ending may shift. It’s like building a house: You have a plan, but as you start to get into the nitty-gritty, you might say, “This wall shouldn’t be there.” But you can’t start building until you know the foundation is solid. Your Inferno is very much about the ambiguities of evil and very hard on the morally neutral. Your hero gets called into things; he doesn’t go looking for trouble. You of all people know that the reluctant hero is one of the great archetypes of classic mythology. Your characters—the heroes, the villains, the helpers—cross categories quite a bit. I like that gray area between right and wrong. I think it’s interesting when characters do the right thing for the wrong reason and even more interesting when they do the wrong thing for the right reason. Zobrist is trying to save the world. We might argue that releasing a virus, like he does, may not be the best way to do it. Yet you can argue that his heart is in the right place. Cruella De Vil made coats out of Dalmatian puppies. It doesn’t get much worse than that. I would never write a character that evil. What books caught your imagination as a child or college student? Aside from reading a ton of children’s books—everything from Maurice Sendak and Richard Scarry all the way up through the Hardy Boys—once I started high school and college, I only read classics. I loved Shakespeare and loved reading in

But you’ve said you read almost no fiction. Why not? I read almost exclusively nonfiction fi because for me it feels more connected to the modern world. I read crazy stuff ff: Ray Kurzweil, math books, Stephen Hawking, books on population control. Those feel H re elevant to me. What I hope to do in my books is to o write something that feels like a thriller but also fe eels relevant to real life.

Inferno f reached number one on the New York Times best seller list. Brown’s outline for the book was about 100 pages long.

W is your imagined reader? Who As simplistic as this may sound, I write the book A th hat I find interesting, that I find exciting. I’m writin ng to my own taste. I choose symbols and codes, or plots and locations, that I myself would want to read about. And then I just hope that people share my taste. Obviously you wish everybody loved what you do. That’s just not the way it is. The standard advice for aspiring writers is to write what you know. What’s your advice? The most helpful thing that I could’ve been told as a young writer is to choose a topic that I was conflicted about, or that terrifi fied me, or that I’d always wanted to know about. Part of keeping readers interested is conveying passion, and it’s hard to muster passion for a topic about which you feel indiff fferent. Have you ever started a project and found it’s a dead end? Sure. I never get anything right the first fi time. On my keyboard all the keys look fine fi except for the Delete key. The D is gone. It’s just smudged off ff from hitting it so much. I’ve never started a novel that I didn’t finish, but I’ve started many, many threads of plot, or characters, or openings that I’ve discarded. The opening hundred pages of The Lost Symboll were at one point totally diff fferent. For every one page that I write, there are 10 pages that I throw out. k This article is adapted from an interview for Amherst Reads, the college’s online book club. Inferno was the Amherst Reads featured book for September. Amherst Fall 2013 17

After outbidding the A&P grocery,

A Amherst sought a tenant

for Emily


house, and a

young family of five moved in.

Our House, Emily’s House


18 Amherst Fall 2013

OMENT, WHEN EMILY n is in danger of rwritten, it’s hard that 50 years ago irtually anonymous eral public, includt old-timers in Amovergrown hemlock her birthplace and del—an imposing, tyle mansion near r of town. The hedge o protect her from ing fame, as if she eeping Beauty beill composing “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Only a small sign at the entrance told the public that this was “The Home of Emily Dickinson.” There was no hint that she would one day write from this house at 280 Main St., “Home is the definition fi of God.” In 1963 the attention of the college was chiefly fl on Robert

Illustration by Hadley Hooper

Amherst Fall 2013 19

Frost, a favored and frequent visitor to campus, who had died that year. And though some of her work had reached print since her death, Dickinson’s full body of poems and letters in their

denly, the A&P grocery company threatened to raze it to build a new store. The Homestead, named a National Historic Landmark in 1962, was nevertheless vulnerable. Fortunately,

Who would open her home to public visits? My youthful enthusiasm made the challenge seem manageable, even fun. Archibald MacLeish, poet and former Librarian of Congress, saved the day. Retired in nearby Conway, he convinced Amherst President Calvin Plimpton ’39 to compete with A&P. In short order, for $75,000, The Homestead belonged to the college. Then the question arose: What to do with it? The college was not in the museum business. All of the Dickinsons’ furnishings had left the house when the Parkes’ predecessors, the Haskell family, had bought it in 1911. There was little debate: It would need to house an alumni or faculty family, and this family would have to be willing to open the house to public visits by appointment on certain days. Who would want to live such a privacychallenged life, even if there were compensations? (The rent was minimal, and the college would pay for utilities.) Invitations went out to distinguished alumni, including poet Richard Wilbur ’42. But there were no takers. Finally, Minot Grose, the college’s business manager, sugCOURTESY OF JEAN MUDGE

Jean and Lew Mudge in 1974 with their three children, Bob, Bill and Annie, and their chocolatepoint Siamese, Jojo, who later delivered kittens in Emily Dickinson’s cradle

original version had only been published in the 1950s. By the time our family moved into her house in the summer of 1965, I remember saying to myself, and then to visitors, “Emily Dickinson is one of the youngest poets writing today.” Our arrival was completely by chance. In 1964 the Harvey Parke family, resident in the Dickinson mansion for decades, put the house up for sale. Sud-

20 Amherst Fall 2013

gested that my husband, Lew Mudge, chaplain and professor of philosophy and religion, might be interested. Lew and I often entertained large groups of students. With our three children—Bob (then 7), Bill (5) and Annie (3)—we had been quite happy living at 31 Spring St., near the Lord Jeff ffery Inn, since 1962. But unknown to the college, I had a background in American studies and a degree in museum curatorship from the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. I was also an avid reader of poetry. Naturally, I had hesitations: How might we truly have a space of our own within a place that would be open to visitors? I soon learned that the house had a history of being divided. Dickinson remembered “[p]retty perpendicular times” in the “ancient mansion,” where she lived most of her life. Her father, Edward, had shared the place first fi with his father, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, and then with the David Mack family. A legal dividing line ran right down the mansion’s center from garret to cellar. On a quick fi first tour, I could see that long corridors on the first and second floors separated the west, or “public,” side (where the formal parlors and the poet’s bedroom were) from the east side (where the dining room, kitchen, family room and our bedrooms would be). My youthful enthusiasm at age 30 made the challenge seem manageable, maybe even fun. And so the Mudges signed up for what turned out to be an 11-year stint in Emily Dickinson’s home, and I became its first residentcurator.

ALMOST SIMULTANEOUSLY, three projects came to mind. For practical reasons, two took


priority. First, I needed to recreate Dickinson’s bedroom/workroom. How could I find furniture and objects belonging to the family? Fortunately, next door in Austin Dickinson’s house, The Evergreens, lived a woman who proudly described herself as the “sole Dickinson heir.” She was Mary Landis Hampson, whose late husband, Alfred Leete Hampson, had been co-editor (with Emily’s niece, Martha) of selected Dickinson poems. Through Martha, Mrs. Hampson had inherited the Dickinson family real estate and literary properties. A number of Dickinson family furnishings from the mansion remained in The Evergreens. Mrs. Hampson generously loaned us fi first a teacup, saucer and spoon. We displayed these on the broad windowsill of the poet’s bedroom, and for some time, they were the sole items to show to the public. This first loan, and others to follow, happened only gradually. Our fi first encounter with Mrs. Hampson had not been auspicious. A few days after we’d moved in, the children and I were playing in the large flat fl area at the top of The Homestead’s driveway when she emerged from the narrow path between the houses wearing a black cape and a black fedora with the rim turned down all around. (Later, she told me these had been her husband’s.) Beneath the hat I could see her nearly white, Dutch-bobbed hair. So dressed and coiff ffed, Mrs. Hampson was unmistakably witchlike. Reinforcing this impression was the unkempt yard behind her, dark and dense with untended trees and overgrown bushes hiding The Evergreens beyond. All four of us stopped short and stared. Mrs. Hampson lost no time in greetings but at once

declared: the children were never to cross the path to her ONLY EMILY LIVES THERE NOW house and grounds! As frozen in place as they, I assured In the years since Jean Mudge raised her children there, The her that would be Homestead has evolved from a residence to a museum. The the last thing I’d Emily Dickinson Museum (which also includes The Evergreens let them do. Then, next door) is open for tours each year from March to December. after explaining In September it celebrated The Homestead’s 200th anniversary that we were still and the museum’s 10th anniversary. That event included an unpacking, I invited annual Emily Dickinson poetry marathon, during which visitors her into the kitchen met in the parlors to read all of the poet’s 1,789 known poems. for tea. She accepted. That was the the library. In no time, she was start of a long, off ff-and-on-again relationship with Mrs. Hampson. winding up her collection of multicolored French tin birds, A decades-old feud over the fond purchases from her annual division of Dickinson’s manutrips to Paris. Once she wound scripts between Harvard and up their keys, fastened them to Amherst was the long shadow the door post by their suction she inherited from Martha that feet and released them, the prompted her basic suspicion of little birds robotically hopped us. We represented the college. up the 90-degree ascent. When But at the time, I was unaware the springs ran down and they of this feud and eager to break threatened to topple, she handily down whatever had led her to caught them. She repeated the so fiercely protect her property. performance several times. It After several teas, which often was hard to tell who was having stretched into suppers, Mrs. Hampson’s attitude notably soft- more fun, Mrs. Hampson or us and our kids. Soon after, she eaened. In part, that was because gerly participated in recreating I became a sincere convert to Emily Dickinson’s bedroom in her enthusiastic advice about the mansion. healthy eating. A proud Smith Finally, enough Dickinson graduate with scientifi fic training, she was a keen analyst of canned family furnishings came across the space between the houses and frozen food labels, among to call the mansion “done.” At other matters, and a fount of nuthe same time, a Smith College trition tips. horticulturalist redesigned the Within months, Mrs. HampParkes’ formal garden, and we son invited the whole family to planted period fl flowers mendinner at The Evergreens. Her tioned in Dickinson’s herbarium, house was furnished much as poems and letters. Among them Martha Dickinson had left it were several beds of antique on her death in 1943, some of roses, known for their penetratits original draperies rotting on their rods. She had set the dining ing fragrance. I recall working among them and sometimes room table with the household’s sitting down for a moment, like best china and glassware, showing a level of trust in our children Ferdinand in the children’s book, supremely happy to pause and that I had not yet tested. inhale their deep perfume. After dinner she took us into Amherst Fall 2013 21

