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
Women’s History Month isn’t an anniversary I typically celebrate or to which I pay much attention. Early in my career, in fact, like so many of us, I worked hard not to differentiate. Making an issue of being a woman in the workplace seemed to underline the very differences I was trying to equate. However, as I type this, I admit to feeling ashamed of myself and that—though I’m dying to meet Gloria Steinem in real life—I hope she doesn’t inquire about the details of my feminist record. It’s there, but in my younger years I did work harder for what seemed more immediate, achievable goals, like ending the Vietnam War. I would say I don’t feel tragically ashamed, more like the descendant of a suffragette being admonished by her ancestors: “Do you realize what we went through?” I’ve always been on the right side—but not raging. I wanted my career and achievements to speak for, not themselves, but for me. I had earned that standing, regardless of gender, I felt. Looking back, after learning how hard it was to be heard, even when you did everything right—even way beyond right—I wonder what on earth I was thinking about. Why did I feel I had to prove anything?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
Forty-nine years ago tomorrow was the date of the first Vietnam Draft Lottery, the day the phrase “to win the lottery” became, not a prize, but a death sentence. It was also a marker for a generation not unlike December 7, 1941, the date of the Pearl Harbor attack, characterized by then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a “Date Which Will Live in Infamy,” a phrase which itself featured an ironic word referring to the dark side of famous. Perhaps that’s what war does to us? Keeps us mired in subtext, unable to talk straight.
I named my debut novel The Fourteenth of September, the birth date of the Number One lottery “winner” drawn on 12/1/69—straightforward, and crystal clear. All irony upfront and intended.Read More
They always say that Vietnam was the first war we saw in our living rooms as we watched the nightly TV news. I don’t recall those images as much as I should have, but I absolutely remember the night I watched the war at home—as I sat on the ’60s-splashed orange-flowered couch in the living room—when the police jumped out of the paddy wagon and began beating young people. This was happening in my hometown, only an hour from the suburb where I lived. And I was watching it with my mother—a World War II veteran. It was when the generation gap disappeared for us for a brief moment. It was the first time we agreed in months, and the last time we’d agree, for a long, long time. This was inexcusable. This was not America.Read More
Recently, while promoting the fall publication of my novel, The Fourteenth of September, which takes place during the pivotal 1969-1970 years of the Vietnam War, I was asked if—of the many iconic moments in American history that happened during that time period— one had impacted me more than any other.
I paused to consider the word iconic... icon—a symbol. No question. It was the Kent State Massacre, a symbol at the time of the total chasm between the government and the youth it was supposed to be protecting: the bridge too far that blew away most of the remaining support for the war, though it’s death throes dragged on another five years.Read More
Watching the news on Valentine’s Day about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, my mind raced back ten years—Valentine’s Day 2008. That year, too, broadcasts broke a story of horror mid-day, shattering a holiday celebrating love. A young man with a shotgun and two pistols had killed five students, injured seventeen and shot himself at my alma mater, Northern Illinois University, in a lecture hall where a few decades earlier I had taken many classes. More than one student in my preferred section of seating didn’t make it. At any random stroke of time one of those casualties could have been me, could have been one of my friends, could have been my second cousin who was a senior at NIU at the time. I wasn’t there, but I was. I was in the shot.Read More