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Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.
~Kurt Vonnegut
Monday, May 22, 2006

Departure From Tradition

Anomalistic Equation is the title of a short bio (link, 350KB PDF file) in the Spring 2006 edition of the University of Michigan's LS&A Magazine. It's an article about an Associate Professor of English Language and Literature, named Eileen Pollack. What is interesting about Pollack is that she stopped attending high school when she was prevented from enrolling in advanced science courses. Apparently, at the time the administration did not think it was appropriate for girls to take those classes. I'm sure there's more to the story than that, but that is all we learn from the article.

Pollack ended up studying science on her own, then got into Yale, where she was the first woman to major in Physics. That was in 1974. After she got off to a slow start in her first class, she ended up doing very well. But there is a twist to the story:

By the time Pollack was a senior, she had a nearly perfect average in her science and math courses and thought that perhaps physics would be her life’s work. She asked a professor for a recommendation for graduate school and he agreed on one condition—that she take a class outside physics.
She ended up taking a class in Creative Writing.
Soon she was juggling an intense physics senior thesis and a massive writing project profiling a neonatal doctor. “That was sort of the pivotal moment,” Pollack recalls. “I liked them both, but the fact that there were people involved in one made me realize how isolated I would be for the rest of my life in theoretical physics.”

So after graduating with honors, Pollack walked away from physics. Literally.
After several more twists in her life narrative, she ended up at the University of Michigan in 1999. That was the year that her first novel, Paradise, New York, was published. From the Temple University Press website:

We first meet Lucy Appelbaum, the heroine of Paradise, New York, in 1970, as a nine-year-old girl enjoying her family's Catskills hotel, the Garden of Eden. Ten years later, having found nothing else at which she can distinguish herself, Lucy tries to save the Eden by capitalizing on a wave of nostalgia for the Borscht Belt and running the hotel as a sort of living museum of Yiddish culture.

In the course of the season, Lucy battles her grandmother's attempts to sabotage Lucy's success, her parents' superstitious fears of anything that attracts attention to the Jews, and her brother's contention that what Lucy is doing is more a matter of ego than authentic religious feeling.

Paradise, New York explores the comforts and complexities of American ethnic identity with a charming commitment to laughter and love.

Her grandmother should have known better than to try to sabotage her success.

The whole article is an interesting study in successful departure form traditional roles, gender and otherwise.

posted by : Joseph j7uy5 | link | | |


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