A THIRD PROJECT WAS LONGERterm. Occupying Dickinson’s house, I wondered what living here so constantly and so long meant to her. Almost all of her extant poems and letters had been composed here on Main Street. She might make notes in her upstairs bedroom; or at a second desk downstairs near a conservatory off ff her father’s study; or at spare moments, in the kitchen and elsewhere in the house. Presumably, she would write final drafts in her bedroom. These she then stored in her bureau. When her mother became a neurasthenic and gave up entertaining, Emily and her sister Lavinia quickly became their father’s hostesses. In part because of these demands, Emily gradually withdrew from town affairs. ff By her late 30s, she announced with some surety, “I do not cross my father’s grounds to any house or town.” Deeply inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, she had 22 Amherst Fall 2013

become his solitary scholar-poet at home. How did her work reflect that fact? fl That question pursued me while I carried on my normal rounds as mother, curator and newly minted Dickinson scholar. In 1966 it inspired me to develop a paper, “Emily Dickinson and the Image of Home,” for a session of the Tuesday Club, an Amherst women’s literary group begun in the late 19th century. By 1968 I’d expanded the paper into a book-length piece. An editor suggested I develop its critical context. That meant getting a graduate degree. Within months, I’d successfully applied for a Danforth Fellowship to enter the American studies program at Yale. Thus began two years of commuting to New Haven from Amherst, spending one night a week with another graduate student to fulfill fi a residency requirement. This roommate turned out to be a Black Panther sympathizer who allowed their meetings to take place in the apartment. I once found a stash of their guns in the front hall closet. This excitement fortunately passed quickly, and by 1973, my thesis was done—the original Dickinson paper enriched and extended—and I had a doctorate in hand. Two years later UMass Press published my book. Research for the book at a trio of archives—Amherst, Harvard and the local Jones Library—yielded some surprises. At Amherst, at the back of a file in Special Collections, I discovered a black wooden panel delicately painted with a cluster of Indian pipe LEWIS MUDGE/AMHERST COLLEGE ARCHIVES

Jean Mudge worked to bring Dickinson family belongings back to the house. This 1960s view of the poet’s bedroom shows her original Franklin stove and, on the lounge, her blanket.

The second priority was organizing a group of volunteer guides. My appeal to friends and acquaintances in town quickly brought willing volunteers. David Porter, an English professor at UMass, and Priscilla Parke, who had grown up in the house, were joined by some 20 other Dickinson enthusiasts to interpret the poet to the public. They led groups of 12 visitors through the west side of the house on prearranged days. Guests were greeted at the front door and ushered into the front parlors. There they heard about the present nature of the house and leafed through an album of archival photos. They then went upstairs to the poet’s bedroom/ workroom. Afterward, on their own, they walked down to the garden.

plants. Mabel Loomis Todd had decorated the panel for Emily and used it for the design embossed on the volumes of Dickinson poems that she and Thomas Wentworth Higginson edited in the 1890s. Lew took a colored slide of this panel. The photo was soon on a wall in Emily’s bedroom. I also found Dickinson family menus and original recipes of Emily’s. Since she was known for her bread and desserts, why not put together a cookbook with photos, old and new, to illustrate it? Together, Lew and I chose what objects to photograph, and I helped him develop prints. We’d converted a bathroom at the head of the back stairs into a darkroom. Two guides, Nancy Grose and Julianna Dupre, volunteered to modernize the recipes, and a third, Wendy Kohler, served as business manager. The booklet’s first press run occurred in 1976, the summer that Lew and I moved from Amherst to Chicago. Thirty-seven years later, there have been nearly 20 editions. We left Amherst with another project still underway, a documentary fi film about Dickinson.

My collaborator and director, Bayley Silleck, suggested that, for the film’s host, I invite Julie Harris, at the time heralded as “a national treasure” for her Broadway role as Dickinson in William Luce’s one-woman play The Belle of Amherst. When Julie performed it in Chicago, I went backstage and introduced myself, inviting her to be the film’s presenter and to visit the Dickinson house. As I approached her, Julie looked at me in a curiously penetrating way. She told me that she had already been to the Dickinson house. Then she added, “When you kicked me out!” It was true. As Julie reminded me (before accepting my invitation), she had entered the house years before, unannounced and without an appointment, and found her way upstairs to Dickinson’s bedroom. From my bedroom down the hall, I’d heard a noise. Thinking that one of our children was breaking a household rule by playing there, I arrived to find a woman standing with her back to me, hands on hips, dressed in a miniskirt with kneehigh red leather boots. I gestured toward the stairs, accompanied this stranger down and told her how to make an appointment.

OVER THE YEARS, OTHER VISItors of some fame sought out the house. These included the poets Adrienne Rich and Allen Ginsberg. An active feminist, Rich took note when I mentioned that Dickinson thought of herself as “Vesuvius at home.” Later, Rich developed that idea in a well-known essay. Ginsberg was especially reverential, peering into our archival photo collection as if his eyes alone were bringing each scene alive. His signs of awe might have prepared me for

his question on leaving: “Don’t you think Mick Jagger looks just like Emily?” But much more than celebrity meetings, my fondest memories of The Homestead are those filled with a combined sense of privilege and private pleasure. Under its roof and behind its hedge, the hybrid quality of our lives quickly became quite natural: The place was at once Dickinson’s and ours. A onetime prank involving our kids is a good example. The Amherst

tered all three of them looking into Dickinson’s cradle, kept outside her bedroom. Nestled in the back of its bonnet, curled up and content, was Jojo, licking her three newborn kittens—two chocolate- and one violet-point. From all these events, large and small, Emily Dickinson’s claim that “Home is the definifi tion of God” became our own, a feeling only renewed in future houses. And at this distance, delight blends with amusement. Mrs. Hampson stands once

Allen Ginsberg’s signs of awe might have prepared me for his question: “Don’t you think Mick Jagger looks just like Emily?” Historical Society had loaned us the poet’s white dress and a wire dressmaker’s form on wheels. The form displayed the dress in her room. One day Bob, our oldest, with the help of his brother, Bill, decided to scare little sister Annie. Bill led Annie into Emily’s room to face the form slowly moving toward them. Bob, inside it and hidden by the dress, inched it across the floor, whooping ghostly noises. Annie, terrifi fied, ran from the room, down the hall and into a group of visitors coming upstairs. Bob and Bill escaped down the east-west hallway. The coexistence of Dickinson’s past and our present, of her objects and our family, once intimately involved our cat Jojo, a pregnant chocolate-point Siamese. We’d bred her with a violet-point Siamese, in part to illustrate a Mendelian law to the children. One morning I was awakened by the kids’ cries of surprise. Stumbling out of bed and down the hallway, I encoun-

again at the edge of her property, Emily’s representative as the “sole Dickinson heir,” guarding her turf in the spooky garb of, as it turned out, a crusty but basically friendly witch. “Forever is composed of Nows— / ’Tis not a different ff time—,” the poet wrote. Involuntarily, her house of art still haunts me, once again making real the lasting power that, in a diff fferent poem, she long anticipated: The Poets light but Lamps— Themselves—go out— The Wicks they stimulate— If vital Light Inhere as do the Suns— Each Age a Lens Disseminating their Circumference— k Jean McClure Mudge is a writer and documentary fi filmmaker. She is the editor of a collection of essays about Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mr. Emerson’s Revolution, n that will be published next year. Amherst Fall 2013 23

At the groundbreaking ceremony for Robert Frost Library, Kennedy said the poet had warned him “not to let the Harvard in me get to be too important.” In addition to Secret Service and local police, 250 state troopers guarded the president during his visit to Amherst.

JOHN F. KENNEDY CAME TO CAMPUS on Oct. 26, 1963, to receive an honorary degree and preside over the Robert Frost Library groundbreaking. “It was a huge event in the history of the college,” says Archives & Special Collections Director Michael Kelly. “How many colleges get a sitting president to come to their groundbreaking ceremony?” In the cage, JFK gave what historians consider to be his last major speech before his assassination a month later.

“When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations,” Kennedy said. “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.” 24 Amherst Fall 2013


Kennedy rode in a motorcade along South Pleasant Street with Amherst President Calvin Plimpton ’39. The visit was a tribute to Robert Frost, who’d read at Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. After the poet’s death in January 1963, Kennedy adviser John J. McCloy ’16 invited the president to campus.

Some 10,000 people came to Amherst on a crisp fall day to witness John F. Kennedy’s visit. “There is privilege here,” the president said in an address in the cage, “and with privilege goes responsibility.” The speech was unusual in its passionate support of the arts. “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist,” he said, in what turned out to be one of his last public appearances.

Frost Kennedy Amherst Fall 2013 25


Three helicopters used Memorial Field as a landing pad. Arriving around 11:30 a.m., they carried Kennedy and his aides, as well as the presidential seal and a chair. Kennedy used the chair at the convocation in the gym. The seal was aff ffixed to the podium.




“ The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.”


Close to 100 members of the media and 40 members of the White House press staff ff covered the event. At the convocation, Kennedy and poet Archibald McLeish received honorary degrees. Edward “Ted” Plimpton, son of the Amherst president, was 11 at the time and remembers that JFK turned to him and said, “Young man, we have great hopes for you.”

Amherst Fall 2013 27

28 Amherst Fall 2013

Photographs by Christopher Churchill


Most people don’t realize that the railroad industry has seldom, if ever, been in better shape than it is today.



George Betke ’59 (left) and Mike Smith ’68 are in an industry whose success relies on knowing its markets, watching costs and making nice with local politicians.

