By Spencer Bailey ’08
Journalist Christopher Kennedy ’85 and novelist Brock Clarke ’90 returned to campus on Feb. 25 as this year’s Cogan Fellows. During back-to-back presentations, they shared with current English majors and community members stories from their days as Dickinson students and their careers in writing.
Kennedy is a sports writer and editor for The Republican in Springfield, Mass. He also has covered the NFL’s New England Patriots. In his talk, “Local Today, Pro Tomorrow,” he explained how, after covering local and professional sports for 15 years, that it’s just as interesting and glamorous to cover the local news as it is a pro sports team.
“When you write about local people, it’s the most important thing to them,” said Kennedy. “This is because, when your reader’s right in front of you, you’re about as engaged as you’re going to be.”
Still, Kennedy admitted that his most exciting time as a journalist was spent covering the Super Bowl.
“When you go to a Super Bowl, it’s the best thing to cover. You have easier access to the players,” said Kennedy.
He said he chose sportswriting because, when writing about a game, “you’re pumped up; you’re fired up … I like the competition and the last-minute pressure.”
Kennedy also talked about blogging—writing an online journal—versus writing for a print audience and about the newspaper industry’s expansion to online media.
In his closing remarks, Kennedy said that if he’s learned anything it’s that “every word is a choice and every choice counts.”
Clarke, associate professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, has published four books, including his most recent novel An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. During his speech, “It’s Better to Write About An Arsonist Than Be One, and Other Lessons I Learned at Dickinson,” he talked about his early years as “a horrible student and a horrible person” on campus and his life thereafter as a writer inventing and reliving his foibles through fiction.
“I’m a writer because I really can’t speak at all,” Clarke said to his audience’s amusement before reading from an essay he wrote.
Throughout his reading, Clarke described his awkward college days with good humor and a little embarrassment
Clarke also talked about the story-writing process and the questions he asks himself while writing fiction: “What is wrong with me? What is wrong with us? What is the story here?”
Clarke also discussed the lives of his fictional characters, who are often witty, wily and usually out of control. “It’s sometimes more productive … to write about an oddity than to be one,” he noted. “If you are not crazy, brave or stupid, you can at least write about people who are.”
The Cogan Fellowships were established in 2000 to reaffirm the connections between current students and graduates. The program is named in honor of Eleanor Cogan, a 2003 Dickinson honorary doctor of letters recipient, for her commitment to lifelong learning and to the study of literature. Cogan completed 52 courses at Dickinson, 32 of which were in the English department. She is 98 years old and lives in Novado, Calif.