DEVIN MEENAN, Arts & Life Editor—Since 1964, the Beck Series (named after Harriet Ewens Beck ‘1910 and funded by an endowment in her name) has allowed Denison’s English and Narrative Journalism Departments to bring accomplished writers to campus and offer students a chance to meet these writers face-to-face. Past Beck Series visitors have included cartoonist Alison Bechdel (“Fun Home”) in 2013, author Piper Kerman (“Orange Is The New Black”) in 2016, and Columbus-native poet & cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib (“A Fortune For Your Disaster,” “A Crown Ain’t Worth Much”) in 2019.
Now that COVID-19 has made in-person gatherings untenable, the Beck Series has shifted to virtual meetings for the foreseeable future. Michael Croley, Assistant Professor of English & Narrative Journalism and current manager of the Beck Series, said the transition was smoother than one might have expected, in part due to the Series’ generous endowment. “The one good thing about COVID is that it actually allows us to bring more people to campus,” Croley stated, noting the greater convenience for writers of digital call-ins – “It is just an hour out of someone’s time – it’s hard to be on Zoom calls all day, but on the other hand you don’t have to travel… it made me realize that [Zoom calls are] something we should’ve been doing all along once this technology was there.”
The most recent Beck Series event, held on Thursday October 8, was a conversation between journalist/author Connie Schultz & communications consultant/podcast host Torie Clarke. Schultz is a Pulitzer-winning columnist for Creators Syndicate, formerly of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a professional-in-residence at Kent State University, and the wife of US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Clarke served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs from 2001 to 2003 and currently hosts the podcast “Chatter On Books.”
“Connie… she’s got a sharp sword,” Croley said, “[She’s] very direct, very outspoken, and I mean that in the best way.” To prove his point, Croley referred to a passage from Schultz’s recent column, “Debate or Not Debate?” – “[Trump’s] tweetstorm that reads like a kid frantically typing as his mother pounds on the bathroom door and yells, “What are you doing in there?””
Schultz had been planned as a writer-in-residence at Denison for the 2020-2021 academic year, but when the pandemic made that unfeasible, a place in the Beck Series line-up for her was a natural fit. The centerpiece of the event was Schultz’s new novel “The Daughters of Erietown,” focused on the financial struggles and political-centered fracturing of a working class family in Ohio’s Clayton Valley during the 1950s. However, to avoid the awkwardness of a virtual reading, Croley recruited Clarke, an acquaintance of his, to moderate the event as a conversation.
“[Connie and Torie] have run in the same circles [due to] both being involved with National Politics,” Croley said when explaining why he brought them on together, “I want to give a lot of credit to Torie about how well that event went… because she’s very perceptive, she asked good follow-up questions.”
From the starting point of Schultz’s novel, the discussion traversed many political topics, from the current administration to the upcoming election to the struggles of working class people. Attendees also sought advice on navigating political strife in their own families, with Schultz stating “We’re born into our circumstances, but our circumstances are not our excuses.”
The Beck Series will continue throughout the semester; the next event, spotlighting the works of Denison Creative Writing professor Peter Grandbois and Narrative Journalism professor Jack Shuler, will be taking place on Thursday, October 22.