A couple of years ago, James Squires ’83, now president of Norfolk Southern, one of the largest and most prosperous railroads in the United States, was taking a course at Harvard Business School. Chatting with an esteemed professor of “strategy,” Squires asked, “What do you think of the railroad business?” “A dead industry,” the professor replied. Most of the rest of us would thoughtlessly agree, relying on our fuzzy visions of rusty locomotives, weed-choked tracks, and sleepy, musty stations. The far-flung Amtrak system (save the recently profitable “Northeast Corridor” routes) exists on continual federal life support. In fact, as at least the strategy professor should have known, the railroad industry ranks among the most prosperous in the country. It has seldom, if ever, been

Amherst Fall 2013 29

in better shape than it is now. Says Squires, a bit ruefully, “We have been kind of flying beneath the radar.” That also applies to the other four big, U.S.based so-called Class I railroads, which are all freight lines, and to an additional two based in Canada but operating in part here. (The Class Betke made I designation is based Farmrail the on annual operating country’s first revenue, with the govemployeeowned ernment-designated railroad. cutoff ff point now $463 million. Passengercarrying Amtrak, although bigger in terms of revenues, is unclassified.) fi If Norfolk Southern and its running mates are beneath the radar, two little railroads owned by other Amherst grads are well-nigh invisible. But their proprietors don’t mind that at all, because they, like the big boys, are doing just fine. fi One of these is Farmrail, a western Oklahoma operation started by George Betke ’59; the other, Finger Lakes Railway, in New York State, is partly owned by both Betke and Mike Smith ’68. A major reason for the robust health of the Class I’s is that back in the 1980s, freed from onerous federal regulations, they began consolidating and ridding themselves of so-called branch lines that had long been a drag on profi fitability. Many of those lines were sold for scrap. Others went to guys like Betke and Smith, who were driven by railroad nostalgia, a taste for risk or simply a business challenge. They joined what is known as the short-line railroad industry. Five hundred fifty-odd “short lines” now operate in 48 states. They range from the laughingly short (one in Texas started with less than a mile of track—and now makes buckets of money) to the relatively huge Genesee & Wyoming, a conglomerate that runs trains throughout central New York State and into Canada. The industry’s average length is about 100 miles; the average number of employees, 10 to 15. Each short line tends to haul one or a couple of profitfi making products to or from one or a couple of good, dependable customers. These railroads rely heavily on knowing their markets, watching costs with a sharp eye and making nice with local governments and the big railroads with which they have to interface. Unlike Squires, sitting atop shareholder-owned Norfolk Southern, their owners need to be entrepreneurs. Says Richard F. Timmons, president of the American Short Line and 30 Amherst Fall 2013

Regional Railroad Association, “This business involves a lot of risk, personal investment and hope.”

IN TERMS OF WHAT they haul, Farmrail and Finger Lakes could hardly be more dissimilar. Under Smith’s day-to-day leadership, the latter has developed a broad and varied customer and commodity base: customers in more than a dozen New York cities and towns, commodities ranging from grain and potatoes to pulp board and propane. Farmrail has followed the opposite business model. “Ten to 15 years ago,” says Betke, “two-thirds of our business was in agricultural products, principally wheat. Now it’s crude oil,” thanks to a discovery in the Anadarko Basin, located primarily in western Oklahoma. The annual total of carloads has been rising steadily, and geologists tell Betke that the basin will fi fill many more cars before it runs dry. He readily admits, “No one, including me, predicted this oil boom. It’s strictly a function of new technology”—the controversial practice known as fracking. Timmons may well be thinking of that windfall when he observes of his association’s members, “They need to be very alert to changing population trends and to the markets for f the commodities they haul. They also need to reinvest a lot in infrastructure and equipment.” Although dedicated overseers of their properties, a great many short-liners do not live within hailing distance of them, and Betke and Smith fit that pattern. Betke sacrifi fices the charms of Oklahoma for a house on the coast of Maine that dates partly to 1840 and affords ff views of soaring eagles and spawning fish. fi Smith has New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee close at hand, but ambience alone does not explain his presence there. He dislikes both the business atmosphere and the tax rates where his railroad is located. The partners present something of a personal contrast, too. Betke, 6-feet-2 and handsome at 75, has an easy manner and a slightly sly sense of humor. His shortline associates esteem his analytical abilities, which come across readily in extended conversation. Smith is shorter and stocky, with an uncommonly firm fi handshake. He drives an outsized Toyota Tundra as his everyday car, but as a proper executive, he may be observed piloting it, even on hot, muggy days, in a long-sleeved shirt with tie pulled snugly up to his neck. Railroad owners have probably been as scarce as morticians in the long line of Amherst grads, so you might think two of them in modern times would at least know of each other. But they didn’t until the early 1990s, when Smith began seeking Betke’s advice on and participation in possible short-line acquisitions. For some time, the Amherst connection still remained unknown. Then, when Finger Lakes became a prospect, Smith says, “George came to my office ffi to talk about it and noticed on

the wall my diploma and some other Amherst stuff.” ff Old school tie aside, a partnership was attractive. Their railroad experience diff ffered considerably, and so did their strengths. Smith had worked for a series of lines, starting as a lowly track-gang member during undergraduate summers. Betke had been a banker, then a Wall Street analyst specializing in railroads. Pairing Smith’s marketing chops with Betke’s financial fi acumen was a natural step. As a high school student in Newark, N.J., Betke had applied only to Amherst, drawn by the nationally known “New Curriculum” and, as he puts it, “the forced discipline of taking prescribed subjects in your first fi two years. That just seemed right to me.” Dismissing his original idea of becoming an architect—“I decided I wasn’t creative enough”—he felt himself “a little adrift, like a country geek,” and ended up majoring in economics. He worked at campus jobs during all four years, and he considers the most valuable part of his education at Amherst “learning to communicate with all sorts of people.” Now, decades later, doing just that with the people who work for him is one of his most satisfying preoccupations, and he has carried it far beyond communication: years ago, Betke made Farmrail the nation’s first employee-owned railroad. Betke’s version of “employee-owned” fashions him as an employee, albeit one who owns a majority of the stock. His decision to parcel out the rest among the workers grew out of a “bad experience” with—and division from—his original Farmrail partner: “I said to myself, ‘The real partners in this company should be the employees.’” The boss puts money in a trust and apportions shares of it according to a formula based on income level and longevity. Vesting comes after three calendar years of

12-mile, southern Colorado line whose freight cars they rented to a long-distance carrier. Farmrail began to take shape in the early 1980s, when Betke read that Class I Burlington Northern was shedding a bunch of light-density branch lines that were draining capital from the company. “I looked at a map with 20 properties on it, and we eventually put together a deal involving private lines plus a state-owned one and eventually bundled them into a holding company, Farmrail System Inc.” For “less than six figures,” Betke leased two old locomotives and 35 miles of track. (He now owns three-quarters of his line’s 340-odd miles; the state of Oklahoma owns the rest and leases them to Farmrail). Betke hired a workforce of “about seven people” and proceeded to build a business shipping principally wheat to terminals at either end of what was essentially a vestige of the old and storied Rock Island Line. There the loads connected to larger Western carriers.

MIKE SMITH’S ROUTE to a railroad career was entirely diff fferent from Betke’s—and diff fferent as well from that of Norfolk Southern’s James Squires. (Squires joined that company as a young attorney and later switched to finance, gaining two crucial pieces of experience for his trip to the top off the corporate ladder.) While other summer-vacationing Amherst undergrads traveled in Europe, worked as camp counselors or took supplementary courses, Smith opted for manual labor—with crews repairing tracks on the Delaware and Hudson. That would have dissipated the railroad dreams of many a young man, but not this one. He had another motivation, too: “I grew up with railroaders in my family.” An upstate New Yorker with a public school education, Smith says he is “not sure what got me into Amherst. I played high school football [in supremely retro leather helmets] but wasn’t recruited.” He majored in political science (“As a student, I was right up there with George W. Bush”) and joined Theta Delta Chi. “Our house was known as ‘the Gentleman Jocks,’” he says, adding with a grin, “Our idea of diversity was pledging a couple of linemen.” When Penn Central off ffered Smith a postgraduate job as an “operating management” trainee, he snapped it up. “That railroad, which had recently been created in a merger, was a disaster from the start. But I learned a lot there.” While at Penn Central, Smith branched into marketing, and he has stayed with it ever since. He moved to the Boston & Maine, also floundering financially, as assistant to the president, and with that far-fromoverwhelming résumé, he became a consultant to the industry.

What did the effort yield? “What amounted to a ‘dirt railroad,’ ” Smith says cheerfully. Dedicated short-liners are undaunted by such conditions. employment. The payouts, Betke says, are based on the independently determined price of Farmrail stock, and they can be juicy: “One of our people retired with six figures from the trust, a very nice addition to his pension from the Railroad Retirement program.” At his father-in-law’s suggestion, Betke sought and landed his first job in the trust department of a Dallas bank. Then he went to business school and hooked on as an “institutional researcher” at the young Wall Street firm of Donaldson, Lufk fkin & Jenrette. Five years later he and a colleague set up their own “boutique shop” to handle the same kinds of business. On his own hook, he got involved in his first railroad acquisition, involving a

Amherst Fall 2013 31

The result: a 118-mile line that traverses New York’s Finger Lakes area, from which it would take its name to slap on an oval red logo. The purchase involved some intricate fi financing. Betke stood for a big chunk of it and brought in New York State-based Genessee & Wyoming. Smith plays down his Smith financial contribution: repaired rail“I pretty much just put road tracks up the earnest money. during summer breaks in But I also put the deal college. together.” Doing that required a lot more than convincing Conrail to sell. It also meant persuading officials ffi in counties and towns in the Finger Lakes region that they should stop imposing the property taxes that were costing Conrail $1.3 million and were a major reason why it wanted to shed the small line. “I visited every one of those places,” Smith recalls, “appeared at countless public hearings and convinced them to let us make [lower] payments in lieu of the taxes. Without that, I told them, the sale would not go through, and the railroad would disappear.” None of the local officials ffi wanted to risk that happening. They accepted the in-lieu-of offer. ff What did all that eff ffort yield? Smith replies cheerfully: “What amounted to a ‘dirt railroad.’ Track in such poor shape that freight couldn’t run on it faster than 15 miles an hour.” Dedicated short-liners are undaunted by such conditions, and the Smith-Betke tandem reconditioned Finger Lakes and gradually made it a prosperous enterprise. “Revenues have been steadily building,” Smith says. “We started at $5 million a year, and now we’re over $12 million.” Profi fits? “We’re solid from that standpoint—but we haven’t taken profi fits at the expense of reinvestment. Having worked in the larger business world, George and I agree that, in railroading, you invest in your future. In our case, 20 to 25 percent of our annual revenues go back into track maintenance and upgrades. That’s a lot, but it’s what we should be spending.” To maintain a good balance sheet, Finger Lakes depends substantially on Smith’s marketing skills. “In this business,” he says, “a lot of marketing is common sense. You’re dealing with equipment, service and rates, and you price and balance them according to what’s important to potential clients. For instance, we do a steel haul of about 80 miles, to an interchange with Norfolk Southern. What sold the customer on using us, rather than trucks, was that for the ‘gondola’ cars [low-sided and normally open 32 Amherst Fall 2013

