Karen Adkinson Reixach '66 and Mark Schorr '66

  • Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Karen: I’m Karen Adkinson Reixach. I live in Rochester, New York, now, and I am in the class of 1966.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And I’m Mark Schorr, and I live in Andover, Massachusetts, and I’m also a member of the class of ’66. And we- Karen suggested that the two of us describe our favorite academic experience at Grinnell because we think it’s the same experience, more or less.Karen: Well, same place.Mark: Yes, same place. Yes, and that- we were part of the first group of Associated College Midwest students to study at the Newberry Library in Chicago.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: And... I’m not sure how I got picked. Do you have any idea how you got picked?Mark: I think we were asked to apply, but I can’t remember. I know as soon as I heard about the program I did want to apply, and maybe we- maybe I applied.Karen: Yeah, I don't-Mark: I can’t remember, lost in the ruins of time.Karen: Exactly.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: But the opportunity was to live in an apartment on the near North side, right around the corner from the Newberry Library, and there were two professors, one from Coe College who was a historian, and one professor who was an English professor. Both of them had specialties in Renaissance studies and so that was the focus of our semester at the Newberry.Mark: And a fantastic visiting faculty at the Newberry, there was a great Renaissance historian, Hans Baron, and another visiting Oxford scholar, Cecil Grayson.Karen: Yeah.Mark: Plus, the staff of the Newberry, who were very high-powered librarians.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: The program consisted of five weeks of class and then producing a paper using the resources of the library, and we also had field trips and sort of seminars during those five weeks. One of the ones that was most thrilling for me was when we went down to the Art Institute and they brought out the sort of, Renaissance print collection. I mean, Albrecht Durer print right there! It was…Mark: Yes, yes.Karen: It was just amazing. And the chance to hear these people who were doing scholarship, actually in process, y’know we weren’t listening to the finished product. We were listening to kind of the thinking that went into actual research.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And a few days after looking at that manuscript at the Art Institute, I found myself working on an actual, medieval Renaissance manuscript at the Newberry under the careful direction of this Oxford professor. Terrifying. And, with not very good Latin, and less Greek, but it still was the most exciting experience and he began to have me looking for a certain change in handwriting that he had a theory about. About the- the author of that manuscript.Karen: Hm.Mark: And... that, and after a few days I was able, even though I wasn’t able to read the Latin very well, I was able to read the handwriting, the so-called “non-substantive variables.” And I saw, “Ah! Here’s where it changed, Professor Grayson.”Karen: Yeah.Mark: Exciting.Karen: Yeah.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Karen: I think that for me, back in the Dark Ages when I did English literature here, it was... the focus was New Criticism which really said that text speaks for itself. So, you didn’t need all of this historical, textual, editorial stuff. You engaged the texts. So, to go to a research library and sort of be cornered into a totally different mode of thinking about literature was... I would say, a little challenging for me. And I evaded it as much as I could. I was not a- I was naughty.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: Well, and it was also in the age before computers.Karen: Oh, yeah!Mark: We had- so we had to type these horrendous papers.Karen: Haha, yes.Mark: Fortunately, one student in the group was a speed-typist and he was very much kowtowed, too, so...
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: I remember staying up till two or three in the morning with, y’know, white-out-Mark: Yep.Karen: -Or the equivalent correcting my…Mark: Yeah.Karen: On this manual typewriter.Mark: Yes, yes.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And mine had Greek and Latin to add to the manuscript as well, and to make matters worse, our papers- unlike the usual college papers, because this was the first experience of the Newberry. The Newberry had an in-house bindery. So they said, “We’re going to publish your papers.”Karen: And they did!Mark: And they did, in a kind of festschrift.Karen: Mhm.Mark: Which was –Karen: - hard-bound and paper-bound.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: Yes, and I look over it and I still see my mistakes to this day. Oh, and I say, "Where is more white-out? White-out? Correct tab? Where are you?"Karen: Yeah.Mark: But, if this sounds like it was not a good experience, that is the wrong- We are conveying the- I am conveying the wrong impression, because this was kind of- this was preparation for graduate school and for life, that was really unmatched by anything we had done so far.Karen: Yeah.Mark: I had done.Karen: Yeah.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: I went to graduate school in English literature at the University of Chicago, and when I got there I was just profoundly disappointed because I had thought that it was going to be like the Newberry where you had access to the professors readily, and... It- graduate school wasn’t a thing like that.Mark: Yep, yeah.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: Well, you were profoundly disappointed. I went on to Harvard English graduate school. I was only... partially disappointed. I did actually have a course at Harvard from William Bomb, the librarian at Houghton, that was very much like the Newberry experience.Karen: Mm.Mark: And I was immediately able to click into it and in that class, I printed a Renaissance quarto in the basement of the library to find out what a Renaissance quarto was.Karen: Oh.Mark: And it came out, and I could not have done that without the experience at Grinnell.Karen: Mhm.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And, he would bring, just as we had with the Newberry, he would bring a cart full of books. “Oh, this is just Keats’ copy of Dante, nothing special.”Karen: "Ho-hum."Mark: Yeah. “Oh, look, there’s this little Bright Star of Darien, oh, yeah.”
