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Writing on campus

Last Friday, columnist Charlie Metzger wrote a piece called “NassWatch” in which he criticized the Nassau Weekly for being irrelevant, poorly written and incoherent. He is responding to a Nassau Weekly feature called “PrinceWatch” in which Nass writers critique and mock the writing in the ‘Prince.’ As Metzger points out, the last time the Nass did this all the “ridiculous” and “Princesque” articles they derided were from the Opinion section. This is awkward, because — full disclosure here — I write for the Nassau Weekly, too.

Both of these articles make good points, and both of them take unfair swipes at the other. Whatever. I don’t care who can be the snarkiest. More troublesome to me is how familiar Metzger’s implication that the Nassau Weekly is not a “real publication” sounds. Metzger dismissing the Nass is characteristic of the general Princeton attitude to the arts in general. In this particular case, the Nass takes the hit because it is the most prominent artistic voice on campus, but what’s really being questioned here is the role of the arts, specifically literary, in the Princeton community.


There is a dearth of literary publications here, and the Nassau Weekly’s reputation of representing some kind of “pot-induced” counterculture is a consequence of its occasional inclusion of creative writing or unconventional formats. Though it has a more artistic sensibility, I don’t think the Nass is all that artsy. In terms of the kind of writing I think this campus lacks, the Nassau Weekly’s content is far closer to that of the Prince than it is to creative writing. Being a weekly, the Nass has freedom to choose topics and publish unusual articles, and because of this freedom creative things are written, interesting formats are used and the occasional poem is published. On the whole, however, the Nass is a news publication, just like the ‘Prince.’

In my opinion, Princeton’s lack of creative publications is shocking. The Nassau Literary Review is almost nonexistent: Their website was last updated in 2009. As far as I can tell — and this is only from hearsay because the Nassau Literary Review’s editorial board is out of contact — it is published once a year. According to the Princeton website, there’s also a literary magazine called KRULLER which I have never heard of and whose website seems to be designed with the specific intention of frustrating its visitors. Contrast this to our peer institutions and the differences are striking. Yale, for example, has at least two magazines with a specifically literary inclination and three others which might qualify, Harvard has three monthly publications, and Brown has four explicitly devoted to creative writing.

Right now is when you tell me to take my literary complaints to campuses that welcome them. First, that’s not actually a practical solution to the shortcoming I’ve identified, and second, the thing about Princeton is that, in terms of creative writing, we have the resources to make it much more prominent. Consider how phenomenal our creative writing faculty is and the very strong presence these teachers have on campus: They actually teach. They interact with students. I know people who have been to Jeffrey Eugenides’ house. In the two months I’ve been on campus so far, Rita Dove, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Safran Foer have given talks. It’s a ridiculously well-read community blessed with talented and accomplished writers, at least from a professional perspective.

From an undergraduate perspective, what is negligible is student writers’ presence. And here the worst stereotypes of the Princeton community are confirmed. As much as I hate to parrot those tired accusations of pretension and elitism, I think the lack of attention paid to the arts on campus is a strong argument for the legitimacy of these claims. Artists are usually countercultural or, at the very least, aware of the shortcomings of the society they live in because — on some level — they value ideals of truth and beauty over material gain. Princeton does have a history of entrenched white elitism, but it also has an equally impressive legacy of literary innovation. We need more. There are artists amongst us; I just don’t know exactly where. Ideally, that’s what more literary publications would help me figure out.

The real issue here is not who can misplace the fewest modifiers. By virtue of not being the ‘Prince’ the Nass is able to introduce an outside perspective into discussions that would be monopolized by the ‘Prince’ if it weren’t for the Nass’s input. Often, these articles are called “countercultural,” but in reality they’re just non-‘Prince.’ For all its “stream-of-consciousness glory,” the Nass is not as artsy as it is hyped to be. If we had more literary magazines on campus then there would actually be artistic forces shaping the dialogue, and maybe an actual, real life, true-blue counterculture would form. Or maybe they’d all just publish snide articles about each other. Either way, we all win.

Susannah Sharpless is a freshman from Indianapolis, Ind. She can be reached at