to the elements] we designed a cover that protects the steel from the weather but lets air move through.” That satisfi fied Smith’s marketing principle of keeping local interests foremost in mind. Even more, it satisfied fi short-liners’ constant desire—and need—to compete successfully with the trucking industry. Referring to the gondola-car covers, he emphasizes that “the customer pays more but prefers us to trucks, because the steel comes to him clean.” Long-distance trucks have long been the bête noire of the railroads. In ways both subtle and blunt, shortliners of all stripes denounce them at every opportunity. The “Industry Overview” of a 2012 association booklet refers in its second paragraph to “the environmental benefits fi gained by shifting freight from truck to rail.” It goes on to tick off ff some of the fixed-cost disadvantages shortlines face with relation to trucks: the deterioration of wood ties, the hassle of clearing snow and brush, and the need to fill in washed-out track beds “even if only a single train operates on the line.” That list doesn’t even include complaints about air pollution and traffi ffic congestion caused by trucks or the railroaders’ biggest gripe: that trucks run on highways paid for by the public, while trains operate on rails and rail beds their owners install and maintain. Not only that, says Smith with great distaste, but because the federal highway fund can no longer pay for our highways, “the feds dip into generall funds to do it.” From one source or another, the feds spend some $40 billion a year on highways, according to statistics from the Congressional Budget Office. ffi And as if the typical long-haul truck doesn’t do enough damage to the roads, Smith points out, “now we’re seeing milk trucks of up to 120,000 pounds tearing ’em up.” Betke sums up the railroaders’ view of trucks: “they take advantage of existing markets; we create them.” (The trucking industry, of course, presents a robust rebuttal. Truckers argue that although rail transportation is cheaper, it can’t provide the level of service—especially quick delivery— customers demand nowadays. That’s particularly true, contends a spokesman for one of the truckers’ associations, for “value-added, goodsproducing industries.” Battling on a seemingly eternal front, the industry insists that trucks do not roll expensefree over roads paid for by taxpayers, but instead pay, through fees and fuel taxes, hefty percentages of highway construction and maintenance.)

MORE THAN ANYTHING, Betke and Smith, as short-line owners, seem driven by a compulsion to run tight ships.They figure fi that their margin for error is small and their resources few, and that they must constantly market themselves and adjust adroitly to changing business conditions.

On the matter of costs, the short-line association asserts that “average labor and equipment costs for small railroads are typically much higher than for Class I’s.” Track maintenance is a constant, major drain, and locomotives, even the secondhand and often old ones the short lines habitually buy, are expensive. But the association’s claim about labor cost seems counterintuitive, because the Class I’s remain heavily unionized while few short lines deal with unions. Short-line owners’ antiunion attitudes stem partly from pressure to hold down costs but partly, too, from the fact that the owners tend to be devoted free enterprisers. For their part, the numerous unions that organize in the railroad industry—or try to—seem to acknowledge that it’s a diffi fficult task, despite more modest wages and benefi fits among the short lines than the Class I’s. For one thing, says Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of the leftleaning Railroad Workers Industrial Union, “The whole thrust of the short-line industry has been about avoiding unionization. For instance, they don’t want to pay people who are nothing but conductors. I mean a short-line conductor might do that job on the train, then go and help repair the roof on one of the buildings.” In addition, Kaminkow says, “There are guys who just like working for the short lines. It’s predictable and in some ways comfortable. You don’t work at night; you make one trip a day—maybe one a week.” Both Betke and Smith are outspoken on this issue. “Absolutely not!” declares Betke when asked if any of the Farmrail or Finger Lakes workers belong to unions.

of a kind, believe me.” Betke protests that Timmons is exaggerating, but readily admits to treating the annual picnic as a very important occasion. To Betke, his eff fforts, from persistent newsletter through over-the-top grill, come under the heading of boss-to-worker communication. And that refl flects a deeper conviction: his antipathy to what he calls the “military command structure” of the Class I roads and their style of “saluting the boss up and down the organizational chart.” Smith seems less driven by a communication imperative but even more committed to operational effi fficiency. His goal at Finger Lakes is to run trains operated by a single individual—the engineer. When asked why, as head of a very Oklahoma enterprise, he lives half a continent away, Betke offers ff no excuses. “I don’t look or act like an Okie,” he says with a grin. “I’ve never lived there.” He visits a few times a year and has graduated from a motel room to an apartment in the town of Clinton. Does he sense resentment on the part of the local folks? “I really don’t. I think they realize that I’m doing my best to build a long-term business.” When he seeks workers, Betke has the dynamics of the local economy in his favor. In Oklahoma, as he puts it, “railroading is a steady job. Farming goes up and down.” For Farmrail, he prefers Okies off ff the farm to experienced railroad workers from elsewhere: “They have a better work ethic and more discipline.” Betke has served on the short-line association board for years, and he and Smith frequently lobby Congress and federal regulatory agencies in behalf of short-liners’ interests. Both men played important roles in one of the short lines’ most important legislative victories: passage in 2004 of a tax credit that freed up money for reinvestment. Despite that success, Betke professes a weary realism about short-line lobby prospects. He laments the built-in disadvantage they face in competing for political favor against truckers: “There are almost 4 million truck drivers and—taking large and small railroads together—only 200,000 railroad employees.” No matter. He will keep up the good fight from Maine and, when necessary, Washington. Smith will do likewise, with added attention paid to New York State pols in Albany. They will also take continuous satisfaction from confounding both private and public expectations. Says Betke, “Railroads are battered by regulators, we face intense competition and the public often views us as a nuisance. Despite all that, Mr. Harvard professor, we are very far from dead.” k

Betke has the dynamics of the local economy in his favor. In Oklahoma, “railroading is a steady job,” he says. “Farming goes up and down.” “In my opinion, [unions’] presence in the short-line business is evidence of bad management”—meaning bosses who fail to treat their employees well. “The whole staff ff [of Farmrail] has my telephone number. If they have a problem, they can call me at any time.” If in the 21st century that seems paternalistic, Betke is unapologetic. He points proudly to Farmrail’s generous employee benefits, fi which include medical insurance without individual or family premiums, and to the monthly “Farmrail Teammate” newsletters he distributes to help keep worker morale high. Each summer, Betke goes to Oklahoma to attend the employee picnic. Richard Timmons, the association president, laughingly recalls one of those picnics he attended several years ago: “George had ordered up a huge barbecue grill. The thing came rolling up on a double-axle trailer, big enough to cook six cows at the same time. I imagine you could have fired it up to a thousand degrees. It was one

Roger Williams has been a magazine journalist since graduating from Amherst. He lives in Washington, D.C. Amherst Fall 2013 33


Notebook Days

34 Amherst Fall 2013

Illustration by Javier JaĂŠn Benavides

She said she was “being a writer,” but she felt like a fake.


The snow was falling and Brooklyn was, at least for a moment, hushed. Inside the brownstones off ff 4th Avenue, lights flickered. fl Snow spun in and out of shadows. The air smelled like wet wool and cigarettes. I had just moved into my fi first post-college apartment. For the last time that day I climbed the cracked wooden stairs to the floor-through I’d found with the friends of a childhood friend—20-somethings from Milwaukee, none of whom I knew yet. I was splurging on the big back bedroom, the one that came with a jauntily cockeyed armoire, a fire fi escape on which I could smoke, and a view of an empty lot and Brooklyn’s clock tower. I had no plans yet. I had not unpacked my printer. I had no résumé. My futon eyed me balefully from the floor. fl I was out of sync with my graduating class. I had taken a semester off ff and moved to Paris during my sophomore year, and now I was graduating late. In mid-January 2000, I was settling myself away from Amherst, my parents, my friends. I had a firm fi notion that I wanted to write but only the vaguest notion of how to support myself while I did. I did have classic city determination—a crate of books, a few connections, a lead on a waitressing job in a converted funeral parlor a few blocks away. I had no sense of how to get published, how to find fi other writers, how to submit work. I did have an undergraduate thesis collection of poems that I’d written under the supervision off Glyn Maxwell and William Pritchard ’53. If I ate carefully, worked part-time and bought no new anything, I had perhaps three months of fi financial leeway to look for a job. Here’s what I knew: Writers read and writers write, and so each day I tried to do these things. I memorized Elizabeth Bishop and W.H. Auden poems, and I bookmarked pages with my receipts for pho. I spent days at the New York Public Library. I read Seamus Heaney. I read Charles Dickens. I filled notebooks with what I was learning, what I saw, what I thought I might want to write about—a bird trapped on the subway, or Irma, the homeless woman who seemed to be beloved in our neighborhood.

I was also panicking. It turned out that several of my friends who were going on in the arts had trust funds—not just shortterm ones, but hefty sums. Other friends from college were studying for the LSAT or getting work as consultants. I was living off ff lentils and the staff ff meal at the funeral-parlor-turnedrestaurant. My one nice pair of shoes was wearing out. When people asked me what I was doing I said, “Being a writer,” but I felt like a fake. My heart would race. I’d run to the restroom and wait for the panic to pass. For what claim did I have on this profession? I had the most excellent (and among the more expensive) educations the country could off ffer, yet here I was calculating the cost of lentils and calming myself by reciting “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” on subway platforms. I felt absurd. I went to see a friend of a friend, an older Amherst alumnus, who worked at a fancy literary agency. He asked me what I wanted to write. “Poetry,” I said. He fi fixed me with a rather owlish stare. “Rather impecunious,” he said back. My heart dropped through the floor. fl Blindly I kept reading, writing, making lists, making phone calls. That spring some ice cracked. A friend who worked at a website offered ff me a chance to write blurbs. I tracked down the friend of a high-school flame, now a magazine editor. I pitched her eight ideas she didn’t want, but she eventually began assigning me stories. I found a job in publishing, then more gigs. Eventually I found my way to journalism school. My notebook collection grew. Somewhere between waitressing and writing blurbs I reassembled that senior thesis into a collection of poems that I entered into a competition sponsored by the Poetry Society of America. Miraculously, I won. That was a decade ago. There were still a lot of lentils and plenty of panic attacks after that. But now, with more than a decade of writing, teaching and publishing behind me, I honor that roving, impecunious self. These days I have what feels like a normal, even joyful life. I get up each morning and as soon as I can, I get to my desk— though that is harder now that I have a child who needs to eat breakfast and read a book about trains first. On my desk there is work to do: I write essays and correspond with writers and editors. I pitch stories. I apply for grants. I plan a class I’m going to teach. When I am lucky, I write a poem. When I am lucky, I get lost in a book. My work is work: If someone asks, I tell them, “I am a writer,” and I mean it. k Taylor is the author of a new book of poems, The Forage House (Red Hen Press). She teaches writing at UC Berkeley and reviews poetry for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and other publications.

