Author Archives: Jennifer Altmann

Love Beads and Leopard-Print Bikinis: Novel Portrays Coming of Age in the ’70s

Professor Darcey Steinke

Professor Darcey Steinke

Twelve-year-old Jesse and her family move to a working-class apartment complex in Roanoke, Va., in the summer of 1972, a time when kids playing in the yard pretend the Viet Cong are chasing them and hitchhikers along the highway are wearing bell bottoms and love beads. Jesse’s mother is a dissatisfied housewife, her father a former pastor who has abandoned religion. Jesse’s struggles to figure out where she fits in — and the struggles of her mother and the divorcées living nearby — are chronicled in Sister Golden Hair, a coming-of-age novel by Princeton creative writing professor Darcey Steinke.

“I always wanted to go back and write about some of the women I knew in the ’70s,” says Steinke, who spent part of her childhood in Roanoke in a similar setting. “They were trained to be homemakers and mothers, and all of a sudden the culture was saying, ‘We want women to work,’ and the skills they had — keeping house, making apple cake — had been devalued. It was painful for my mother; she never really got over that.”

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States of Desire Revisited: Travels in Gay America by Edmund White

Professor Edmund White

Professor Edmund White

The author: Edmund White is one of the leading chroniclers of gay life in America and a longtime professor of creative writing at Princeton. His new book, States of Desire Revisited: Travels in Gay America, brings back a chronicle of gay life in the United States that was first published in 1980. White is the author of several novels, including the groundbreaking coming-of-age tale A Boy’s Own Story, as well as several memoirs about his life abroad, his many lovers, and his role as a self-described “archaeologist of gossip.”

The book: In a new introduction and afterword, White looks back at the late ’70s, when he traveled the country to explore gay liberation, political activism, and sexual freedom. The book covers San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, but also explores the less public gay life in places such as Kansas City and Memphis. Throughout, White peppers his prose with personal stories and colorful observations, capturing the nuances of gay life just before the AIDS epidemic rocked the community. White’s afterword explores how the Internet has affected gay culture.

White-States-of-Desire-cOpening lines: “Since this book came out in 1980, the world of gays has evolved more quickly than any other in peacetime since the beginning of history. Violence and war have been able to effect sudden and usually disastrous changes, but the changes that occur peacefully are most often slow and sedimentary. In fact this book shows a past world preserved in amber, despite the way that world was full of plans, impregnated by what it imagined was a utopian future.” Continue reading

Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe, by Alan Hirshfeld ’73

Alan Hirshfeld '73

Alan Hirshfeld ’73

The book: A cadre of 19th-century amateur astronomers and inventors played a significant role in the birth of modern astronomy. In Starlight Detectives, Hirshfeld reveals the stories of those ambitious dreamers, among them William Bond, who turned his home into a functional observatory, and a father and son who were trailblazers in astrophotography. The tales Hirshfeld recounts reveal the persistence and imagination required for scientific progress.

The author: Hirshfeld, who has written several books about scientific discoveries, is a professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and an associate of the Harvard College Observatory. Continue reading

A Fictional Romp Through Reality TV and the Absurdities of Our Celebrity Culture

Christopher Beha '02

Christopher Beha ’02

Christopher Beha ’02’s new novel, Arts and Entertainments, is a hilarious send-up of our celebrity culture, but his inspiration came not from watching marathons of The Real Housewives, but from reading Edith Wharton.

A Wharton short story — about an impoverished poet who cannot make money from his poems but is offered the chance to sell a piece of gossip to a newspaper — sparked the idea for the novel, which follows a failed actor who, desperate to afford fertility treatments for his wife, sells a sex tape made with a former girlfriend who now is famous. When his identity is revealed, he is unwittingly drawn into the world of reality TV, which quickly takes over his life. The novel expertly skewers our obsession with the world of celebrities — a newspaper headline reads “Nation Mourns” when a reality TV star dies — and the way in which social media has transformed how we think about our lives.

ArtsEntertainment pb cThere has been “a real debasing of interior life,” Beha says, with the pervasiveness of the idea “that everybody’s life is meant to be broadcast, and that your life has meaning to the extent that it is known about by as many people as possible.” The book’s reality TV maestro, a shadowy figure named Brian Moody, spends a year in the seminary before realizing his true calling, enabling Beha to explore the way celebrity culture “substitutes in some way for what religion used to provide.”

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‘Dean of Deans': Fred Hargadon, Admissions Dean From 1988 to 2003, Dies at 80


Fred Hargadon (Photo: Frank Wojciechowski)

Fred Hargadon, Princeton’s dean of admission for 15 years and such a dominant figure in college admissions that he was known as the “dean of admission deans,” died Jan. 15. He was 80 and lived in Princeton.

Renowned for the personal attention he gave each application, “Dean Fred” welcomed successful students with an acceptance letter beginning: “Yes!” In his honor, the word was carved into a stone at the entrance of Hargadon Hall in Whitman College. The strong relationships he built with students, especially with athletes, continued during their time on campus; he was an honorary member of several classes and gave the Baccalaureate address just before he retired in 2003.

“It was extraordinary how many students he kept in touch with,” said former president Harold Shapiro *64, who hired the tall and often rumpled Hargadon in 1988. “For many students, he is the person they remember the most from Princeton.”

Hargadon’s tenure at Princeton spanned a period of change and increasing competition in college admissions. When he began, after five years heading admissions at Swarthmore and 15 years at Stanford, about 16 percent of applicants were accepted to Princeton each year. When he left, the admission rate was about 10 percent. He also was a strong supporter of early-decision admission over early action.

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Q&A with Chris Lu ’88, on working for President Barack Obama

(Photo: White House Photo Office)
In 2005, a young U.S. senator from Illinois asked Chris Lu ’88 to serve as his legislative director. Three years later, Barack Obama was elected president, and Lu was appointed as the White House Cabinet secretary. Lu stepped down from that position in February so that he could, as he told The Daily Princetonian, “enjoy some things I haven’t had a chance to enjoy over the last eight years.”
Was it difficult to make the decision to leave the White House?
I’ve been with the president since almost the day he came into Senate. It’s hard to leave, but for me it was the right time personally and professionally for a transition. For the president, being in the White House is a marathon, but for the White House staff it’s a sprint, and before you drop, you pass the baton to somebody else. It’s a nonstop schedule.
Before you go into a job like this, you need to find some balance in your life. If you let yourself, you could work every waking hour. My days usually started at 5 a.m., running in the dark. Having that time by myself to think and clear my head was important.
You were one of the most senior Asian-Americans in the Obama administration.
My parents were both immigrants to this country — they were born in China and came here from Taiwan to go to college in the late ’50s. At the time, it would have been unthinkable to them that their son someday would be working in the White House. I never got jaded about what it meant, and what a unique experience that was. Throughout history, there have not been a lot of people who looked like me who worked at the White House.

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