Notebook: September 10, 1997

"Scholars" summer on campus
Students from the South Bronx get a taste of Princeton

The university was home to a different sort of student this summer. A group of 40 "scholars" who gathered for four weeks of study and reflection didn't have Nobel prizes, nor had they published any papers. Some sported ponytails, others tank tops. They bounced across campus in groups and roomed in Walker Hall. They were fourth-going-on-fifth-graders from the South Bronx, students of Marc Sternberg '95 and Jeremy Roller '95, who are participants in Teach for America, the national teacher corps that sends college graduates to teach in urban and rural areas that lack educational resources.
The children attended the Summer Institute, part of a pilot program founded by Sternberg and Roller called the Community of Scholars. The program seeks to boost academic performances, increase motivation, and encourage urban children to aspire to attend college.
At Princeton the students took part in academics--reading, writing, math, science, study skills--sports, and fun. They also got to choose from a host of activities, including model rocketry, guitar lessons, and journalism. On weekends they took trips during which they could explore new environments, including the Delaware Water Gap.
For an hour every day they played chess in Murray-Dodge Hall. Why the emphasis on chess? Because it challenges them to concentrate. Quoting a student, Roller explained, "Chess is like life: to get what you want, you need to think before you make a move."
Sternberg and Roller teach at Community Schools 66 and 6, whose students have scored in the lowest 25 percent nationally on standardized math and reading tests, said Sternberg. When they entered the fourth grade, some of his students already were two to three grade levels behind in math and reading, he added. The Community of Scholars program, he said, tries to give these kids what they need: extra attention, higher expectations, and a positive identification with school. "They need to take pride in what they are doing. What we're trying to do is build that pride and build that positive relationship," said Sternberg.
During the academic year, the students voluntarily stay after school for two hours of chess and reading. Sternberg and Roller give them extra homework, keep in touch with their parents through phone calls and home visits, and give their own phone numbers out to students. Weekends are for activities such as skating, bowling, and Yankee games.
Since the start of the Community of Scholars last September, Sternberg has seen an increase in the number of students who stay after school and in the amount of homework completed on time. Also, their classes' math and reading scores have improved.
In addition to Roller and Sternberg, five of the 12 Summer Institute staff members were alumni. Associate Dean of Religious Life Sue Anne Steffey Morrow directed the Summer Institute. Most of the costs were covered by a $50,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation.
One of Sternberg's students, Larry Johnson, liked the physical activities, particularly basketball, the best. He also liked playing chess, "but I can never win," he said, while fidgeting in a big chair in Murray-Dodge. Mariely Melendez, who celebrated her 10th birthday at the university, said she had fun at the Summer Institute "because they give math lessons and I like math."

New look, new face
Your alumni magazine begins its 98th year of publication with a new look and a new face.
We have redesigned the Princeton Alumni Weekly to give it a more contemporary appearance. The new look includes a redesigned logo that plays up the name Princeton while playing down the anachronistic "Alumni Weekly" (the magazine, which is published 17 times a year and biweekly October-December and February-April, has not been a weekly since 1977). To enhance readability we have changed our text type from Garamond to Caslon, and to sharpen our predominantly black-and-white graphics, we have added a second color throughout the magazine.
The redesign has been crafted with the guidance of Daniel J. McClain, a New York-based designer, art director, and consultant with more than 25 years' experience. McClain's clients include Field & Stream and Archaeology, and he has won National Magazine Awards for his design work with Audubon, Oceans, and The Sciences.
With this issue we also unveil a new department, In Review, which replaces Books. In Review will carry mostly book reviews, but in addition it will offer reviews of other media (including CDs and CD-ROMs) as well as short profiles and interviews with alumni writers and artists. In charge of the new department is Associate Editor Lolly O'Brien.
The new addition to PAW's staff is Lesley Carlin '95, who assumes the editorship of Class Notes and Memorials. She will work with the secretaries of more than 80 classes and the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni. Carlin, who earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing this year from the University of Michigan, majored in English at Princeton. In her senior year, she served as PAW's editorial intern and was a contributing editor of our Reunions Guide. Carlin will also assist Senior Editor Paul Hagar '91 with PAW's Website (