l ONLINE Taylor’s poem “Some Thoughts on the Bergen Street Renaissance,” about her time in the Brooklyn apartment.


alumni in the world

Beyond Campus

Some Things He’s Carried 36 Amherst Fall 2013



BY EMILY GOLD BOUTILIER FLYING U Ten Emperor penguins needed a lift to California. A few wolves had an acting gig. A Catholic priest, dead since 1888, wanted to see his admirers. On 9/11, government experts had to get to New York, quickly. The man who transported all of them was Randy Davis ’76, a lawyer who learned to fly before he could drive and is now vice president, general counsel and sometime pilot at Phoenix Air Group, Inc., a specialized aviation firm based near Atlanta. Davis grew up in eastern Long Island on a farm with an airstrip, and he got his solo pilot’s license as soon as he was eligible, on his 16th birthday. At Amherst he was a political science major who concentrated in Soviet aff ffairs and Russian language and literature. He restarted the Amherst Flying Club, worked as a flight instructor and flew college President John William Ward to alumni events. Davis made his first transoceanic flight as a sophomore, delivering a small twin-engine aircraft from Boston to London. Next came law school at Emory. “I knew I wanted to be an

aviation lawyer,” he says. He went on to a career at a law firm, defending airlines (including Delta, Continental and United), aircraft manufacturers and the aviation insurance industry. Then, in 1991, Phoenix Air Group off ffered him a job as general counsel. “I was getting tired of being a full-time litigator,” he says. And the job came with a perk: He could fly the company’s Learjets and Gulfstreams on missions around the world. Those missions include, among other things, government and defense contract work. His longest nonstop flight for Phoenix was an air ambulance evacuation from Atlanta to Gibraltar. He’s delivered satellite parts to the space center in Kazakhstan several times. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, he flew fl CDC emergency personnel to that country to help. He’s even carried a 19th-century priest: Some of the remains of St. John Bosco are kept in a sarcophagus in Turin, Italy. “Every once in a while he does a world tour,” explains Davis, who in 2010 flew fl one leg of such a tour. Then there are the animal transports. The wolves were

Randy Davis ’76

His most satisfying flights have been evacuations of injured military personnel.

Davis flew 10 adolescent emperor penguins to the San Diego Zoo.

going from Canada to Siberia to be in a movie. Davis chauffeured ff the penguins on part of their long journey from Antarctica to their new home at the San Diego Zoo. “We had to keep it below 40 degrees in the cabin to keep them happy,” he says. “There were 10 of them, and three chilly animal handlers in winter coats.” For Davis, the most satisfying flights have been medical evacuations of injured military personnel. “Unfortunately,” he says, “in this last decade there’s been a fair amount of that.” Overseas, he’s come to the rescue of sick and injured civilian Americans, too: “They’re just so happy to be going home.” His most memorable flight was on 9/11, when he brought federal workers—experts in logistics, counseling and mortuary matters—from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina to Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York. “They seemed calm, professional,” he told an Atlanta-area newspaper on Sept. 12, 2001. “Everyone was in awe of the magnitude of this event.” For part of that flight on a Learjet 35, Davis and his copilot were the only known civilian pilots in the air east of the Mississippi. Asked now what the experience meant to him, he points to a comment in the Sept. 12 article: “It’s natural for each of us to wish to come to the aid of others when an epic human tragedy occurs,” he told the paper. “My primary memory of this 9/11 midnight flight will be that it was a privilege to help out in such a direct and immediate manner.” Davis routinely spends about a quarter of his working life in the cockpit, and he’s pleased to have found a way to combine his legal skills with his piloting skills. What’s left to transport? “I wouldn’t mind some pandas,” he says. “Or a kangaroo.” Amherst Fall 2013 37


Beer for a Better Planet Long before local was trendy, a brewery and café in Greenfield, fi Mass., prioritized the concept. BY RACHEL ACHMAD DINING U Alden Booth ’83, founder of

The People’s Pint in Greenfield, fi Mass., did not drink a single g beer during g his four years at Amherst. He wasn’t interested in beer at all. What he was interested in was bicycling, and he spent countless hours pedaling g around the Pioneer Valley, never imagining he’d be riding those same roads decades later in search of local purveyors for his own successful brewpub.


After graduating, Booth and his soon-to-be wife, Lissa Greenough ’83, moved to Boston, where Greenough gave him the gift that would help determine their future: a home-brewing kit. Home-brewing was a quirky, unusual practice in the mid-’80s. As Booth recalls, the one brew kit shop in all of Boston was located in a garage. But Booth gave it a go and discovered he had a taste for beer and a knack for brewing. Within a few years, Booth and Greenough had returned to Western Massachusetts to raise their three daughters, including Grace ’12. While working at a fishery, he became friendly with Dan Young, another brewing enthusiast. Young had a background in food science, and Booth enjoyed preparing food to accompany his beers. It wasn’t long before they began to talk of creating a brewery and café in Greenfield. fi At that time, Booth explains, “Greenfield fi had only burger-and-fry places. Nothing else.” People

often drove many miles in search of other options, and that distressed the energy-conscious Booth and Young. So in 1997 they found restaurant space, and The People’s The People’s Pint was born. Pint Long before local was trendy, the Pint prioritized the concept. Franklin County welders and craftsmen Local welders and created and installed the entire brewing system, craftsmen and much of the restaurant’s food came from local created and farms. “When we first opened,” Booth says, “half the installed people that came in here were local farmers.” the brewing People kept filling the seats, and Booth experisystem, and much of the mented with ingredients. He’d bicycle to Franklin food is from County farms and haul their produce back to the area farms. Pint. Diners might be unfamiliar with, say, the chard in their quesadillas—but they usually ate it up. The Pint also insisted on conscious energy usage. The restaurant has never used any disposable products, for example—not even straws. Booth now gives presentations to others in the restaurant industry on how to achieve small-scale success while practicing conservation of resources. Finally, there is the Pint’s advocacy work around bicycling. Booth, a bike commuter himself, came up with the Pint’s “Bike to Live” program. All area residents can track the miles they choose to bike instead of drive places. With each trip, they earn credit toward Pint gift cards. It’s a program run entirely on the honor system, and it has dispensed thousands of dollars in credit since its inception in 2003. As much today as in the beginning, Booth’s success and his community involvement have a tandem relationship. He now Home-brewing was a quirky practice when Alden Booth co-owns the Pint with Greenough ’83 took it up. Now he and (Young moved to Michigan, where he Lissa Greenough ’83 own a now makes hard ciders), and while brewery and café. they have no plans to expand the restaurant, Booth sees an expansion of advocacy work in their future. When asked what’s best about what he does, he answers without hesitation: “Getting people to think about alternatives as to how we live our lives.” With a smile, he adds, “The Pint has worked out well as a stage for that.” Achmad writes for and has worked in restaurants for 20 years.

38 Amherst Fall 2013

A lawyer and an actor have teamed up on a campaign that approaches suicide as the public health crisis it is. BY NAOMI SHULMAN HEALTH U Joanne Lelewer

Harpel ’85 met Geoff ffrey Cantor ’84 the very first fi day she visited Amherst. She was 16, and she could not have imagined they’d collaborate one day—nor y what they’d collaborate about.

“I was just starting to look at colleges,” recalls Harpel. “And I was an Amherst freshman,” Cantor adds. Harpel crashed on the floor of his dorm room in Pratt, but once she enrolled at Amherst, the two ran mostly in separate circles. (“He was much cooler than I was,” says Harpel. “I still am,” says Cantor. “He is,” she agrees.) Cantor was headed toward a career in theater; Harpel had law school in her sights. When they left campus, neither expected they’d be in contact again. But then life—and death—intervened. Harpel had just won a coveted position in a corporate law firm when her brother suddenly committed suicide, leaving her stunned and bereft. The grief, and the taboo surrounding it, spurred something in her. “My mother and I went to a survivor conference about six weeks after Stephen died,” she says. “Even through the haze of all the emotions, I had this awareness that someday, this was a field fi that I wanted to get involved with.”


Suicide’s Stigma

n The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held a 16-mile Out of the Darkness overnight walk in Washington, D.C., in June.

Joanne Lelewer Harpel ’85 Geoffrey Cantor ’84

“Thousands of people die every year, more than from car accidents. I felt something needed to be done.”

A few years later she started volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Eventually she became its senior director of public affairs ff and postvention and began working on a fledgling publicity project that would turn into the International Survivors of Suicide Day. “At the time there was really nothing—a couple of brochures,” she says. “There were 10 or 11 cities participating.” Under Harpel’s direction, programs for the day—in which people gather with others who understand their loss—now take place in 300 cities and on six continents. Harpel soon decided to expand the project, but she felt it needed artistic direction that she could not provide. She thought of her old acquaintance Geoff ffrey Cantor. In addition to his stage and screen credits—he performed in Side Man on Broadway, on Spike TV’s The Kill Pointt and in a dozen Law & Order episodes, for example—Cantor had worked on a major ad initiative, Kleenex’s “Let It Out” campaign, specifically fi meant to provoke emotions. Harpel had a hunch he’d bring creative juice to her project. What she didn’t know was that right after he left Amherst, Cantor had lost a dear friend to suicide. “But I’d never really talked about it with anyone,” he says. “I was very emotional when I spoke about it to Joanne, and I realized this was a cause I could get behind.” The two have now collaborated

on multiple projects, the latest being a series of interviews in which researchers talk about how various factors—biology, psychology, epidemiology and genetics— relate to suicide prevention. The pair have also gone around the country interviewing survivors of suicide loss—a kind of group therapy on a massive scale. International Survivors of Suicide Day takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving. “A big purpose of the day is to educate people about the issues around suicide,” Harpel says. “But it’s also to provide emotional support, so people can begin their journey of healing and find fi relief from some of the emotional burden.” The Harpel-Cantor interviews will air online that day, and many communities will stage “Out of the Darkness” walks to raise awareness of suicide prevention and reduce the stigma around suicide. “It’s a health crisis,” Cantor says. “Thousands of people die every year, more than from car accidents. I felt that something needed to be done.” Thirty years ago Harpel and Cantor might have seemed an unlikely pair, but having joined forces, they are shaking up the conversation and challenging the stigma. In other words, they’re approaching suicide as the public health issue it is. Shulman has written for The New York Times, Real Simple and other publications. Amherst Fall 2013 39


