In honor of the great Lindy Hess, Radcliffe and Columbia Publishing Course queen, den mother, friend, here are a few words I wrote about RPC and the magic of book camp.
It was the summer after college graduation, and most of my friends had already started in entry level jobs at PR firms and law offices—their shiny new careers devolving into the daily tedium of working for a living. But I had an out.
I was going to Book Camp. OK, it wasn’t a real camp, but that’s how I thought of it. I was attending the Radcliffe Publishing Course, a 6-week program where I’d get the inside scoop on the book industry, and a temporary reprieve from fetching coffee and making photocopies. Actually, it was better than camp because there was no mandatory volleyball or sing-alongs. Just a bunch of lectures by publishing industry hotshots, and a classful of fellow nerds discussing literature and swilling copious amounts of alcohol.
No, really, drinking was part of the curriculum. We had something called sherry hour, which did not involve actual sherry, because sherry is yucky and expensive. But everyday there was some sweaty cheese and a few crackers, and plenty of wine—classy wine that came out of bottles, not boxes. After a not-so-long, not-so grueling day of classes, our privileged asses got a built-in venue for boozing and schmoozing, which, after all, was the main objective of the course—to get to know the lecturers and each other, in the hopes of nabbing a coveted publishing job.
And how thrilling it was to be among like-minded book lovers—ones who appreciated my dorky sense of humor! I remember one night at a local bar, some sloppy drunk guy kissed my hand and asked my name and I replied, “I’m Lorrie. Lorrie Moore.” My new friends laughed as if I was the reincarnation of Kingsley Amis. I was finally among my people.
In advance of the program, we were all asked to prepare a list of our 10 favorite books. This was my first taste of what online dating profiles might be like, judging people solely on the basis of a list. The Ayn Rand lover? Pay him no mind—he will be a banker within two years. But seek out the lady who lists Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth McCracken and Sweet Valley High as influences. You are soulmates. Beware the boy who loves On the Road above all else. He is a charming, but he will break your heart. It all proved to be fairly accurate.
Yes, to be intellectually stimulated and socially lubricated could end up frustrating. Our class was comprised of 100 students, 12 of whom were men. Rule out the gays and the marrieds, and much like in the actual publishing world, you had a bunch of rabid ladies who were recipients of all sorts of talk and little action. I’m not counting the time when, at our end of summer party, George Plimpton himself looked straight down my dress. I’ve been sexually harassed since then, but never with such panache.
Indeed, the book world would never get better than that summer of decadence. Our dreams were dashed the moment we started working (those of us who could find jobs, that is), when we realized that our lifestyles as publishing assistants would be less Fitzgerald, more Dickens. The crazy hours, the miniscule paychecks, the thankless work on ghost-written celebrity tell-alls and self-help tomes written by the craziest motherfuckers of all. The glamour was gone, but at least we were gathering great material for future memoirs of poverty and perseverance.