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: Yeah, I think that one of the other things about the experience was the other students because, y’know, Mark and I were from Grinnell, but we had three wild people from Carleton. We had somebody from St.- one or two –Mark: Olaf’s?Karen: Yeah, one person from St. Olaf. One or two from Coe, Beloit, Cornell...Mark: Yes.Karen: Iowa, Cornell. And...Mark: About eight or nine in all.Karen: Where was- yeah, and where was Paul from?Mark: I believe he was f-Karen: Lawrence? Was he from Lawrence?Mark: I believe Paul was from Carleton, also.Karen: Carleton, OK.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: And Paul loved music, so we would all go and sit in the nosebleed zone, up in the, y'know-Mark: Chicago Symphony.Karen: Chicago Symphony. And we’d go to hear Mozart, and Paul would just, faint with delight, I mean..Mark: Wasn’t it Laurie who was the- the music? Oh, wait- was-Karen: Well, they both-Mark: Yeah, they both...
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: Paul loved Mozart and Laurie loved Toscanini. And so we would- he would play all the complete records of Toscanini while he was typing my paper.Karen: Oh, had I but known!Mark: Yeah. But, he took pity on me. I think that was- that was what it-
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: But, the other- another aspect, I had a job as a page at the Library and that was also a great work experience that completely complimented what we were doing. So we would get on- we would be patrons of the Library, and then we’d get on the other side of the desk and we’d be helping people. So, we were much better patrons. Much more...Karen: Hm.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And also, in those days, the Newberry- We were staying at a set of garden apartments that were owned by the Newberry, that eventually they sold, but they were- They sold it to pay to build up their endowment. But we, at the time, Poetry Magazine was headquartered there as well, so we got to know Poetry Magazine.Karen: Mhm.Mark: And one of the members of the group, actually stayed- after college, got a job as the business manager of Poetry Magazine. And she- that was her career. She’s- I think she's still there, I believe.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: So, another way that that was a life-changing experience for us, we realized that all of us were liberal arts students and we had a kind of... it was a validation of our careers here at Grinnell that we met other students who were interesting in different ways. Maybe slightly different styles, or….Karen: Intellectually alive.Mark: Yeah, yeah.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: I mean, it was really- just being together and, of course, you, you know, you were sort of- There were what, fifteen of us, or twelve? I forget the number, but it was a small group and, y'know, we didn’t know anybody else. Well, you knew 'cause you were from Chicago, but the rest of us really, we just had each other. So, that’s- we bounced off each other, we talked about, y'know, our papers or life in general. And it just was a wonderful sort of community experience, as well as, kind of the academics that we were provided by the, y'know, the program. So, I- It’s still going, right?Mark: I believe so.Karen: I would hope so.Mark: Maybe.
  • Tamara Grbusic & Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Tamara: Newberry Program?Karen: Mhm.Mark: Yep.Tamara: I haven't heard of it, but, perhaps, it is.Mark: Anyway, we're.. to be determined.Tamara: Ha,ha. I'm not an English major, so I'm not- I don't know. I'm not sure.
  • Mark Schorr
    Mark: But, uh, another way that it was broadening for me, personally, and I think for some of the others: I was from Chicago, as Karen mentioned, and Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. You grow up in the neighborhood. The neighborhoods are handed from one group to another, but they're still- they don’t really change that much, and you grow up with this kind of ethnic perspective.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: But, downtown at the center, Navy Pier, the near North side, is the center of the city where all the neighborhoods meet.Karen: Mhm.Mark: And my parents had always aspired to that. They had- my mother, finally, a few years after we rented the Newberry, she got her lifetime chance to move out of the neighborhood and move down near north. So, she had a similar experience. She took Paul Carroll’s creative writing course at Columbia College. And it was the same- but it was the same kind of thing for me; it was moving out of the neighborhood into the center, the heart of the city. I recently went back to Chicago – that’s where I like to stay now in Chicago, is down there in the center.Karen: Oh, really?Mark: And.. again, I trace that back to the Newberry experience.Karen: Yeah.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: So, I don’t know. Do you have other things-? Well, you wanted to talk a little bit about coming back to campus and what it was like.Mark: Well, yeah. We came back to Henry Wilhelm and company snapping pictures for the ’66 yearbook, and there was a big blizzard that winter... Driving back to Grinnell, I actually missed the Interstate, missed the exit 186, you know, overshot it.Karen: Oh.Mark: And like a fool, backed up on the Interstate but got to the right place. It was a snow castle at that point.