Why certain books captured the American imagination
Three centuries before Oprah Winfrey's television book club, book stores with cappuccino, and on-line novels, American readers collectively created "best sellers." In Puritan times, Michael Wigglesworth's book-length poem, The Day of Doom, was memorized or read to shreds. Prior to the Civil War, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin caused a sensation. In the 1940s, writers like Raymond Chandler had readers on the edge of their seats as they paged through detective novels.
How and why these works captivated their particular times, and what they have to say in the 1990s, is the focus of American Best Sellers, a freshman seminar taught for the past three years by William Gleason, an assistant professor of English. Gleason and 16 students examine genres as diverse as children's fiction, westerns, and historical romances, and the role each has played in shaping the culture of their times.
Central to the weekly discussion is considering "what the book does for the culture, the needs it satisfies," says Gleason, who also teaches courses in American studies. Unlike the mass marketing that accompanies books today, in the past Americans catapulted texts into best sellers because the works, in some cases, gave readers a "blueprint for survival," he adds. Crucial to each book's popularity was its formulaic style. But the authors managed to go beyond the formula, imagining the world differently within its familiar confines, and gave their readers the opportunity to do the same.
To give students a grasp of each book's audience, taste, and literary and cultural power, Gleason supplements the reading list with theoretical and contextual essays. The seminar's Web page offers e-texts and links to related resources. Students also consider what the authors would have to change to make their books meaningful to 1990s readers. For this, students screen films based on several of the books. Gleason's reason for including films is two-fold. "Films now fill the national consciousness," he says, the way books once did before the splintering of publishing into a myriad of genres for marketing purposes. Also, "Viewing book and film together helps students realize that you can assemble the same 'story' in very different ways."
How does a book earn a spot on Gleason's course list? It has to have had sales amounting to one percent of the population for the decade in which the work was published, a benchmark set by Frank Luther Mott in his 1947 book, Golden Multitudes: The Story of Best Sellers in the United States. Gleason admits his one arbitrary choice was Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (it only hit number four on the Publisher's Weekly best-seller list for fiction in 1921) and that the one genre "hole" in the course is science fiction.
Gleason's class last spring discussed Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, published at the end of the Civil War. The students discussed the novel's depiction of the "civil war" between men and women, its view of a woman's place in the world, and the attitude it conveyed about social classes.
Gleason suggested discussion ideas casually in the first half of the seminar, guiding students along his "road map" of topics. "I try not to do a lot of talking," he reveals, "otherwise the students will just take notes." Instead, he's the one who takes copious notes in a chicken-scratch shorthand as each student speaks, tracking how the discussion is going. Then he checks those points against his road map at the midpoint break to see which ones still need airing.
During the second half, Gleason stepped up his involvement. "Was Alcott instructing young girls to set aside girlish fancies?" he asked at one point. One student concluded that Alcott's message is "to set aside your impulsive nature."
The final book for discussion is chosen by the class from a current best-seller listing. Last spring's seminar chose Caleb Carr's The Alienist, about the tracking of a serial killer at the turn of the century.
"It was great to think that my homework was to sit down and read a really good book," said Hilary Cantor '00 of the seminar. Added classmate Michael Sherry '00, "Now when I read current best sellers, I'll be thinking more about what went into them."
--Maria LoBiondo

All-time best sellers
A reading list by Assistant Professor William Gleason

Charlotte Temple, by Susanna Rowson (1794)--The melodramatic story of a young English girl seduced and then abandoned in America during the Revolution. The first best-selling novel in the United States and the biggest seller until Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper (1826)--A violent and ambivalent tale of frontier adventure and interracial contact, set against the backdrop of the French and Indian War. The second of Cooper's Leatherstocking novels.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)--Stowe's passionate, powerful, and controversial indictment of slavery. More copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin were sold in the 19th century than of any book except the Bible.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, (1868-69)--The classic of young womanhood. The first volume of Alcott's "girls' story" was so popular that she wrote a sequel; we now read the book's original two volumes as one story.

Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey (1912)--Gunfights, cattle stampedes, and the magnificent sage make this the book that defined the genre of the modern formula Western. Sold more than a million copies on first publication and put Grey on the best-seller lists for the next decade.

Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)--A gripping tale of an English lord raised from infancy by African apes. The first and most successful of the two dozen novels of the "ape-man," one of most popular series in publishing history.

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton (1920)--Wharton's elegant and incisive Pulitzer Prize-winning portrait of frustrated desire in "Old New York." Rose to number four on the best-seller list for fiction in 1921.

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell (1936)--The epic love story of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, set in the turbulent South of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The publishing phenomenon of the 20th century, Gone With the Wind sold 28 million copies and won a Pulitzer Prize.

In brief
ANNUAL GIVING: In 1997 Annual Giving brought in an all-time high of $29,602,821 with 61.0 percent of undergraduate alumni contributing. Six classes set major-reunions records: 1932, 1942, 1952, 1957, 1972, and 1982. The Class of 1972 was the first class to raise $5 million.

AWARDS: Dean of the College NANCY WEISS MALKIEL received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Smith College on May 18. A noted historian of 20th-century America and an alumna of Smith, Malkiel was honored for her contributions to scholarship, education, and her alma mater. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature VICTOR H. BROMBERT received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Toronto on June 16. Brombert was cited for doing more to "renew our understanding of 19th-century French literature than anyone else writing in English." Professor of Mathematics ANDREW J. WILES won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship providing $275,000 over five years. In 1994 Wiles published a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, solving a mathematical puzzle that had stumped experts for 350 years.

DIAL LOT: The university will acquire the parking lot behind Dial Lodge; within a year, Dial, Elm and Cannon Club will decide whether it wishes to transfer the remainder of the Dial and Elm properties to the university in exchange for Notestein Hall (the former Cannon Club and now the home of the Office of Population Research) and a payment of $2 million. The university plans to use the parking lot for a new academic building. If the club chooses not to transfer the other properties, it will receive $1.25 million.