Pulitzer-winning alumna returns to campus
Jennifer Egan won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last month
May 16, 2011, 3:29 am · Updated May 15, 2011, 12:00 am·
After winning a Pulitzer Prize, some may forget their roots. Not Jennifer Egan, who returned to her alma mater Saturday to speak for Alumni Weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan and poet Sam Donsky read selections from their work to a full room of alumni.
Speaking at the Writers House for the third time, Egan — a 1985 College graduate — read the first chapter from her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in April.
The Writers House had secured Egan to speak before she won the Pulitzer Prize. “[It] came as an awesome surprise for us,” said Program Coordinator Erin Gautsche.
“I feel emotional when I come here,” Egan said. “First of all, I feel a sense of amazement at how long it’s been since I graduated. Also, I think when you’re in college you don’t think you’ll ever be an adult. It’s odd to reflect on that state of mind when I’m here.”
1981 College graduates Mary Vargo and Diane Bernstein “didn’t know what to expect,” from the event, Vargo said. “I felt lucky to walk into the middle of the reading. It was really serendipitous.”
Bernstein said she will “definitely” buy the book after hearing Egan’s reading.
Donsky, a 2007 College graduate, is now in his second year at Penn Law. Although he writes poetry as a hobby, his work has won numerous awards throughout his undergraduate and graduate careers.
“It’s great to be back at Penn,” Donsky said. “I love the Writers House. Everyone here today has had a similar college experience.”
Often influenced by movies he has seen, his poems reflect upon American pop culture and contemporary life. He read poems from his personal manuscript, including “Sex and the City Two,” “Marie Antoinette” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”
“It’s hard reading before someone who has won the Pulitzer, but I think it went okay,” Donsky said.
At Penn for her 50th reunion, 1961 College graduate Jane Pettit said she was surprised at how poetry has evolved after hearing Donsky read.
“I though it was fabulous, but it’s harder for me at my advanced age, not having heard poetry except back when, to follow,” Pettit said. “I felt like I was on a different planet.”
There was a small catered reception following the reading, for which Egan stayed to converse with alumni and sign books.
At the reception, Writers House Program Assistant and rising College junior Ali Kriegsman sold copies of Egan’s book.
“We went through one box,” Kriegsman said. “I had my boss run and get another slew of books. It’s really impressive seeing someone as accomplished as Jennifer reading in front of other people who are probably equally accomplished.”