Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's in the Book

Alumna Gives $128 Million to High School - Interesting take on the story behind one of the largest donations ever to a secondary school. In 1950 Warren Buffett is rejected by Harvard B School. He writes to Columbia Professor David Dodd (Buffet knows Dodd's name as the author of a "respected financial text") and wangles a late admission to Columbia B. While there, Buffet so impresses Dodd that Dodd invests with Buffett, ultimately creating the fortune that Barbara Dodd Anderson is now donating to the George School. Three points of interest - 1) Buffet's letter to Dodd started by noting "I thought you were dead" - I think the idea was to express surprise that a legend like Dodd was still an active teacher. Mr. Buffet has probably polished his diplomatic skills since then. Who knows, maybe the opening is what caught Dodd's attention; 2) Calling Security Analysis by Graham and Dodd a "respected text" is a little like calling the Bible an interesting work in the field of religious literature. Dodd pioneered the school of investing that Buffett, with hard work, disciplined decision making, a little extra emphasis on franchise values that might not appear on the balance sheet and an occasional pragmatic variation from theory, turned into a license to print money for 50 years; 3) George School announced nothing about changing its name - kudos Ms Anderson, for generosity without ego - but how about a David Dodd gymnasium or library. If the NY Times is already starting to forget your father's contributions he could use the publicity.

As They Were Nurtured, Barnard's Alumnae Return the Favor -Last Winter I sat in a film symposium, watching the opening scene of a new independent film a few weeks before its release. The scene was a teen boy reading in a train cabin on a long journey across India, suddenly thrown into turmoil, nearly death, as the train derails violently. Even before the derailment, I had an overwhelming sense that I had seen this movie before - impossible, it was a preview. Then the name of the film sank in, "The Namesake", a book I had read just a year or so before. The opening scene was a perfect match for the image, the vivid moving image, that book had imprinted on my subconscious.

The linked NY Times story tells of the many Barnard alumnae who have become famous as writers and how their reputation, and their contribution as teachers and yes - even as Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees - attracts and inspires new generations of writers at Barnard. The rest of this post is about how I came to read The Namesake, and about the best college fund raiser ever. It may have been Anna Quindlen's idea -call on alumnae and friends of Barnard to host and teach a writing seminar, invite alumnae to attend for a very modest fee, throw in a lunch, have a good time, get the alumnae involved and increase the endowment by a few bucks while you're at it. The first step was to line up the writers. I suspect even Ms Quindlen was a little surprised at the response -the famous, the near famous, the not so widely know but published to good reviews all said yes, yes and yes. And so the word went forth to the alumnae - "Great Writers at Barnard" - and the alumnae responded and responded and responded. The opening panel discussion had to be moved three times to find a hall big enough to contain the crowd. And why not, for the aspiring novelist, the unassuming blogger even for the dedicated and curious reader, this was the literary equivalent of taking hitting lessons from A-Rod and Ken Griffey, Jr.

The opening panel was Anna Quindlen, Mary Gordon, Anna Brashares, Jhumpa Lahiri and Edwidge Dandicat - luminaries all, awash in awards and bestsellers. My wife was at Barnard with Mary Gordon and Anna Quindlen so we already had all their work, but I was so impressed with Ms Lahiri that I ordered The Namesake the next day. (Maybe the picture gave me away - I am not a Barnard alumna - but I should have mentioned that I lucked into the whole Great Writers deal because I had the good sense to marry one.) I signed on for the humor panel in the early PM and ended up discovering Jane Leavy, Valerie Block and Cathleen Schine (more books ordered) and laughing out loud as Ms Leavy pushed an entertaining discussion into the outrageous. Watching the Kellermans team teach a mystery tutorial in the late afternoon reminded me a little of James Carville and Mary Matalin, they had disagreements that were almost choreographed as their different backgrounds and outlook emerged in discussing their work (much of which we had already read.)

What's that - a chorus of comments demanding an encore of Great Writers at Barnard because, ouch!, As Good As News is sorely in need of another writing lesson? How about it, Ms Quindlen?

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