Monday, June 22, 2015
"Ithaca Diaries" by Anita H. Harris - A Compelling Coming of Age Memoir
In "Ithaca Diaries," Anita H. Harris has written a compelling coming of age tale from the turbulent '60s. I found her saga personally fascinating for several reasons. Her years at Cornell University were coterminous with my university years, so we both experienced many of the same societal upheavals - racial unrest, Vietnam War protests, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the unpopular LBJ presidency. Yet we experienced these events from polar opposite vantage points. Ms. Harris came to a liberal Ivy League university from a privileged Jewish family. I came to a small and conservative Christian liberal arts school from a working class Protestant family.
One of the remarkable aspects of my reading this memoir is that despite many obvious external differences, the author and I struggled with many of the same issues - embracing or testing traditional family values, finding a place in the social order on the campus, looking for direction academically, pointing toward an appropriate career, coming to grips with the chaos that was endemic to the late '60s.
Using journals she had kept during those years, and refreshing her own memory with conversations with classmates, the author has reconstructed a personal journey that reflects in many ways the journey that society was taking at the same time. It was an age of introspection, of self-indulgence, of questioning and of rebelling. It was an era when blacks and whites did not quite know what to make of one another on a college campus. I was an epoch in which both violent and non-violent attempts to change the status quo were being explored.
Ms. Harris writes clearly and incisively. This is a book that would be enlightening for any child of the '60s, for anyone currently going through any sort of identity exploration, for anyone who wants to know what it felt like to live in the center of the whirlwind that was the rapidly changing world of the late 1960s, or anyone who appreciates good introspective writing.