Class Notes - October 20, 1999

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From the archives

This couple of swells enjoy this side of paradise in a photo from the late 1930s or early '40s. Although we aren't sure of the identities of these well-clad men, perhaps one of Princeton Alumni Weekly's readers will recognize them. We are also curious to know what occasion required such well-collared coats.

Looking out for Indians

Kevin Gover '78, a Pawnee-Comanche, helps hundreds of U.S. tribes

Kevin Gover '78, who was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in November 1997, grew up as a Pawnee-Comanche Indian in Oklahoma. As the child of civil-rights activists he worked his first picket line at age eight, at a swimming pool that discriminated against blacks. He attended St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, on a scholarship, Princeton, and law school at the University of New Mexico. Later he started a law firm in Albuquerque that specialized in cases dealing with tribal rights.

In time, Gover was representing tribes from all over the country. During the 1992 presidential campaign, he organized Native-Americans for Clinton and Gore, and four years later he campaigned again for the Democratic ticket. Not long after that, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt approached him about the assistant secretary's job.

"The Bureau of Indian Affairs had a lousy reputation, much of it deserved," he said during an interview in his Washington, D.C., office. "BIA had done poorly, but it was also the victim of conflicting directions from Congress, a lack of interest from the executive branch, and a lack of resources to finance activities." The most catastrophic example of failure was the discovery, in 1994, that $2.4 billion in tribal trust funds managed by the BIA couldn't be accounted for over a 20-year period. As a result, said Gover, "Management of tribal trust funds is our top priority over the next two years."

Under Gover's direction, the BIA has worked with tribes to bring order to their accounting and financial record-keeping, and it's streamlined its own procedures for getting federal funds to the tribes.

Understanding tribal differences

To rebuild BIA's image with Congress, Gover said, "I try to be honest, not hide our mistakes. Someone in my position really has no influence on the budget. We're told 'Here's what you get,' and the only influence we have is setting priorities with the money."

Perhaps his hardest job is keeping good communications with the more than 550 tribes recognized by the federal government. He devotes about one week a month to travel. "I'm really astonished by the diversity among the tribes," he said. "Each has a unique culture so related to place. Most Americans are immigrants and not attached to a place, but Indians really are."

Differences notwithstanding, the tribes share problems of alcoholism, drug and child abuse, and unemployment. In recent years Gover has come to terms with his own struggles with booze. "Like my father," he said, "I became an alcoholic, learning early on to respond to personal rage over injustices by getting drunk." In 1993, after a client threatened to fire him if he didn't stop drinking, he stopped and now campaigns vigorously against alcohol abuse.

Gover will likely be looking for a job after the next presidential election, and he wouldn't be averse to staying in Washington, perhaps to teach. He's adjusted to life in a big eastern city and learned to take advantage of its many offerings, including proximity to Civil War battlefields, which the divorced father of a teenage girl and boy has explored with his two kids. Still, he makes regular trips home to Albuquerque, where he satisfies his craving for authentic New Mexican food and packs an empty suitcase with dried chilies to stock his larder back in Washington. -Dan White '65

Paperback reader

Critic Jennifer Howard '85 knows that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover

She gets paid to read and write about paperback books,
yet didn't major in English.

Instead, Jennifer Howard '85, the paperback book critic for The Washington Post, majored in history, waiting until graduate school to study English formally.

The delay didn't keep her from landing what many would consider a dream job. Each week, she picks four to six paperbacks to review for the Book World section of the Sunday edition of the Post.

Howard found her way to the paper after spending two years as an editorial assistant at The New York Review of Books and getting her master's degree at the University of Virginia. Work at an alternative Charlottesville, Virginia, paper led to freelance assignments for the book section of the Post and finally a part-time editing position in 1995. With the section's relaunch this past January, a weekly paperback column made its debut, and the editors chose Howard as its author. Today, she spends about half of her week reading and writing for her column and the rest assigning and editing reviews for other parts of Book World.

But the dream job has its hazards. Before she can start writing Howard must pick from shelves of possible candidates in the "book room" at the Postan office-sized space complete with a ladder to reach the upper shelves.

Howard reviews both fiction and nonfiction paperbacks, and each day another 30 to 50 of them arrive. She eliminates some immediately because the Post does not review certain categories of books, such as self-help, cookbooks, and self-published works.

Serendipity plays a role

But even with those restrictions, Howard often has 50 or so titles under serious consideration at a time. To choose from among that group, Howard uses no set method: "A lot of it is serendipity." Sometimes, she says, she may respond to an intriguing cover, or the knowledge that a book was overlooked when it came out in hard cover.

Her selections will suggest a theme for that week's column. Her recent topics have ranged from 19th-century dramas and mysteries to nonfiction about Y2K or drugs (which allowed her to review, among other works, Offbeat Marijuana: The Life and Times of the World's Grooviest Plant).

Although choosing the books may be difficult, reading four or more books a week exceeds the load of even the tough Princeton English course. Howard says she reads "constantly," about 15 to 20 hours in an average week, much of it on her hour-long commuter rail trip from her home in Baltimore to the Post.

The work is not only mentally demanding--reading to review is very different from reading for pleasure, Howard points out--it's not physically easy, either. In August, Howard had to increase the strength of her eyeglass prescription, for the first time since graduate school.

Even with weaker eyesight, Howard considers herself lucky to read for a living. As for her favorite book? She won't name a current title. "I can always read Hamlet again," she says. "Nothing beats that."

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