That was the subject line of the email I got from Erik Inglis, Oberlin professor of medieval art and a fellow Oberlin art history grad from the class of ’89. He had seen the August New York Times piece on A.D., and dropped me a congratulatory email. One thing quickly led to another and soon enough I had been officially invited back to Oberlin to present A.D. to the school. The fact that Kwame, one of A.D.’s characters, is also a student at Oberlin, and was willing to take part in the presentation, added to the allure.
We settled on this past weekend, November 6–8, Parents’ Weekend 2009. Since Sari is an Oberlin grad too, it seemed appropriate for us to go as a family — Phoebe too! So last Friday we all jumped on a commuter flight to Cleveland for a fun-filled three days back in the corn fields of Ohio.
The “official” part of the trip went really well. Erik kindly picked us up at the airport and drove us into town and to our room at the Oberlin Inn. He had to leave to teach a class — likely excuse! — but we sauntered over to the new (to me) crunchy Black River Café to meet Danielle Young, the Alumni Association executive director, and her protégé Liz Weinstein. We had a pleasant lunch, and were encouraged to reminisce about old times for a recorded interview. Danielle & Liz also presented us with an official Oberlin alumni mug and some other assorted goodies.
With all the Parents Weekend events going on, I was a bit nervous about how well-attended Saturday’s 3pm presentation would go, but I was elated by the turnout. At least 75 people — parents, students, and even some faculty — turned out for the event, in the Hallock Auditorium of the new(ish) Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. (A little shout-out to my buddy Mark “Stinky” Rusitzky, who worked as an architect on the building and served as the liaison during its construction. Mark, a Connecticut College graduate, has spent more time in Oberlin than I have in the last decade!)
After my slideshow, I sat down with Kwame and African-American Studies chair Caroline Jackson-Smith to talk about the project, Kwame’s involvement, and to take questions from the audience. The crowd seemed really engaged, and there were some great questions and comments. Professor Jackson-Smith was terrific, with a real respect for the comics form even though it was one of her first experiences with it. And Kwame was amazing, closing the event with a wonderful, eloquent summation of where New Orleans is now, and how he plans to fit in there once he finishes his academic career. I was so proud of him, and also in awe of his poise and strength of character. Once again, I was reminded what an amazing group of human beings I’ve been lucky enough to get to know though this project.
After the event, Kwame & I sat down in the lobby to sign copies of A.D., which people had quickly bought up all the copies provided for by Infinite Monkey (the new comics retailer in town). It was an odd experience sitting there signing copies for Oberlin students and parents, feeling somehow caught in between those two realities. I know one end of that experience — maybe someday I’ll know the other. I must admit I felt a certain pride, sitting there as a returning alumni, actually invited back by the institutional powers-that-be.
That evening Erik had us over to his E. College house for delicious home-made pizza by his wife Heather. Also there was Anne Trubek, another Oberlin alum of our era (who makes a great apple crumble!) And Phoebe got to marvel at the antics of the three boys (two 10-year-olds and one six-year-old) running rampant in the house. A good time was had by all, and Erik and I refrained from too much teary-eyed reminiscences of those two years we shared at Dascomb.I loved what Erik said about why he loves studying medieval art: "There’s so much we just don’t know! I would hate to teach modern art — we know what Manet had for breakfast every day of his adult life! On the other hand, I would hate to teach ancient art. We don’t know anything! Medieval art is just the right balance of what we know and what we have to use our imagination for."
Sunday was a free day before our 5 pm flight, and Sari, Phoebe & I mostly spent it strolling around the Oberlin campus, visiting the museum, and admiring and kicking the fall leaves. It was comforting to hear the chants of protesters ringing through trees of Tappan Square, though we didn’t get there in time to find out what the protest was actually about before they had moved on. We also got a giant chuckle from the sight of a bedraggled group of Obie kids attempting to stage an earthbound game of Muggle Quidditch on Wilder Bowl, with broomsticks and everything. Ah, Oberlin!
Next time: Oberlin then and now