As I wrote back in February’s blog post, the Coming of Conscience Scholarship that was created in the spirit of the journey of the main character, Judy Talton, in my novel The Fourteenth of September had attracted a record-breaking 200+ applicants. The scholarship was open to all students (undergrad and graduate) at Northern Illinois University (NIU), the real-life model for the fictional university in the novel. It was designed to encourage meaningful activism and bold personal responsibility. Applicants were asked to write an essay to describe their understanding of Coming of Conscience, to share an example of a Coming of Conscience moment of their own, if possible, and, above all, to indicate their plan for how they will use their degree to help change the world. Essays were evaluated by a faculty committee established by the NIU Foundation, who chose the final recipient.Read More
The tag line for my book The Fourteenth of September, which came out this fall, is “A Coming of Conscience Novel,” a designation intended to echo yet distinguish it from the typical coming of age experience. In the story, which takes place during one of the most difficult times in our country’s history—The Vietnam War—the main character, Judy Talton, is plunged into a dangerous journey of self-discovery. She ultimately makes a character-defining decision with huge ramifications for who she is and what she will become. Her dilemma parallels that of America at the time: What are we if we stay in Vietnam? Who are we if we leave?Read More
Back in the Fall of 1969, I was increasingly disturbed by the direction of the Vietnam War and just sticking my toe into the campus counterculture at Northern Illinois University. I would comb notices for events advertised on posters and began to attend a few—a planning meeting to support a student strike, a gathering of the campus chapter of the SMC (Student Mobilization Committee to End the War). I’d cling to a wall at the back of the room and try to blend with my brand new jeans, and be amazed at how order would arise from the chaos before me—everyone yelling at once, purposefully raucous, yet somehow arriving at decisions. I’d slink out, without interacting. Intrigued, but not ready to engage.
One day at the union, Marcia plopped herself down next to me, shoved a petition under my nose, dared me not to be apathetic and told me to sign it. I don’t remember what it was for, but I certainly obeyed. She had seen me at all the meetings and knew a ripe convert who needed a push when she saw one. From that moment she became my radical mentor, schooling me in all the important things—we were “freaks” not “hippies;” it was “grass” or “weed” not “pot;” proper attire meant the bells of your jeans had to be a complete circle, not sticking out like triangles from your ankles; and there were “right” ways to get involved (SMC yes, SDS and YSA—the Young Socialists Association, no). She immediately introduced me to her expansive circle including virtually any non-straight person on campus (back when “straight” meant “conforming,” not sexual identification) and gave me the name I am still called by to this day, “Lovely Rita.”Read More