Robert Hellenga *69
The novel: Frances Godwin’s long career as a high school Latin teacher ends abruptly because of budget cutbacks. She then begins writing her stories — confessions, really — that recount her “torrid” affair with Paul, her Shakespeare professor and eventually her husband, and the surprising turn her life takes after his death. Frances, now on the cusp of old age, has lived her life as a non-believer. But when Frances becomes entangled in her daughter Stella’s relationship with an abusive husband, her actions lead her to a new relationship with God.
The author: Since 1968, Hellenga has taught English literature at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., where he has been Distinguished Writer-in-Residence. He is the author of The Sixteen Pleasures and Snakewoman of Little Egypt. The Confessions of Frances Godwin is his seventh novel. Continue reading
Upperclassmen move in to Witherspoon Hall in September 1948. (Alan W. Richards/PAW Archives)
Princeton upperclassmen arriving back on campus in September 1948 found a couple of significant changes: Firestone Library was nearly complete, while the books at the old Pyne Library had been pulled from their shelves; and the swimming team finally had a new home at Dillon, after being pool-less for four years due to a fire that destroyed the gymnasium.
The U-Store, in the midst of a reorganization, had found dusty boxes of silk top hats and canes — relics that, according to PAW columnist William T. Barry III ’50, “drew curious eyes and eager buyers.” But students had more than costumes and frivolity on their minds. At class registration in Dillon Gym, a sign directed them to visit the balcony and register for Selective Service. “These signs reminded all the non-veterans that their college careers are liable to be interrupted by the draft before graduation,” Barry wrote.
This week, Beloit College’s annual Mindset List noted several interesting tidbits about members of the incoming Class of 2018: Since most were born in 1996, their lives never overlapped with those of Tupac Shakur or Carl Sagan; the terrorist attacks of 2001 happened when they were in kindergarten; and they’ve never known a world without The Daily Show.
But what was happening at Princeton when the Class of ’18 was still in diapers? Quite a lot: 1996 is the year when the Tigers upset UCLA in men’s basketball and said farewell to Pete Carril; President Bill Clinton delivered the Commencement address as Princeton celebrated its bicenquinquagenary (250th anniversary); and alumnus Richard Smalley *74 shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of a novel type of carbon molecules.
The Pyne Prize that year went to Derek Kilmer ’96, now a U.S. Congressman from the state of Washington, and Daniel Walter ’96, who went on to earn a Ph.D. from Princeton’s physics department. Kilmer’s Congressional colleague Jared Polis ’96 also was on campus. PAW wrote a column about his ambitious course load, which included 25 classes in his first two years (just over six per semester). Continue reading
Galway Kinnell ’48 at a 2009 reading. (T. Carrigan/Flickr)
When former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin revived the practice of appointing a state poet laureate in 1989, she didn’t need to look far for her first selection. Galway Kinnell ’48, a Pulitzer Prize winner who lives in Sheffield, Vt., about an hour north of the capital in Montpelier, accepted the post, becoming Vermont’s first poet laureate since Robert Frost — and in Kunin’s words, “a treasure for the state.”
Earlier this month, Kinnell returned to the Statehouse for a ceremony celebrating the 87-year-old poet’s life and career. Kunin was on hand, along with several poets and family members who read favorite poems from Kinnell’s career and selections of their own work.
Kinnell, a friend and Princeton classmate of former U.S. poet laureate W.S. Merwin ’48, was a student during the early years of the University’s creative writing program, when the faculty included poets R.P. Blackmur and John Berryman. But he shied away from poetry courses. “The true reason I didn’t enroll was that I didn’t feel my poetry was developed enough,” he explained in a 2011 interview with American Poetry Review. “I didn’t want to submit work that I already knew was badly flawed. But one of the professors in the English department, Charles Bell, saw something in my poems. I liked his poems, too, and we developed a wonderful, lifelong poetry friendship, during which our meetings were sometimes very much like workshops.”
Kinnell’s modesty has endured, even after publishing 18 books of poetry and prose and receiving the American Academy of Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award in 2010, for “proven mastery in the art of poetry.” “A poet should not call himself a ‘poet,’” he said in the 2011 American Poetry Review interview. “Being a poet is so marvelous an accomplishment that it would be boasting to say it of oneself.”
Michael Grabell ’03
The Poet: Michael Grabell ’03 is an investigative reporter with ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to in-depth stories in the public interest, for which he writes about air safety and the economy, among other topics. But outside of his professional life, Grabell enjoys a different kind of writing: poetry. His first collection of poems, Macho Man, won the Finishing Line Press chapbook competition and was a finalist for the Pushcart Prize. His work also has appeared in the Best American Poetry anthology.
The Poetry: The title Macho Man might mislead the reader into thinking about a Hemingway-like machismo. But the title is ironic, says Pushcart Prize winner Bruce Bennett, who wrote that the poems are “effortlessly fluent” with a consciousness that “is exquisitely sensitive and attuned to the slightest nuance.” The poems cover a range of subjects, from musings on childhood to sexual longing. National Book Award finalist and Princeton professor James Richardson ’71 wrote, “Grabell arranges the head-on collision of his restless desire with its immovable objects, and somehow walks away from the wreck with poems of utter lucidity, sharp insight, and perfect pace.”
The Readings: Sept. 6th at 1pm, Poets House, 10 River Terrace, NYC; Sept. 10th at 6:30pm, Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, NYC; Sept. 12th at 6pm, Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street, NYC. Continue reading
Flying ace Elliott Springs, Class of 1917, with his wife, Frances. (PAW Archives)
Nearly a decade after earning fame as a World War I flying ace, Elliott Springs, Class of 1917, had transitioned to a new career as an author, editing the best-seller War Birds and writing a pair of other popular books. But, as Springs wrote in PAW, flying remained an integral part of his life. And even though he’d endured enemy gunfire, stalled engines, a leak that squirted hot oil into his face for hours, and a motor that vibrated so badly that it shook a filling from his tooth, he claimed to have “never made a flight that I did not enjoy.”
Springs, pictured above with his wife, Frances, headlined the Feb. 24, 1928, issue of PAW, which was devoted entirely to aviation — a hot topic in the winter following Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight. Other authors in the magazine included F.B. Rentschler 1909, the president of Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Co.; James L. Breese 1909, part of the U.S. Navy crew that made a trans-Atlantic flight (with stops) in 1919; and James S. McDonnell ’21, a young airplane designer who would go on to create McDonnell Aircraft.
The issue also featured an article called “A Vacation on Wings,” about summer training in the Naval Reserve’s air unit, written by Harvey Williamson ’27. Sadly, Williamson died six months later in a plane crash near his home in Duluth, Minn. The airfield there was re-named in his honor.