From Basic Training to Medical Training How the U.S. Army led a Russian major to med school—even though he’ll turn 40 before he’s a doctor. BY SUE DICKMAN ’89

’99 is the son of a doctor and a nurse, so it might g be unsurprising to learn he’s in his first year of medical school. What is surprising is the path he took to get there. At 37, Cole is the second-oldest person in his medical school class. He’s also a former U.S. Army Green Beret. A Russian major at Amherst, Cole worked for an Internet startup after graduation and interned at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. All along, he knew he wanted to do something outdoors and adventurous but didn’t know quite what; 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq crystallized his thoughts. Early in the Iraq War, Cole found himself arguing about what “we” should be doing and suddenly realizing that when he said “we,” he actually meant somebody else. Cole was then 27 and still of military age. He began to wonder whether this was his “generation’s call to service.” As he puts it, “No matter whether you agree with both wars or any of them, there are people who are over in harm’s way in our name. I started thinking about that as something I could and maybe should do.” In July 2004, he entered basic training. Cole enlisted via the 18X program, which enables those with no previous army experience to try out for the Special Forces. Despite the diffi fficulty of the training, Cole declared himself too stubborn to quit and continued until 40 Amherst Fall 2013



Serving in the U.S. Army gave Cole his first inkling of a new career.

Josh Cole ’99

Now back in school, he is thinking about trauma surgery or emergency medicine as a specialty.

he’d earned his green beret. His military occupational specialty was as a medic, and for this he spent a year in training, which included working in a hospital trauma unit. This experience gave him his first inkling of a new career, a sense of a possible future. In July 2007, two weeks after he’d joined the 10th Special Forces group in Colorado, Cole was in Iraq. His Special Forces career took him on a training mission to Africa in 2008 and then back to Iraq in 2009 for a second tour, for which he extended his Army stay. But at that point he had to choose whether to reenlist, and in the end he opted for a nonmilitary life. A postbaccalaureate program at the University of Pennsylvania allowed him to take all the science classes he’d avoided at Amherst and then apply to medical school. As for being one of the oldest people in his class at The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, Pa., Cole is sanguine. He doesn’t think about it much, he says, although he does realize

that it gives him welcome perspective: Compared to younger students, he says, “it’s not that you’re any less stressed, but maybe you have more experience of being stressed and are able to anticipate it and welcome it as opposed to letting it get in your way.” Although he is early in his medical school career, Cole is thinking about trauma surgery or emergency medicine as a specialty. In his trauma unit rotations during his medic course, he was drawn to the “hands-on aspect of doing the procedures, sort of being a plumber or a carpenter except with much higher stakes.” Cole describes his decision to leave the Army as a “selfi fish” one, but being a physician will allow him to serve his community and country in a diff fferent way. Dickman blogs at www.lifedivided. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including the Washington Post, t San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor.

The Frontier as Proving Ground Can we keep extracting fossil fuel without ruining the environment? Lois Epstein ’83

BY BEN GOLDFARB ’09 ENERGY U As the world’s easily accessible

fuel reservoirs dwindle, the oil and gas industry is turning to new regions and technologies to extract fossil fuels—and driving g an energy boom in the process. “Even five years ago, you heard people talking g about the possibilityy of peak oil,” says y Lois Epstein ’83, head of The Wilderness Society’s y Arctic Program. g “You rarely hear that anymore.”

“The conservation community here has accepted that there’s going to be drilling.”

Oil pumpjacks at twilight. New technologies are driving an energy boom.


Oil rigs now drill in ever-deeper waters, increasing the risk of major spills. Pipelines rupture almost 300 times per year, releasing toxic substances. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been accused of leaking chemicals and methane into groundwater. Can the United States develop these new energy sources without ruining public lands and waters? If the answer is yes, Epstein might be the person who figures out how it’s done. Epstein is a rare breed in environmental advocacy: a trained engineer with an intimate knowledge of oil and gas operations. She’s helped develop recommendations for avoiding offshore ff oil accidents, testifi fied before Congress about fracking and helped guide 2011’s federal Pipeline Safety Act. A framed copy of that bill hangs in her offi ffice in Anchorage, Alaska, bearing thank-you notes from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. For Epstein and others, Alaska, endowed with big

oil reserves and the country’s most pristine ecosystems, provides a testing ground for the coexistence of energy and the environment. “The conservation community here has accepted that there’s going to be drilling,” Epstein says. “The trick is to protect the most special places.” In her offi ffice in August, Epstein unfurls a map of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an Indianasized chunk of oil-bearing land that’s home to wildlife and indigenous communities. Colorful icons speckle the map, denoting where Wilderness Society biologists have identified fi caribou herds, waterfowl nesting areas, walrus hotspots and other fauna. A more technically detailed version of this map, she explains, helped the federal Bureau of Land Management identify zones where drilling should be prohibited and areas where extraction could proceed without undue harm to the environment. She traces a finger across a patch of tundra with comparatively little wildlife: “If we’re going to have a pipeline, this is where we could do it.” Part of Epstein’s job is to convince federal regulators to keep oil and gas rigs out of the Arctic Ocean until the oil industry has technology to match the region’s uniquely challenging conditions. She’s spent years scrutinizing—and publicly criticizing—drilling plans submitted by industry and approved by regulators. According to a congressional report, after the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010, BP collected only 3 percent of the floating oil. Epstein maintains that in the Arctic’s rough waves, ice floes and darkness, coping with an accident would be exponentially harder. Yet cleanup plans still rely on skimmers and booms, the same methods that failed BP in 2010. “We’re not saying, ‘Don’t do it,’” Epstein says. “We’re saying, ‘Don’t do it until we’re ready.’” But proceeding with caution becomes harder as oil prices climb. Like most advocates concerned about climate change, Epstein would like to see America’s power come primarily from renewable sources rather than from coal, oil and gas. Yet despite advances in wind and solar technology, fossil fuels still supply around 80 percent of the nation’s energy. As long as we’re extracting energy from the ground, Epstein wants to be sure we’re extracting it properly. “The big picture is preventing low-frequency, high-consequence accidents, whether it’s the Challengerr shuttle disaster or a major oil spill,” she says. “To do that, you need to create a culture of safety within the industry itself.” The evolution of that culture will have repercussions far beyond Alaska. k Goldfarb is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, OnEarth Magazine and elsewhere. Amherst Fall 2013 41

arts news and reviews

Amherst Creates

Two ’57 alumni collaborated on a new play full of medieval myth and magic.

THEATER U Magically

reborn as a sorcererpoet, a boy is adopted by a fi fisherman and his wife and uses his gifts to shake things g up in the king’s court. This is the storyy of Taliesin, the latest from Ralph Lee’s Mettawee River Theatre Company. The play is a collaboration between Lee, who is a puppeteer, and his classmate Robert Bagg, a poet.

42 Amherst Fall 2013

The Poet and the Puppeteer The puppets are the creation of Ralph Lee ’57. The script is by poet Robert Bagg ’57.




Actors and puppets from the Metawee River Theatre Company staged Taliesin, the work of two Amherst fraternity brothers, on a lawn at Amherst in July.

The last time Lee and Bagg joined forces, they were seniors in college. Bagg had translated Euripides’ satyr play The Cyclops, and Lee directed the production and created masks for the characters. Lee then encouraged Bagg to write a play based on The Odyssey, and together they dramatized its Nausicaa episode. To date, Bagg’s translations of eight plays by Euripides and Sophocles have been the basis of nearly 70 productions around the world. His Oedipus the King and Antigone are included in The Norton Anthology of World Literature. He also publishes original poetry, and he’s at work on a critical biography of poet Richard Wilbur ’42. After Amherst, Lee worked as an actor, mask-maker and designer, creating props and puppets for Shari Lewis’ TV show and the “Land Shark” figure for the iconic Saturday fi Night Live sketch. He founded and directed the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, for which he won an Obie Award. He became artistic director of the Mettawee in 1976. Based in Salem, N.Y., and Manhattan, the Mettawee ( specializes in shows with “large puppets and visual eff ffects that are especially arranged for the out-of-doors,” Lee says. “And a lot of the plays are based on myths and legends.” Early this year Lee was seeking a writer to script Mettawee’s planned Taliesin show. “I was really looking for a poet, because it’s all about poetry and inspiration,” he says. “That’s why I called

Bob.” Bagg decided he owed a favor to the friend who had led him into the world of Greek drama. Lee and his wife, costume designer and founding Mettawee member Casey Compton, wrote up a scenario, which Bagg fl fleshed out with dialogue and lyrics based on existing translations of Welsh folklore and the writings of a real medieval poet who went by the name Taliesin. They collaborated mainly by phone and computer— Bagg sending drafts from his home in Worthington, Mass., and Lee giving feedback from New York, where he was rehearsing with the actors and creating masks and puppets out of papier-mâché, cardboard and other materials. The Mettawee took the show on the road in July, August and September this year, performing on lawns and in parks throughout New York, Vermont and Massachusetts—including at the Kō Festival at Amherst. That show took place outside Wilder Observatory, a spot well suited to theater, Lee says: It’s tucked away from the street, the surrounding trees enhance the acoustics, and the ground slopes gently, giving the audience a good view. “And occasionally,” he adds, “some old friends from my Amherst days will show up.” This time, it was Bagg who showed up, not just as a name credited in the program but also as a viewer in the crowd. He declared the performance “just about perfect.” Duke is the assistant editor of Amherst magazine.

Ì Feast your eyes on four art books, peruse new poetry and get up to speed on financial bubbles.




