Ailish Hopper ’93
For Ailish Hopper ’93, growing up white in Washington, D.C., meant living in a world where “the American drama of race” was played out on a daily basis, she says. She explored issues of race as a certificate student in African American studies at Princeton, and later through her poetry. “It was really only in African American studies that I could begin to understand my history, our history,” Hopper says.
In Hopper’s first book of poetry, Dark~Sky Society, the poem “Ways to be White in a Poem” is about a white female who obliviously reinforces racial stereotypes even as she struggles to be free of the social expectations for women. Other poems obliquely illuminate the effect of race on spaces and relationships. “As a topic, [race] is more than tired; it is exhausted,” Hopper says. “We know The Story. And many of us feel that we have been defeated by it.” The book was a runner-up for the New Issues prize from Western Michigan University. Hopper is an assistant professor at Goucher College.
Matthew Stewart ’85
The American Revolution led to the creation of the world’s first secular republic. According to Matthew Stewart ’85’s new book, Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, it was this secular break from the supernatural religion of the British that made America’s independence truly revolutionary. The book offers a reappraisal of the religious and philosophical origins of America’s revolution and shows that it was secularist ideals, not Christian values, that drove the establishment of America’s most cherished freedoms.
To explain his argument, Stewart investigates the prevalence of deism: the belief that an impersonal God expects humans to reason out their own ethical codes. This belief system, which finds its roots in classical, pagan philosophy, was held not only by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, but also lesser-known figures like Thomas Young, instigator of the Boston Tea Party. It was these men and their largely secular, rational way of thinking that informed the ideas of personal liberty, religious freedom, and the proper role of governmental power — ideas that are now at the core of America’s most treasured documents.
W. Barksdale Maynard ’88
The author: W. Barksdale Maynard ’88, a lecturer at Princeton, has previously published six books, including Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency, Princeton: America’s Campus, and the award-winning Walden Pond: A History.
The book: The Brandywine River winds from southeastern Pennsylvania into Delaware and carries with it a rich story. Maynard offers a sweeping narrative of the river and the men and women who shaped the region’s culture and history. They include the du Ponts, who made their fortune there, and Andrew Wyeth, whose paintings captured the people and natural landscape of the region.
Opening lines: “It comes down from the Welsh Mountains and twists its way through some of the prettiest countryside in the middle states before gushing along a rocky gorge at Wilmington and meeting tidewater. The quintessential Piedmont stream, running lively over the rocks, the Brandywine finally loses itself into the flat and featureless Christina River, which joins the Delaware Bay.” Continue reading
Jodi Picoult ’87
To research her latest novel, Jodi Picoult ’87 travelled to the savannahs of Botswana, studied elephants at a sanctuary in Tennessee, and consulted a psychic. The result is Leaving Time, about a young girl’s search for her mother.
Jenna Metcalf is determined to solve the mysterious, decade-old disappearance of her mother, Alice, a young scientist who studied how elephants express grief in Botswana and at a New Hampshire elephant sanctuary. Jenna enlists the help of a disgraced psychic and a jaded private detective, and pores over Alice’s journals to assemble a portrait of her mother’s life.
The novel weaves together several voices to create a fast-paced narrative that is part crime story, part family drama, and it races to an unexpected finish. Alice’s journals take the reader into her research on elephant grief, as she lives among and observes her subjects. Alice carefully records, and finds herself responding to, the elephants’ behavior as they experience motherhood, loss, and crumbling family structures. Picoult (featured in PAW on Jan. 18, 2012) is the bestselling author of 23 novels, including My Sister’s Keeper, which was made into a film. She will be reading from Leaving Time at Rockleigh Country Club in Northvale, NJ, on Oct. 19.
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.”
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.
Opening 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