By Andrea Clarke
Founded back in 1970 by English Professor Robert Day, the Rose O’Neill Literary House has been blossoming in its maturity, and this year is no exception.
Newly-appointed interim director Professor Jehanne Dubrow has made some major changes in the five short weeks she has had the position. She will remain head of the Literary House for the next two years while Washington College conducts a national search for the next permanent director.
“The house has been in a lot of transition over the last couple of years, and stability is good for any program,” said Dubrow.
Having earned her BA at St. Johns College in Annapolis, M.F.A. in poetry at University of Maryland, and Ph.D. in creative writing at University of Nebraska, Dubrow is more than ready for her new role.
She describes herself as having been “always a reader…I knew I’d be some kind of artist.”
Although Dubrow is a published author of three poetry collections (with her fourth coming out this year), essays, and various book reviews, her first love was the theater.
“I learned to read listening to Time Life ‘Great American musicals,’” she said.
These musicals were a great source of entertainment for Dubrow as a young girl in unfamiliar countries.
Born in Northern Italy to US diplomats, Dubrow has lived all over the world, including Brussels, Yugoslavia, the Republic of Zaire, and Poland, which was her favorite.
Throughout all the changes and shifts in her life, her passion for literature has remained constant.
“Books have the dirt on human beings,” said Dubrow, “which is why they draw people in.”
She said people who don’t like reading “haven’t read the right stuff. It’s about the underbelly.”
By the age of 16, Dubrow said that she had not really done anything, but she knew a lot, thanks to books like “The Secret Garden,” “The Little Princess,” “In Search of Lost Time,” and various sci-fi books “which I read compulsively.”
“I believe the books you read as a child really shape you,” said Dubrow.
Although she loved these novels and others for their plots, she has always been more interested in the texture of writing. Dubrow judges the value of a work by how it answers the question, “Do the images make me fall inside the story?”
She has adopted the Rose O’Neill Literary House as a means for spreading the importance of literature to our students. While her role as director is only temporary, the changes she is making are not. Dubrow has dived into her new job with both sleeves rolled.
“The Literary House gets a tremendous amount of use and since there is so much traffic, it’s important to stay on top of making everything look nice,” said Dubrow.
New carpets, lamps, and furniture have all been installed in an attempt “to spruce up the place” and continue its cozy feel. The full kitchen located on the first floor has received new appliances as well, and each level of the House is being electronically updated with our students in mind.
One of the most impressive improvements is the basement, which used to contain thousands of pieces of print type stored in an overwhelming amount of cluttered and random drawers. These print types are tiny metal stamps that are used by students and formatted on the workable yet antique printing press also found in the Literary House.
Organizing it was “a Herculean task,” undertaken by senior Olivia Williams and Emily Broderick ’11, who “did an amazing job…the Augean Stables is what they did,” said Dubrow.
In addition to these standard workshops, Dubrow plans to hold new training sessions for students involved in the popular Freshman and Senior Readings, “where we’ll discuss what kinds of works work best in a public atmosphere [and] how to best represent your work to an audience.”
She has also created a private office for Elm Faculty Advisor Melissa McIntire.
“Bringing in a journalistic presence is a good first step to incorporating more kinds of writing into the Lit House,” said Dubrow.
McIntire’s office is located on the newly- renovated third floor, “which started out as a place full of potential,” said Dubrow.
This summer that potential was realized and the floor now contains three new rooms: Quiet Reading Room, Study Room, and a Green Room. While visiting authors give speeches on the first floor, students can retreat to the soft carpet, cushions, and lap desks of the Quiet Reading Room, where they can continue their studies undisturbed.
The Study Room is also a place of serious studying, equipped with desks, lamps, and swivel chairs.
Finally, the Green Room is reserved as a temporary office for the current visiting writer; there the writer can meet with students, write, and add their works to the small library started by other previous authors, including Junot Diaz.
The current state of the third floor is in stark contrast to how it used to be: four students sharing two of the rooms while the rest lay vacant.
The beloved cat Lanston-Hughes will not be roaming the Lit House floors this year as he has done in the past. Dubrow reassures students that the cat has gone to a good, private home as he was too much of a burden on the staff.
However, her dog Argos, aptly named after Odysseus’ loyal hound, will be a frequent visitor.