Art lovers can feast their eyes on four recent books by alumni: Archivaria and Straight as the Pine, Sturdy as the Oak: Skipper & Cora Beals and Major & Helen Huey in the Early Years of Camp Leelanau for Boys, the Leelanau Schools, and the Homestead in Glen Arbor: Volume One: 1921–1963, both by Michael Huey ’87 (schlebrügge.editor); Aimee E. Newell ’92’s Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library); and Hina Hirayama ’89’s With Éclat: The Boston Athenæum and the Origin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston Athenæum). Poetry fans can peruse Hemingway in the Catskills and Other Poems (self-published), by Seth Frank ’55, and Incomplete Strangers, by Robert McNamara ’71 (Lost Horse Press). David Willbern ’66 brings us The American Popular Novel After World War II: A Study of 25 Best Sellers, 1947–2000 (McFarland), while Hilary Plum ’04’s novel They Dragged Them Through the Streets (University of Alabama Press) is a meditation upon the Iraq War. Launa Schweizer ’91 moves her family to France in Home Away: A Year of Misapprehensions, Transformations, and Rosé at Lunch (CreateSpace). Professor Emeritus Lawrence A. Babb shows us Emerald City: The Birth and Evolution of an Indian Gemstone Industry (SUNY Press), and Bob Madgic ’60 introduces us to The Sacramento: A Transcendent River (Riverbend Books). William Rapp ’61 has cooked up Boil, Bubble, Toil and Trouble: An Analytical Exploration of Bubbles—fi financial bubbles, that is (CreateSpace). Katherine Duke ’05 Amherst Fall 2013 43


A Thriller That Actually Thrills

REVIEWED BY NICHOLAS MANCUSI ’10 FICTION U Harlan Coben is a writer in the enviable position of not having to worry about negative reviews. His loyal readership snaps up his books (more than 20 novels, including the number one New York Times bestsellers Stay Close, Live Wire, Caught, Long Lost and Hold Tight) t as fast as he can turn them out, and his shelf space in bookstores around the world is firmly cemented. Perhaps the clearest sign of marketplace success: on the dust jacket of his latest off ffering, Six Years, his name is twice as large as the title. If all of this sounds like a throat-clearing prelude to a snobby pan, sorry to disappoint. Coben is great at what he does, and what he does is write thrillers (an outright slur in the more tweedy literary demimonde) that actually thrill. Six Years (Dutton) is no exception. The book is narrated from the point of view of Jake Fisher, a professor of political science at a small fictional college called fi Lanford that readers of this magazine may recognize. (There is a Johnson Chapel, a Valentine dining hall and a place in town called Judie’s that makes a killer popover.) 44 Amherst Fall 2013


Harlan Coben ’84’s latest novel is set at a fictional college that might sound familiar: it has a Johnson Chapel, a Valentine dining hall and a place in town that makes a killer popover. Six years prior to the narrative present, Jake sat in the back pew of a church and watched the love of his life, an artist named Natalie, marry another man. He swore to leave the bride and groom alone in their new life, but six years later, after he stumbles across the groom’s obituary, he decides to look her up. Easier said than done: nobody at the artist colony where Natalie and Jake met and spent most of their brief relationship seems to even remember Natalie’s existence, and the widow that the dead man left behind is someone else entirely. As Jake becomes more and more obsessed with finding Natalie, he is drawn into an increasingly complex plot involvCoben’s ing bank robbers, the utter lack of pretension mafi fia, corrupt police is the reason and even some of the his new novel faculty of the unasworks so well. suming college on the hill. Short chapters of pretension. (Surely this bear the plot along briskly sounds backhanded, but through a series of wellearned twists and revelations bear with me.) Capital-L toward a climactic shoot-out, Literary authors often gnash themselves to ribbons over and the book is defi finitely, as their reluctance to write they say, hard to put down. “entertaining” fiction, fi but The reason it works so Coben has no time for such well is Coben’s utter lack

self-fl flagellation. Jake Fisher is a figure of pure aspiration, a well-respected academic who is also 6-foot-5 and built like a linebacker, able with equal aplomb to deliver a lecture, flirt with a secretary and punch his way out of a

The Firm

Mancusi has a column on The Daily Beast and blogs at His writing has appeared in various other publications.

The Partner Track, k by Helen Wan ’95, romances us with power while revealing the betrayal, bigotry and illusion hidden inside of it. REVIEWED BY CATHERINE NEWMAN ’90 FICTION U Ingrid Yung is an ambitious, brilliant (and beautiful) Chinese-American attorney at a prestigious corporate law firm, where she is poised to become its first minority female partner. To say that Ingrid’s experience at the firm swings wildly between soaring and sucking is not a spoiler, but it is an understatement. Corporate highs and lows, you’ll learn, if you did not already know, are different ff from the highs and lows of, say, buying cheese at Whole Foods or submitting a cartoon caption to The New Yorker.r We are in the belly of the beast. From the first pages of The Partner Track (St. Martin’s Press), Helen Wan—herself associate general counsel at the Time Inc. division of Time Warner—romances us with power, all the while revealing the betrayal, bigotry and illusion congealed inside of it. Here is Ingrid, eu-

Wan’s debut novel is about an ambitious and brilliant corporate lawyer.

phoric about the closing of a deal: “I could feel the power and influence that coursed through these conference rooms like electrical currents high atop the city. ... It was thrilling, the promise of such a world.” Indeed. Except that such a world d also turns out to be, more or less, Thursday night TAP. Ingrid refers to a golden-boy associate as “a smart guy, despite the rich jock pedigree.” She compares the high-power associate hallway, with its polished brass nameplates, to “fraternity row.” Sound familiar? I didn’t think so. Although, if you were a woman at Amherst in the ’80s or ’90s, that dislocated feeling—of crashing a boys-only party—might resonate. All the more so, I can only imagine, if you were a woman of color. The novel’s plot kicks into high gear when, after a news-making racist parody at the annual summer outing, the firm scrambles to set in motion a “Diversity Initiative”—and forces Ingrid to be its poster girl, even as she works furiously to close the biggest deal of her career. Until now, the firm’s diversity initiatives have been all about margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, dumplings for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. “We didn’t need [expletive] Dumpling Day in the firm cafeteria,” Ingrid rages. “What we needed was decoder rings for all of the unwritten rules of survival here.” Suff ffice it to say that things get ugly, fast, and the racism and sexism that have been simmering below the surface erupt geyserously. Ingrid leans in to future glory— but her occasional backward glimpses are revealing. She was the kid who brought shrimp toast and scallion pancakes to school for lunch (she now makes a point of eating nondescriptly). She rememSIGRID ESTRADA

moving van driven by armed assailants. He’s got problems, but they’re problems that can be solved with guile and force, and the reader wouldn’t mind having them as well, as long as they led to a similar adventure. Compare this to the problems of some more literary characters: disenchantment with modern life, estranged relationship with mother, family dying from famine, etc. No thanks. Or at least, not while I’m at the beach. When an author tries to tell a fun, fast story and also make larger allegorical points about the human condition, it can be a disaster. Coben knows better. This is not to suggest that his writing is subpar on a sentence-by-sentence level; Coben may not care much for descriptions of the moon or what it feels like to be romantically depressed (and thank goodness for that) but his action crackles with nary an adverb to be found, and his writing is largely devoid of the clichés that plague the genre (except for a single instance of the phrase “then it happened.”) Are there formulas at work in Coben’s books? Yes, sure, perhaps more in structural elements and pacing than in plot. But what’s wrong with a good formula? Formulas are why a gun will fire, fi just about every time you pull the trigger.

Amherst Fall 2013 45


Newman writes an advice column for Real Simple and blogs at benandbirdy. She is the author of the memoir Waiting for Birdy. 46 Amherst Fall 2013

It’s Seat Pitch, Not Legroom Full Upright and Locked Position, by Mark Gerchick ’73, is a guidebook to the miraculous and headacheinducing world of commercial air travel.

REVIEWED BY PAUL STATT ’78 NONFICTION U I like to read. I also like to travel, and, like many an Amherst alum contemplating a trip, my fi first stop before setting out is the bookstore. Visiting Sweden? Streetwise Stockholm, maybe a Kurt Wallander mystery, The Rough Guide and Teach Yourself Swedish. Nobody ever reads up on the airplane trip itself, because there has never been a Baedeker to the strangely miraculous and uncomfortable world of commercial airlines. Now there is. Full Upright and Locked Position (W.W. Norton) reveals Not-So-Comfortable Truths about Air Travel Today, according to Mark Gerchick. A consultant to some big airlines and busy airports since he stopped working for the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation, Gerchick has written a companion to air travel that will enlighten the curious and might even alleviate some of our pain. LEN SPODEN

bers, at 10, borrowing a business-letter book from the library to write Sears, at her parents’ urging, about a washingmachine warranty. And she reminisces about a girlhood visit to New York City, where, at the apartment building of a wealthy acquaintance, a doorman mistakes her father for a delivery boy and the skyline dazzles her: “Each individual glittering box of light—like gems strung along a necklace—seemed to me to be a tiny oblong window onto success, acceptance, respect, that is to say, a place in the world.” If you were wondering why Ingrid is so ambitious, so desperate to belong, look no further. But this place in the world turns out to be some costly real estate. The Partner Trackk is laced with corporate cultural phenomena and jargon that I found alternately alienating and fascinating, being the kind of person who might occasionally stuff ff someone’s wet snow boots with the unread business section of the Times. I’m sure many women in the corporate world will read this book and nod their heads, but I shook mine. Seriously? Then again, my Town-of-Amherst life is more Portlandia than Mad Men, my curiosity about corporate culture more anthropological than intimate. While I check on the basement fermentation of my sauerkraut, someone is ordering the smoked squab at JeanGeorges! While I hold a foot up to the medicine-cabinet mirror to decide between my two pairs of Danskos, someone is checking out her Jimmy Choos in an off ffice wardrobe! If I have a criticism of Wan’s gripping and delightfully horrifying book, it’s that good and evil might be painted a little too starkly. Then again, it’s kind of a fairy tale, and you can’t help rooting for Ingrid to get her Cinderella ending. Not the prince holding out her glass slipper, but Ingrid becoming her own hero, and the world itself turning out to fit just right.

Gerchick believes that today’s passengers need to adjust their expectations.

