Arts and Entertainment

Kirkland lives on with Lost Orchard

By Lucas Phillips '16

April 3, 2014

A collection of short stories, poems and other writings by Kirkland College alumnae, faculty and administration have been brought together in the newly published “Lost Orchard.” We interviewed the editor of the collection, Jo Pitkin K’78, a Kirkland alumna.

Whose idea was a collection of work by Kirkland alums, when did the project get underway and what were your goals as the editor of this book?

I conceived of Lost Orchard in the Red Pit during a live reading by six alumnae authors. I had organized Kirkland Voices with Liz Horwitt (K’73) for our All-Kirkland Reunion on the Hill in 2007, and the work that I heard was so good that I wanted to share it with alumnae who weren’t able to attend the reading. This little seed grew and grew into a book-length anthology after I first decided to put out a call for submissions in 2010.

As editor of Lost Orchard, my primary goal was to collect excellent writing by Kirkland College alumnae and faculty and shape the work into a coherent book with resonating themes. I was looking solely for different creative writing genres—drama, fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction—although I realized that many fellow Kirkland graduates are excellent nonfiction writers.

Additionally, I hoped to showcase Kirkland’s innovative undergraduate creative writing program. Ours was one of only three in the United States to confer a bachelor’s degree in creative writing in the 1960s and 1970s. Our program was uniquely housed in the Arts Division (rather than the English Department) because Kirkland considered creative writing a studio art. Many of Kirkland’s creative writing majors went on to the most prestigious MFA programs in the country, including Columbia University, the University of Iowa, Goddard and Johns Hopkins.

At the time, I didn’t know if or how this blossoming manuscript would be published. After I sent proposals to a few publishers, I was over the moon to have such a distinguished academic publisher as SUNY Press accept my book proposal. They did an exceptional job in producing a beautiful book featuring cover art by Kirkland alumna Linda Branch Dunn (K’77).

Can you tell me a little bit about the people featured in the collection? Are most of them professional writers?

Many of the 50 contributors to Lost Orchard are published, professional writers. Some of the contributors also work in related fields such as journalism or book publishing. A few are no longer writing but have pursued other endeavors.

I must also point out that not all of the alumnae contributors were creative writing majors at Kirkland either. Yet Kirkland’s emphasis on writing—after all, we had written evaluations rather than grades and had to grind out a lot of papers—is evident in the quality of the pieces in the book.

I’m most proud that Lost Orchard incorporates work by former Kirkland faculty, including nearly every one of the professors who taught creative writing at Kirkland. My own mentors, Bill Rosenfeld, Michael Burkard and Tess Gallagher have work in the anthology. Bill directed the creative writing program at Kirkland and then carried it over to Hamilton following the 1978 merger of the colleges. Your readers might be familiar with the William Rosenfeld Chapbook Prize, which honors Bill’s considerable contribution to the continuation of creative writing at Hamilton and to the extension of the major to male students. Hamilton men, after all, could not pursue a BA in creative writing until after the merger occurred.

What about the Kirkland community in the ‘70s and onward to today makes it ripe for a project like this one?

There are so many reasons that Kirkland and its community are special. For one thing, Kirkland was the last private women’s college established in the United States. To me, that is an important historical fact this anthology brings to light. Also, Kirkland supported the education and empowerment of young women, which was essential then and now. I’d like to think that our anthology might inspire young women writers today as they shape their own writing lives.

Having a book of our own seemed improbable when I started the project. Then again, Kirkland alumnae and faculty have a touch of the pioneer. Imagine consciously deciding to apply to or work at a brand-new, barely constructed women’s college in central New York. We weren’t afraid to try new things, to take risks. During the process of making Lost Orchard, I thought about this spirit a great deal. I realized that we all helped make a college, little by little, in our own unique ways. So why not make our own literary anthology? It’s not such an outlandish concept if you think about it.

Tell me a bit about the title--is the “Lost Orchard” Kirkland and what does that signify?

Kirkland was built on a once-functioning apple orchard, and one memory our community shares is the sight and scent of white apple blossoms on our campus in spring. Also, Kirkland’s seal features a tree with a seed, a blossom, and an apple. These images signify the three phases of a woman’s life. During the first coeducational graduation in 1979, women who matriculated at Kirkland placed an apple on stage in silent protest—a tradition I believe has been carried on since then. You can see how I’d go for a title having something to do with apples. When I found a poem by Edgar Lee Masters with the phrase “lost orchard,” I had the title.

Do you see this project as a way of recreating or showcasing the kind of artistic community that you had at Kirkland or creating a new one among Kirkland alumnae?

Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I hope so. I don’t know if one can truly recreate or recapture an amazing time and place in one’s life, but I relied on my ’78 classmates Connie Halporn, Judy Silverstein Gray and Becky Pressman, my best friend Zan Tewksbury (K’80) and Jennie Morris (K’72) for their expertise in formatting, copyediting, copyright and permissions and marketing and promotion. To some extent, I did recreate the collaborative nature of our college experience. In fact, Zan and I did production on Red Weather, the college literary magazine I founded in 1976, when we were students together. It was surreal to be working with her in a similar capacity again in 2013—this time virtually rather than in the old Spectator office in Bristol.

One delicious outgrowth of Lost Orchard is that Kirkland alumnae have been reconnecting at book launches and, in some cases, discovering one another’s work for the first time. It’s thrilling to me that four contributors—Nancy Avery Dafoe, Lynn Kanter, Kathryn Livingston and Jane Summer—have recently told me about forthcoming book publications:  I’m not sure I would have known about these publications without Lost Orchard. Let’s hope the anthology sparks a new, mature, artistic community borne out of our fruitful college years together.

What are some highlights from the book?

It would be impossible to choose highlights. There’s a bit of something for every taste, from fantasy fiction to food writing. This is what Jane Springer, current Hamilton  assistant professor of English said, “Lost Orchard dazzles me for its wild romp through New York’s urban and pastoral landscapes (as well as its journeys hither and yon), its revolutionary ideas (revisited and revised), its diverse family portraits and reflections, its variety of forms (poetry, fiction, essays, plays, even a recipe) and its delightfully weird mix of pathos, grit, wit and collective intelligence.”

I do think readers will enjoy the collaborative piece by Natalie Babbitt, the well-known children’s author, and her husband Sam about Natalie’s writing of Tuck Everlasting during their Kirkland years. Sam, Kirkland’s first and only president, also wrote a short, informative essay specifically for Lost Orchard to tell readers about the creation of Kirkland.

Where can people buy it? Will it be sold in the Hamilton bookstore?

Lost Orchard can be purchased from SUNY Press (http://www.sunypress.edu/p-5843-lost-orchard.aspx), from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Orchard-Kirkland-Community-Excelsior/dp/1438449984) or from the Hamilton bookstore.

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