Aspiring Novelists Re-Joyce

While many students dream of writing The Great American Novel, an increasing number of undergraduates has actually undertaken the project--in fact, the upcoming addition to the New York Times bestseller list might just be in manuscript form right down the hall from you.

For most of these aspiring talents, the attraction of writing works of length lies not in the glory of publishing but with the itch to create. Glenn E. Orenstein '88, who is currently working on a book called "Margaret Would Not Wash My Underwear," terms writing "an obsession."

"This is my extra-curricular activity," he says. "It eats up all of my time. I often can't do my homework."

The author of "Margaret Would Not Wash My Underwear" characterizes his opus as a novel-length description of the year he spent in Kenya before coming to Harvard. The novel will provide "an all-encompassing description of my thoughts and experiences in Nakuru, Kenya," Orenstein says.

The title is not meant to be funny, he adds. "I had a maid named Margaret who would wash everything but my underwear."


Orenstein, an East Indian Studies concentrator, was ready to give up working on his book because he did not have enough money to use the word processors in the Science Center; but, he received a $100 grant from his department to continue the novel.

For Jennifer A. Litt '86-'87, writing a novel does not mean escaping from her homework. She plans to submit her novel, "Pursuit!, "for her honors thesis in the English department, and will spend the next two semesters completing the novel and polishing the parts she has already written.

Litt explains that she performed extensive research for "Pursuit!, "the story of a 13-year-old boy at a prep school in Edwardian England. Not only has she read widely about life in England before the first World War, but she also spent last semester travelling around England, exploring British "public" schools.

Litt will submits excerpts of her novel as her class assignments. "I don't mind them grading my work. I'm trying to bridge academics with creativity," says Litt, who also authored a play, "Epiphany," that was performed both in New York and on the Loeb Theatre's mainstage.

Harvard's reputation for spawning successful literad compelled some of its young novelists to enlist for four years. Paul J. Balson '89, who has been working on his novel, "Ramsey," for the past five months, says, "I'm here because T.S. Eliot came here."

Balson, who described "Ramsey" as a novel about growing up in Los Angeles, says, "My book is in the vein of Catcher in the Rye and Portrait of the Artist as A Young Men. Stylistically, I'm inspired by Joyce and Faulkner. They are my heroes."

Balson has a publishing agent in New York and says he hopes to have his book "on the shelves" when he graduates.

For Jose Sanchez '79-'86, a Mexican American student from a Texas-Mexican border town, writing a novel is therapeutic. "My novel is a little laboratory for working on problems of mine," Sanchez says.

Sanchez novel, "The Hurricane Dance," is a love story between a coyote, or border smuggler, and a well-established shop-keeper. Both deal with the problem of reconciling the need to make money with the desire to help people in a run-down beach town on the Mexican border.

Sanchez took an eight-year leave from school to go home and work on his book. "I was living in a vacant house in the boondocks of southern Texas. I watched the people, got some ideas and noted them. My novel sprung out, almost automatically, from my notes,' Sanchez says.