Campus Life Section Editor
When looking at the norms of what a writer is, authors Allan MacDonell and Dean Kuipers are not what come to mind. MacDonell, with his soft gait and a delicately-placed bucket hat, reminiscent of his time spent at the forefront of the L.A. punk scene, and Kuipers, adorned in a forest green flannel and REI- bought trail running shoes, are not what average writers look like, or even is. They are nobody’s all-Americans. Apart from their physical appearances, MacDonell and Kuipers represent alternative authors, the ones who were not cultivated in the harsh reality of academia, but rather, those who grew to success in an organic way, a hard earned manner. That is not to say that Ivy League authors do not earn their successes; in fact, gathering success as an author is celebratory for anyone. But the manner in which Kuipers and MacDonell grew symbolizes the struggles that Whittier students may resonate with — being the underdog.
Professor of English Joe Donnelly hosted both authors to speak to Whittier students about “alternative paths to the writing life” on April 15. Both authors came from unconventional backgrounds, and although they both attended higher education, their backgrounds were not as academic as other authors. They did not attend top journalism schools or pursue Masters. Their success was self-made, separate from the jumbled world of academia yet still filled with milestones, from serving as lead editors to extensive coverage of pivotal news stories. MacDonell and Kuipers are seasoned veterans in the world of writing and have the stories and experiences to show for it. The main focus of the event was on the authors themselves and how their lives and their successes can represent the possibilities that Whittier students can achieve.
Kuiper, having grown up in nature and fondly remembering camping trips with his father, had wanted to become a writer from a young age, but actually strove to become a doctor in his youth. Kuiper was involved in science prior to following a career in writing and was offered the opportunity to go to school to become a doctor, but, following discouragement from his family, opted to steer away from that course. Kuipers, a renowned environmental journalist has covered organizations such as SeaShepherd, Earth Liberation Front, and the Earth First! Movements, and has gone on to work with magazines such as RayGun and Spin Magazine. During the event, Kuipers spoke to students about the importance of passion in writing. Kuipers, when talking about his interviewing process said, “find what someone is passionate about, that’s when they begin to open up.” When asked about what he wanted students to take from the event, Kuipers stressed the fact that “[becoming an author] is doable,” he continued, “it’s something that can be done, especially now, with opportunities in abundances like never before.”
Donnelly himself comes from an unconventional path to success, and has described himself, along with Kuipers and MacDonell, as nobody’s all-Americans, meaning they hail from beginnings that don’t fit the average writer. MacDonell spoke to students about his motivation for writing. “I always wanted to write, ever since I was a little kid reading Charles Dickens . . . for me, it was what I wanted” he said. For many, their desire to write is simple. It’s a part of them, but the struggle is finding the means to pursue it. For MacDonell, it was a matter of writing what he thought down. “Whenever you have an idea, write it down. Just write it,” MacDonell urged students.
Both authors read excerpts from their most recent works, with Kuiper reading a chapter of his memoir, The Deer Camp, a recollection of his childhood and the importance that the land played in healing his familial trauma. MacDonell read an excerpt from his book, Now That I’m Gone, a novel which imagines a world in which his suicide attempt had gone right. The event, hosted by the English department and Hartley and Garret houses, served as a reminder to students that the normal route that is expected of an author does not always create success, and that following an alternative path to the writing life is a task that can be done and done well.