Student Literary Scene Needs Grassroots Culture Change
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
It seems to me that Kenyon’s student body is not living up to its reputation. We find ourselves trodding in the giant footsteps of our literary past, and that makes me sad. To illustrate why, I give you the story of a young nerd.
Kenyon is not in the vocabulary of the 8,000 or so that live in my hometown. When I told them where I was going to college, my friends and family were indifferent. I can’t imagine the situation was unique.
“It’s in Ohio” was my necessary rejoinder to so many blank faces. Worse still were the hesitant nods and reticent smiles that filled the blank — sympathetic or apologetically offered, I’ve never been able to tell.
One person in my hometown did know the word “Kenyon” — my sophomore year English teacher. On a certain spring afternoon, she accosted me in the hall between periods. She had noticed the Kenyon sticker painstakingly centered on the back window of my beat-up, hand-me-down Subaru Forester. I’d wounded her pride as an educator of the language by not coming to her immediately after opening my acceptance letter.
Kenyon’s reputation, I soon learned, did survive in some unfrequented nook of the local library, sharing shelf space with Doctorow, Wright and Lowell. I found that Kenyon does have a name, and not an insignificant one, but only a few have heard it — that it wasn’t respect that we lacked, but notoriety. I took heart in the hope that as the unliked, pudgy editor of the school newspaper at a testosterone-fueled all-boys school, I might find the kind of irrepressibly bookish community I longed for at Kenyon.
And for the most part, I have. But it seems to me that most students here are more likely to spend time with an intramural team or KACing than with Joyce or Atwood. Don’t let me be misunderstood: I mean not to disparage Kenyon sports, it’s simply that I’ve now come to know a school that vastly differs from my pre-pre-orientation vision. Kenyon’s healthy relationship with athletics is nothing like the meathead-dominated atmosphere of idiocy that I barely survived in high school.
Unfortunately, however, those nerdy, introverted, beautifully odd people are still hiding. Sure, you’ll see a few of us on Peirce’s lower floor, furtively guzzling caffeine to push ourselves into that last chapter of Game of Thrones, or the next episode of Doctor Who, or that last Skyrim side quest. Once in a while you’ll get a Harry Potter/Hunger Games moment that brings the giddy geek to the visible surface of even the most prudent, fun-hating Dursley, but on the average, we sequester ourselves to the fringes of Kenyon society.
The worst part is that we’re hiding from ourselves. I’ve found that Kenyon Review events and literary journal meetings are ill-attended. Our undergraduate journals are poorly funded and lack any serious digital presence. What might be the intellectual student corps of a school renowned for its English department is instead an abundance of enthusiastic first-years that haven’t yet noticed the puzzling absence of upperclass English majors at every literary function. What might be a campus that leads its sister schools in the field is instead a group of talented recluses too browbeaten to submit to or participate in their own school’s student journal.
Kenyon’s depressed literary scene doesn’t need die-hard Kafka enthusiasts or scatterbrained Thoreau lovers, it just needs nerds. At heart, we nerds are story-seekers. We are those who find compelling narratives in every possible media. In this way, we’re all English majors, and as such, we have an interest in coming out of our metaphorical comic book-filled closet — better, we have a duty. We have inherited a tradition steeped in the best kind of literary juice, and we are currently failing to champion it. I have thought it is simply the nature of a literary journal to be unpopular and largely unread, but I have thought too that if there’s anywhere that we might change that nature, it is here. We are charged with carrying on the legacy of predecessors like John Crowe Ransom into the twenty-first century — especially those English majors who, perhaps in 20 years’ time, would like to say “I went to Kenyon,” and not have to say “it’s in Ohio.”
Let us do so.
Ben Ros ’14 is an English major, a Writing Center consultant and the editor of Hika. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.