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The New York Times, September 20, 1996
Jong Helps Barnard Help Others Start Writing
By KAREN W. ARENSON
Erica Jong takes her passions seriously. Zipless sex is the one she is best known for,
chronicled in her first best seller, "Fear of Flying".
Helping other writers is another. She has taught English courses. She helped rescue the
Authors Guild from financial woes. She rode an elephant at the Big Apple Circus to raise
money for Poets & Writers Inc.
Now she is helping endow the writing program at Barnard College, from which she
graduated in 1963. At Barnard she edited the literary magazine and decided to be a writer.
The first installment is $100,000. The plan was to raise it over five years. But
after a year, most of the sum is either raised or pledged.
Ms. Jong and her husband, Kenneth David Burrows, contributed some of the total. She
raised the rest from people close to her, including her parents, her husband's family, her
agent, her publisher and friends. Now Ms. Jong is talking about a second $100,000.
Barnard takes its writing seriously. Its successful writer graduates are spoken of in
hallowed tones. people like Hortense Calisher, Mary Gordon, Francine du Plessix Gray, Tama
Janowitz, Cathleen Schine and Ntozake Shange. The college started a writing center 1990
and a writing fellows program in 1991.
An alumna recalls how a college
turned her toward writing.
The president of the college, Judith R. Shapiro, introduced Ms. Jong to the center two
years ago. Nothing like it existed when Ms. Jong was a student. Butt she credits a poetry
professor, Robert Pack, who is now at Middlebury College, with helping her think about
herself as a writer. Ms. Jong entered Barnard intending to become a doctor, to support
herself while she wrote on the side, "like William Carlos Williams."
But she made an "absolute mess" of her fetal-pig dissection and fled to Mr.
Pack, moaning that she would flunk zoology. His comment is etched in her mind: "Don't
worry, Erica. You're a poet."
The Jong funds have refurbished the center. They will also pay $700 stipends each year
for three Barnard peer writing fellows, students who help other students with writing.
About 15 new fellows are selected each year, to keep the pool about 40.
"The writing fellows are to be sounding boards, not editors," said Nancy
Kline Piore, director of the writing program, who gives the fellows a seminar on writing
and coaching writers. "Their job is not to correct something, but to ask: 'What do
you mean here? Is there a better way to say it?'
Bari Meltzer, a senior from North Miami Beach, Fla., said she had not initially used
the center because she did not think she needed help. But an experience with a writing
fellow in a class "taught me to write at the college level, to be analytical
and give my own opinion, rather than summarizing."
"I started going to the writing room all the time," she said.
Ms. Meltzer, who is majoring in sociology and American studies and is now a writing
fellow, said she had also become a "maniac redrafter" who revises and revises
Ms. Jong, chatting with Ms. Meltzer and two other fellows on Wednesday in Reid Hall,,
said, "I have absolutely no ego about revisions."
She was a distinguished visitor to a new generation of students. But she remembered the
doubts attached to embarking on a writing career. "I was taken completely by surprise
that I could make a living as a writer," she told them.
Copyright ©1996 The New York Times Company
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