Novelist relives 1960s college life, talks about social class

By Mike Devine

Novelist Sigrid Nunez presented her new novel, which recounts the relationship between two college roommates from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum during the late 1960s last Wednesday in Snell Library.

“I’ve always wanted to write about this era of my life, but I could not have done it sooner because it was like fingernails on the blackboard to society,” Nunez said of her novel, “The Last of Her Kind.”

Nunez said the novel was based on her time at Barnard College. The story is set there, but the characters are not based on any real people.

The discussion revolved around Vietnam-era college students’ struggle to distance themselves from their upper middle-class parents – to make themselves appear less well-off than they were.

“I remember the phrase young women used was ‘smash monogamy.'” Nunez said. “People used to say they hated their parents.

Nunez used the stories of two very different characters to demonstrate the tensions of the time period. The roommates are Georgette George, a simple girl from the backwoods of New York, and Ann Drayton, a privileged girl determined to rid herself of her family’s influence.

Nunez said she used George as an “outsider,” who was not from the same affluent background as Drayton, and she didn’t share her radical views.

While sophomore anthropology major Sonya Kovacic said she hadn’t read the novel, she was intrigued by the topic.

“I enjoy reading novels based on class differences in society and I wanted to get a perspective on what college was like back then compared to now,” Kovacic said.

Marita Spooner, a freshman political science major, said she enjoyed hearing about the book from Nunez’s own words.

“I think it’s good to get the author’s perspective, and I’m glad us students are able to get this opportunity,” she said.

Nunez said another reason she wrote the novel was so parents who are embarrassed to tell their kids about their ’60s experiences could give them a way to learn about it without personal accounts.

She added jokingly, “And then parents tell me, ‘Oh no, on second thought I’d rather them not know anything about those times.'”

Nunez is the recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature, a Berlin Prize Fellowship and a Whinting Writer’s Award.

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