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After a year in which six good friends experienced messy breakups or divorces, writer and editor Harriet Brown ’79 decided to help the best way she knows how – write about it.

“Some of the stories were pretty horrific – and predictable,” she says. “The professor who had an affair with a grad student, the guy who fell for his tennis partner, the guy who ‘hooked up’ with his best friend’s widow at the friend’s funeral – talk about Mr. Wrong! I wanted to do something for my friends to help. I’m a writer, so I decided to do a book about it. Pretty much the only consolation when you go through something like this is knowing that other people have been there too. And so the idea for the book was born.”

Brown conceived the idea for Mr. Wrong: Real-Life Stories of the Men We Used to Love (Ballantine Books) and compiled original essays for the anthology by popular women writers including Jane Smiley, Marge Piercy, Audrey Niffenegger, Joyce Maynard, and others. She also contributed the introduction and an essay to the book, which was released last month.

Mr. Wrong elicited many responses from writers who wanted to contribute to the project.

“It was hard to choose from the essays people sent me,” Brown says. “I could have easily filled another book the same size with terrific essays.”

An English graduate, Brown has wanted to be a writer since she was 12 years old, when she composed her first poem – an antiwar sonnet.

“I’ve been writing ever since,” she says.

After receiving her M.F.A. from Brooklyn College in 1982, she went on to write for various newspapers and magazines, including Popular Science, New York Woman, Wigwag, Redbook, and 7 Days. She has since published features, reviews, and articles in New York Times Magazine, Glamour, Chicago Tribune, Parents, O: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. In 1998, she published The Goodbye Window: A Year in the Life of a Day-Care Center, which earned a Choice Outstanding Book Award.

“[Brown’s] writing is beautiful and her scholarship sound,” notes Choice, a publication of the Association of College & Research Libraries and the premier source for reviews of academic books. “Students considering day-care careers, day-care professionals, and concerned parents will gain insight by reading this provocative book, as will anyone who cares about the future of young children in this country.”

Brown also is the author of Madison Walks and The Baby Sitter’s Handbook, and has published a collection of poems called The Promised Land. She is editor-in-chief of Wisconsin Trails, a regional magazine on the people, places, history, and culture of the state in which she now lives with her husband and daughters.

She writes a blog, Feed Me!, which she describes as “one opinionated woman’s thoughts about food, eating, and related topics,” including anorexia.

Earlier this month, her radio essay, “How Can You Tell if Your Child is Developing an Eating Disorder?” aired on Wisconsin Public Radio.

She credits her undergraduate experience with allowing her to explore her passion for writing.

“I really had a chance at Lafayette to educate myself, to read richly and widely through the Western canon,” she recalls.

Brown arrived at Lafayette as a high school dropout – she quit after three years for family reasons – but found an intellectual foundation in McKelvy House. She lived there for a semester during her sophomore year and studied abroad the other half of that year.

“That was a fantastic experience for me,” she says. “I didn’t come from the kind of family that valued an intellectual life. Living at McKelvy House gave me a tiny taste of the life of the mind and opened me to possibilities I wasn’t aware of.”

Several faculty members urged Brown to nurture her talents as a creative writer. David Johnson, now associate provost, and the late James P. Lusardi ’55, former Francis A. March Professor of English, made their classes lively and helped Brown broaden her interests.

“I [took] some classes with David Johnson, and he was very encouraging,” she says. “I wrote mostly poetry then and still write a lot of poetry; Professor Johnson tried to convince me to take up writing fiction. He encouraged my narrative bent, which really helped as I started to write nonfiction. I was also lucky enough to study with Jane Curry, who was at Lafayette for a year or two while I was there. From her, I learned about voice, a crucial aspect of any writer’s life; she helped me develop an ear. And I took Shakespeare with the late great Professor Lusardi. That was just fun!”

Brown believes all students should take advantage of the opportunities Lafayette provides them and find a career that brings great satisfaction.

“I’d encourage students to follow their passions and their intellectual interests,” she says. “The career prospects for a writer were pretty bleak when I was at Lafayette, but writing was what I wanted to do. I am grateful that I did what I wanted to do – at least tried it – and I’ve enjoyed every bit of my writing career so far, and look forward to what the future will bring.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles, Creative Writing, The Arts