Two books into his short career as a novelist, J. Robert Lennon (C'92) can afford to be pleased with his career choice.
His first novel, "The Light of Falling Stars," garnered him the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, and the book's cover drips with plaudits from the likes of Time and The New Yorker. Lennon's new novel out this month, "the funnies," is set in West Philadelphia, where he spent his university years.
A native of south Jersey - which he dubs "God's gift to comedians" - Lennon's interest in the literary life did not manifest itself until he enrolled in the University of Montana's Creative Writing program. "Almost none," is how he succinctly describes his written output at Penn. "My senior year I took part in a couple of fiction workshops on a lark because I had always enjoyed some type of creative writing," he said.
Partially due to geography - he lived in a West Philly block rife with musicians - he channeled most of his creativity into the band Wicked Bison and a little bit into bowling at Oregon Lanes in South Philadelphia. "Those old guard rock 'n' roll guys are the ones I learned to bowl with, just drinking Ortlieb's and never bowling very well. They don't have electronic scoring yet, do they?"
Lennon transplants Oregon Lanes to Montana for a scene in "The Light of Falling Stars," as well as an anxiety-laden dream from college days. "The losing teeth dream, it almost exactly mirrors the type of dreams I used to have at Penn," he joked. "My idea is that it's a fear of losing power."
"the funnies" examines the life of a failed installation artist who inherits his father's "Family Circus"-type comic strip. "The real family is a terror, much worse than the strip," said Lennon.
Kelly Writers House Director Al Filreis is pleased that alumni writers return to campus. "[It] enables significant content-based, rather than merely formal, contact with alumni working in the fields where the students have hopes," he said.
Lennon will be speaking at the Writers House on Feb. 28. See "What's On."
Originally published on February 25, 1999