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In the early days of the College, the “secret” Washington and Franklin literary societies provided a forum for debate, discussion, and social engagement. Jesslyn Roebuck ’06 (Montgomery, N.Y.), a double major in English and international affairs, gives the following report on her effort with fellow Marquis Scholar Meredith Jeffers ’05 (Latham, N.Y.), a double major in English and Spanish, and others to revitalize Lafayette’s literary society tradition:

The goals of the modern day literary society will be shaped by the desires of those within the group. In addition to these activities, one of the main objectives is to create a casual and relaxed environment ripe with intellectual engagement and social interaction.

Collectively, Meredith and I brainstormed some objectives for the literary society, ranging from book discussions to poetry and prose readings; from brown-bag debates to discussions with distinguished visiting speakers and artists. Although the literary society’s specific activities will be molded according to the desires and involvement of the group, a core component of each activity will relate to a literary topic.

To quote Stéphanie Mallarmé, “Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.” Hence, discussions focused around political issues will inevitably involve discussions of current and past literature on those issues. Visiting speakers will be selected for group dinner discussions based upon their literary endeavors and/or contribution to the literary community.

While literary discussion can involve current political, societal, and cultural debates, it can also encompass current literary debates and issues within literature itself. In another chapter, we brainstormed the idea that various papers and creative responses to the discussions be published in a literary journal or newsletter on an annual basis for those wishing to contribute. These are some of the ideas and activities Meredith and I envision as Lafayette’s literary society reignites Lafayette literary tradition.

The first meeting of Lafayette Literary Society occurred as a dinner discussion with acclaimed Presidential Diversity Speaker Trevor Rhone. Noted playwright and screenwriter, Rhone visited campus for about two weeks, meeting with classes, holding lectures, and attending discussions. Our discussion was shaped both by the questions of those who attended and by Rhone himself. As the kick-off event for the society, the first meeting included about 25 people — students and faculty — among them Professor Lynn Van Dyke, who graciously agreed to be the faculty adviser and correspondent for the literary society.

The conversation was casual and unpretentious, allowing the society to set the tone for future gatherings. Rhone’s knack for animated eloquence engaged those who attended, giving background not only of his own experience as a playwright but also advice for those seeking to write for an audience or for themselves. Aided by such a laid-back ambience, students later reflected upon Rhone’s accessibility and desire to engage in a close contact back-and-forth discourse with them. The first meeting was an overwhelming success. It showed there is a genuine need and desire for such a group on campus.

Other events included a dinner discussion with Mildred Ruiz of the Universes Theatre Group. A leading innovator of slam poetry and rhythmic performance art, Ruiz guided a discussion on the new dynamics and culture of slam and performance art. A brown-bag discussion was held with various leading faculty of the English department debating the literary canon — why certain books are chosen as classic literature and why they are taught over and over again in the classroom.

The new literary society is for students yearning for more discussion, more engagement, and more opportunity. It is time for Lafayette students to reinvigorate literary activism among the community; this is the goal of the Lafayette Literary Society.

Categorized in: Academic News