Lawrenceville Authors: Exploring a Vibrant Corner in Bunn

Arts  /  by Will Madonia '18  /  February 10, 2017

Alex Baker '19/The Lawrence

Despite all its abstraction, philosophy, and creative possibility, something undeniably honest lies at the heart of what we study in Woods Memorial Hall. At the end of the day, we are all humbled around those Harkness tables, because our teachers know that good writing is sincere writing, and that sincerity is permitted by the understanding of oneself. As a young Ernest Hemingway, yet to write his masterpieces, once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Good writing is a sincere moral insight into one’s truth of self.

The Bunn Library’s alumni-authored collection, tucked at the back of the first floor, is an outstanding example of such virtue at work. Each week when I’m on duty as a library proctor, I find myself revisiting that collection, exploring the works of the writers I hope one day to join. Most recently, I have been intrigued by the poems of James Merrill ’43, in which he skillfully transforms personal memories into complex meditations. In my favorite work of his, “Accumulations of the Sea,” Merrill describes following the natural inclination to do what is easiest as “descending the spiral staircase of association around the well of substance.” Merrill promoted this sentiment beyond his poetry as well. In 1956, Merrill founded the Ingram Merrill Foundation in an effort to support struggling artists. I have grown to admire Merrill, whose creative and moral endeavors were intertwined.

The collection is home to the enduring legacy of Lawrenceville's brightest minds, including the scholarly work of Donald Drew Egbert ’20, who never ceases to amaze. I highly recommend his work “Social Radicalism and the Arts: Western Europe,” which analyzes how political and cultural convictions translate into artistic metanarratives. The first study of its kind, “Social Radicalism,” demonstrates how scholarship in the humanities can grant keen insight into the realities of others.

Alongside such works of erudition and expression lie numerous archival wonders as well. Head Master Mather Almon Abbott’s book, “The Boy Today,” is an enchanting read; Abbott’s pointed grievances about the “spoiled boy of the current” provide a keen insight into the School’s cultural and administrative evolution. “These works exemplify the value of pre-deconstruction literature,” says art historian George Sullivan. “In these works lie the steps to a bird's-eye view.”

As a student interested in the humanities, I often question myself and ask, as the novelist Tobias Wolff once put it, “How do [writers] command such deference?” To me, it is because their work demonstrates that to craft something out of language is to translate perspective, to have one’s heart confess its deeper needs to the intellect. Just as Lawrenceville helped these alumni attain empathic fluency, the budding writer and Lawrentian may stumble upon these works, in Bunn Library and beyond, and blossom.