Gerchick’s book is not quite Teach Yourself Airline-ish, but he does demystify the strange ways airlines mangle language. Passengers were once called “the people” by flight crews; today we are “paying cargo.” What you or I might call “legroom” is “seat pitch” according to the industry. The person responsible for putting your baggage on the plane is called a “thrower.” The thrower never loses your stuff ff: it’s “mishandled baggage.” Overwrought passengers are “the irates.” The crew calls the autopilot “George.” When the fleshfl and-blood pilot (who is still likely to be a middle-aged white man with military training) has to pee, the airline calls for a “physiological-needs break.” If I were looking to rekindle the romance of flight—Gerchick confesses that the thrill is gone for most passengers—I would learn to fl fly a plane. Even First Class doesn’t seem all that luxurious. But a pilot’s life for me! Watching the stars and the weather, coolly warning, “We may encounter a little turbulence,” which is pilot-speak for a tornado. Gerchick describes the “strange duality to the airline pilot’s mind— poets soaring through the skies and, at the same moment, emotionless engineers.” Those laconic dreamers in the cockpit seem a bit arrogant in Full Upright, which is fine by me. The guy can fly fl almost a million pounds of aluminum 10 miles above

Statt is a communications consultant in Philadelphia.


Motions of Mind and Plot Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece, by Michael Gorra ’79, is an engrossing, accessible 2013 Pulitzer finalist. REVIEWED BY NICHOLAS MANCUSI ’10


the earth at 600 miles per hour. If my airline pilot thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room—well, I hope he is. It’s his employers who have made flying such a sad way to travel. Evidently, for most of the hundredyear history of the aviation industry, there was only one way to make more money: get bigger. Bigger planes, expanded routes, new passengers. That’s why your relative cost to travel kept falling until the 1970s. But the rising cost of jet fuel, which accounts for at least a third of their expenses, forced the big airlines to look for new sources of revenue. Their key innovation was to see that what we used to called a “fl flight” was actually a “bundle,” including a hot meal, a cold drink, a movie, baggage delivery and a smiling agent. By “de-bundling” and asking customers to pay à la carte, the airlines could brag that they were “off ffering consumer choice” and charge more. I always travel in steerage, and I fi finished Full Upright feeling sanguine about the safety of my upcoming Philadelphia-Stockholm flight (although I’m still skeptical about the TSA security theater at the airport). But Gerchick comes to a melancholy conclusion about the industry: “As passengers we need to adjust our expectations. Airlines are a business that is finally making a little bit of money. The expectation of flying as a pleasant adventure is an anachronism. That’s just not the case anymore, especially in coach. If you recognize that fact, it is a bit liberating.” A bit liberating, perhaps, but I would prefer more “fl flights of fancy.” Bringing my expectations of flying down to earth just seems wrong. Airline argot for the aftermath of the unfortunate and one-sided encounter between a large waterfowl and a jet engine is “snarge.” It’s a delightful word and worth reading Full Upright just to learn it, but I wish the airlines were less determined to treat me like snarge, and Gerchick less phlegmatic about it.

BIOGRAPHY U Three years after completing his masterpiece The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James published an essay, “The Art of Fiction.” Its claim, considered bold if not silly at the time, was that fiction deserved the same artistic footing as poetry and painting. It’s easy to forget that, at one time, to be a reader of novels was to be seen as unserious (and certainly unmanly) at best, and indolent or gossipy at worst. James did not completely disagree: His essay makes a compelling argument for why the novel, in its Victorian adolescence, had failed to live up to its potential, and where he thought it could be taken. In James’ lifetime, due largely to his own work, the novel would undergo a sea change. Once staid, self-repressing entertainment, novels became modernist representations of the actual human experience. In his biography Portrait of a Novel (Liveright) Michael Gorra maps the entire web of experiential circumstance and psychological motivation that led to the publication of James’ most famous work. I use the term “biography” loosely, not because the book doesn’t take seriously the job of accounting for the facts of James’ life, but because it does so much more. The book is part character study, part close reading of the text and part travelogue; it’s hard to imagine an angle that Gorra might have missed. That the book will become indispensable for James scholars is obvious. What’s more impressive is how engrossing it is for those who have read only a little James, or none at all. Gorra’s astute observations about James’ work take a backseat to his sensitivity toward the internal machinations of the novelist’s mind. “He can’t help but observe the distinction between that which he knows and that which he can admit that he knows,” Gorra writes. This psychological valence brilliantly mirrors James’ own greatest strength as a writer: his understanding that the motions of the mind are inseparable from the motions of plot. As Gorra weaves his reading of Portrait with his investigation into James’ personal travails, we see ironies emerge from his fiction when plotted against his life. Gorra writes that James, charged with disposing of the effects ff of a friend who had committed suicide (she had most probably been in love with him; James was most probably gay), made the odd decision to rent a gondola and attempt to sink her dresses in a Venetian canal. The sleeves of the dresses filled with air, resurfacing “like balloons all around him … horrible black balloons.” It could be a scene straight out of one of his stories, the psychological manifesting itself as the physical. In “The Art of Fiction,” James wrote: “It is still expected, though perhaps people are ashamed to say it, that a [novel] shall be in some degree apologetic— shall renounce the pretension of attempting really to compete with life ... [but] the only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does compete with life.” With this book, Gorra has shown not only how The Portrait of a Lady competed with the life of Henry James but also how they refl flected one another, in ways of which James himself might have been only subconsciously aware. k

AMHERST READS book club: Coben, Wan, Gerchick and Gorra are featured authors at

Amherst Fall 2013 47

THANK YOU THE ALU MNI SUR VEY RESULTS ARE I N! This spring 42% of Amherst alumni participated in a comprehensive alumni survey conducted in collaboration with a group of highly selective colleges and universities. Survey responses were analyzed across six generations: World War II (classes of 19381949), Post World War II (1950-1967), Baby Boomer (1968-1978), Early Coeducation at Amherst (1979-1986), GenX (1987-2002), and Millennial (2003-2008). Alumni in the five most recent classes received a shorter survey focused on graduate school and their careers. Alumni eagerly shared their responses—three open-ended questions concerning student life and strategic issues, as well as the opportunity to expand on any question in the survey yielded 11,856 responses, equal to 1,100 printed pages! Evaluating the College:

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92% are generally or very satisfied with their Amherst education. Across all generations, alumni found Amherst prepared them well to write clearly and effectively, acquire new skills and knowledge on their own, think logically and analytically, think critically and synthesize and integrate ideas and information. Alumni would like to see more leadership programming for students.

Satisfaction with Undergraduate Education at Amherst College:

Keeping in Touch, Connecting and Engaging with the College: Although

electronic means of communication are cited, Amherst magazine is the most frequently mentioned source of college information for all generations. Undergraduate Experience: Alumni from recent classes are more likely to report

working for pay while in college, participating in community service, and receiving financial aid from the college. Survey results will inform the college’s strategic planning process and advancement’s efforts to engage alumni with Amherst. These are two of many ways the survey findings will be used, and featured, over the next several months.

Ì NOVEMBER 22, 1963



BY DAVID J. GREENBLATT ’66, P’15 “FOUR WEEKS AGO HE WAS HERE. We saw him; we heard him; and we knew him. … Now he is gone.” Cal Plimpton addressed a grim college community in Johnson Chapel on the evening of Nov. 22, 1963, his voice quivering. The brief speech ended with: “Let us stand a moment in silence, to honor him; then let us go and do the work he couldn’t complete.” JFK’s visit to Amherst a month earlier was exhilarating. The preparations were frantic, the steps of his schedule precisely choreographed. The media and Secret Service swarmed over campus. Three military helicopters arrived. Kennedy gave his now-archival speech in the old cage. Then the motorcade, the Frost Library groundbreaking, and it was over. JFK departed and returned to work. I missed the whole thing. In 128 Amherst Fall 2013

Upon learning the president had been killed, one sophomore went to his room in North, closed the door and sat down to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

that era, the football team traveled by bus to a hotel in Holyoke on the night before the homecoming game. Purpose: to escape the chaos and sleeplessness of homecoming weekend. We arrived back at Pratt Field late that Saturday morning. The Frost ceremony ran long, so the stands were empty at the start of the game. Wesleyan scored on the first two possessions. The stands eventually filled, fi and we won. I was raised in Newton, Mass., a few miles from JFK’s birthplace in Brookline. Growing up, I never knew that a New England accent existed, let alone that I had one. Professor Allen Guttmann was unhappy with JFK’s syntax. “To each question,” grumbled Dr. Guttmann, “he responds: ‘Well, I would say that the answer to that would be this.’” After my 11:20 class on Nov. 22, I returned to North, where an agitated John Swinton King ’66 said, “Kennedy’s been shot.” We

crowded around an old radio in classmate Russ Clark’s room. “Is he OK?” I asked. No one knew. I went to Williston for a 12:20 math class with a gentle and revered senior professor, Robert Breusch. Midway through, the chapel bells began to toll slowly. In heavily accented English, Professor Breusch said softly, “Well, I think that’s enough.” He set down the chalk. Jonathan Wolpaw ’66 met me at the top of the stairs in North. There were tears in his eyes. “He’s dead.” I was unprepared, and therefore vulnerable to the shock and horror and hurt. I pretended not to think about it. With the door to my room closed and locked, I sat down to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin for American Studies 21. Many hours later I re-emerged, hungry and tired of reading. Bob Lewin ’66 and I walked into a dark and silent town. We found an open pizza place, then moved on to Cal’s meeting in the chapel. The next morning I took the bus home to Newton. On Sunday I went to Catholic Mass and came home in time to see Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television (later my grandmother asked, “Is this bad for the Jews?”). Over the next few weeks, angry at my own vulnerability, I took steps to protect myself. I tried to picture any and all possible tragedies, losses and disasters. If such things did happen, at least I would be unsurprised. (To some degree that system has worked.) On campus, we grudgingly resumed life, but youth and excitement and optimism were done. k Greenblatt is on the faculty of Tufts University School of Medicine, where he is professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics.

Pathways Mentoring A little advice goes a long way.





Amherst Students Need You!
























Pathways by the Numbers 370 students and counting 610 95

alumni and counting current mentoring relationships

1500 more alumni are needed to support growing student interest. Think Pathways isn’t for you? You are not too young, or too old, and the life choices you’ve made and who you’ve become may be just the right match for an Amherst student. It’s an opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives – while they make a difference in yours.

Join fellow alumni and register to be a mentor today!


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In 1962, back when Amherst men took dates to football games, the home team had its best season in a decade. As reported in the Alumni News, the clincher was the Williams game, which Amherst won 7–0 by scoring with 88 seconds left to play.

1962 Pratt Field

This fall, students and alumni cheered from the stands of a renovated Pratt Field, which has artificial turf and a new fieldhouse, press box and track— not to mention the best fans around.

2013 The first game at the renovated field