Cameron Gearen ’91

Wesleyan influenced me most not through the classroom (although my classes were fabulous, and I became an instant devotee of Duffy White and Gertrude Hughes), but through a program that was so special and amazing I can hardly believe it existed.

In those days, students who were serious about writing were invited to have dinner with visiting writers at the Russell House, right before those writers read*. Students, faculty, and our visitor were secreted behind a panel that was actually a door, and seated at a table that overflowed with good food, a fancy silver and china service, and great literary conversation. I was honored and dazzled to meet poets I revered, including William Stafford and Alicia Ostriker. Perhaps this experience was even more dazzling in the days before the podcast. It was a wonderful, intimate experience, and I felt that I was known, since some angel (perhaps Anne Greene, who has run the Russell House events for years) had put me on this magical list.

The fact that someone had so much confidence in me as a writer shaped me as much as the dinners themselves. Across the board during my time at Wesleyan, my professors all took my desire to be a writer seriously, and their faith in me helped propel me in the direction I have chosen. That memory has been a help to me on the days when my chosen profession has seemed difficult and I have, however fleetingly, longed for a "regular" career.

I have been a teacher of writing, and, as my twenty-fifth reunion appears on the horizon, I am still writing every day: essays, poems, novels, all kinds of things for work, a daily blog, etc. Thank you, whoever you are, for putting my name on that list to have dinners with the amazing writers who came through Middletown. What a lucky, lucky stroke of crazy luck for a very young, aspiring writer like me.

Cameron Gearen (‘91) published a poetry chapbook entitled Night, Relative to Day, selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. Her first YA novel is with an agent. She lives with her two daughters and works as a freelance writer in Chicago. She blogs at camazon.tumblr.com.

*Says Wesleyan’s Director of Writing Programs, Anne Greene: “While we continue to have dinners that often include students, the dinners are no longer held at the Russell House. Instead, we have receptions for the students with the writer, immediately following the talk. We serve lovely food, and the Garden Room in Russell House is crowded with students having coffee and cakes and talking about books.”