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Page Turners

We very rarely run fiction in the Gazette, but when advance copies of three novels by Penn alumni arrived more or less simultaneously in our offices this spring, we decided to try something new—as did the writers themselves, all of whom are first-time novelists. They, and their books, are otherwise very different, as you can read in the excerpts and accompanying interviews with the authors included in “First Fictions.”

One of the three, Caren Lissner C’93, has written several pieces for the magazine, notably a very funny parody of alumni notes in April 1998. Her book, Carrie Pilby, is funny, too, and smart without being mean, in its self-told tale of a 19-year old socially challenged “genius” searching for friendship, meaning, and even love in Manhattan.

Action! by Robert Cort C’68 G’70 WG’74, whose day job is being a movie producer, is an epic insider’s story of the past half-century of the film industry. Readers with an objection to profanity—or who idolize Steve McQueen—may want to skip his excerpt; others will enjoy a vivid depiction of movie-star temperament and poor marksmanship.

In Penn’s Ph.D. program in English, Lisa Tucker C’84 G’84 got as far as being what she calls an ABD (“all but dissertation) before actually doing what many a graduate student has dreamed of—writing a novel instead. Her book, The Song Reader, is a story of two sisters, set in a small Southern town, that elaborates on the idea that the pop songs we can’t get out of our heads hold the key to understanding ourselves and charting the future.

Whether he knew it or not, the future of Dr. Ira Harkavy C’70 Gr’79 was charted from the moment that, as a student, he led a 1969 sit-in at College Hall protesting the University’s treatment of area residents in constructing the University City Science Center. For much of the past 30 years he has been working to improve the lives of residents in West Philadelphia—while providing unique educational opportunities for Penn students—by creating partnerships between the University and the surrounding neighborhoods to solve problems and foster community development.

Harkavy has been a pioneer in devising curriculums that combine schoolwork with public service; more than 140 of these “academically based community-service courses” have been created at Penn. For the past decade, he has directed the Center for Community Partnerships, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with an international conference on campus in April. In “A Matter of Trust,” associate editor Susan Frith takes advantage of this milestone to look at CCP and Harkavy’s impact on the community and campus.

Attendance at this year’s Alumni Weekend festivities increased by 24 percent over last year, especially impressive given the mediocre weather. To relive the experience, or see some of what you missed, turn to our photo spread on page 44. And for a report on Penn’s 247th Commencement, which featured one of the handful of really good-weather days this spring—and a slightly stormy reception for speaker Desmond Tutu—turn to page 17.

Finally, I want to share news of some recent awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE): The Gazette has been awarded a Gold Medal for periodical staff writing for five articles written over the past year by associate editor Susan Frith and senior editor Samuel Hughes (which we’ll be posting on our Web site). We also received two Silver Medals for visual design—for illustration and an 18-month Gazette Centennial calendar designed by art director Catherine Gontarek as a thank-you gift for donors of $100 or more.

I also want to express our gratitude here to everyone who gave to the Gazette this year. Your support really is a great encouragement, as well as a source of important revenue for the magazine. (By the way, for alumni still considering a contribution, that calendar runs through July 2004, so there’s still a full year left on it. And many of the images are, as they say, suitable for framing.)

—John Prendergast C’80

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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 04/28/03