  • Mark Schorr
    Mark: And got back to Grinnell and... had never, had never taken a course from Jim Kissane, and signed up for a spring course, but that course- There was a subtle change in my thinking when I came back that I didn’t realize ‘til years later, but that- We began to meet in the spring term. Snow melted. We found a good tree on Central campus and had four or five topics we wanted to talk about: Victorian- The Victorian Sage and the history of the novel.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And this conversation began. It was very much like the conversations with our profs at the Newberry, and I realized the conversational- the possibilities of conversational mode of teaching and learning. And, y’know something? That conversation with Jim Kissane, it’s now 40-some years later; it’s still going. It switched from under the tree, to, gradually, to letters, then to email, but it’s still going. And I owe him a letter when I get back next week.Karen: Well, you’ll have something to write!Mark: But, as my own- I’ve become a teacher of working adults, at this phase of my teaching career, and that’s something I aspire to with my students, to start a conversation that’s meaningful enough that they and I want to continue it.Karen: Mm.Mark: So, and again, I trace that back to the Newberry.Karen: Yeah, yeah.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: I came back to campus and got mono-Mark: That's right.Karen: And spent a month in the infirmary reading the Lord of the Rings, which I wasn’t supposed to be doing, but people would hand me the next volume through the window.Mark: Lucky you. I didn’t discover that until a few years later.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: Well, I’d taken, you know, Chaucer with Ed Foster, and had been captured by that period and actually, y’know, did a little bit of Chaucer at the University of Chicago. Laurie Cherniak, there were five of us who ended up at the University of Chicago, from, you know, from the Newberry program, and Laurie Cherniak from Carleton said, “Oh! You’ve gotta take- You’ve gotta just, audit!Mark: Whose Chaucer was that?Karen: Jerome Taylor.Mark: Okay.Karen: And it was- He was incredible because he was a devout Catholic, and so, he was able to talk about the.. y'know, the liturgical year and kind of... pull forth strands that you wouldn’t have expected. And then also, he did early Renaissance drama, or Medieval drama. And so, Laurie sort of pulled me into that. He was just an incredibly wonderful professor.Mark: Mm.Karen: Wonderful.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Karen: So, you know, you develop these appreciations for- ‘cause I was shy. I mean, I was studious, but I was quite shy so the thought of kind of striking up a conversation with a professor was not something that would have occurred to me. And I think that the Newberry helped in kind of lowering my expectations of myself around that, and...
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: Well, they- the professors both made a point of inviting us to their...Karen: Apartments?Mark: To their apartments. We were all living in the same apartment complex, and again, it was just closing the gap between... I felt that- I similarly felt comfortable for the first time, with knocking on the professor’s door occasionally, with enough warning, and maybe a...
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: Did you-? I think that Laurie and maybe Fran and I, and I don’t know if you were there but we drove out to Coe to see Van Fossen the next year.Mark: Cornell.Karen: Cornell. Mark Cornell. I don't thi- I didn’t see him then, but again, I did visit him in Toronto.Karen: Uh-huh. I did too.Mark: Nata- My wife and I visited him in Toronto, and I know I visited him at least… I don’t think I ever saw him at Cornell. He was then offered a better or another professorship at a... at Toronto, I believe.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: Well, also, he was very strongly opposed to the Vietnam War and things got a little hot in this small College in Iowa. Unlike Grinnell, which, of course, was totally calm about the Vietnam War, hahaha. So he- I think he sort of had a push, as well as a pull, to Canada.Mark: Yes.Karen: And also-Mark: That's right.Karen: Also, he had a son, although the son wasn’t draft age, but who knew how long that war was gonna go on?Mark: Yes.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: So, I wanna talk a little bit about the yearbook.Mark: Yes.Karen: I was the Editor of the ’65 yearbook, and so...Mark: Which was a tough act to follow.Karen: Well, no, it was... We just were clearing our throats for the ’66 yearbook, but Henry showed up on campus. I think- I don’t know if he was still using a cane, but he had driven off a cliff. He was in the Peace Corps for two years, had driven off a cliff in Bolivia and broken, I don’t know, all sorts of bones, and had been in the hospital for an extended period of time and was still, I think, recovering physically from that experience. and he showed up with his camera and somehow he found John Phillips and the two of them ran through our entire budget in about thirty seconds. On, y’know, in film.Mark: Film! Film!Karen: Film.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: Those were the film days.Karen: Absolutely. And so it was really thrilling to be connected with people who had this passion for... beautiful beauty, and technical competence. And so we had this huge argument with the- The Forum was built, and at that point the Cyclone and the S&B were housed in the Forum, and so, it was up to the Cyclone to decide what equipment should go into the darkroom. And we had this huge debate with the College about, y’know, how fine the equipment should be and, of course, Henry and John were advocating for, y'know, archival quality everything. And the College is like, “Whoa, maybe not quite that.”
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: So, it was really... It was a wonderful experience to have them taking seriously what was going on and trying not just to show the kind of... superficial stuff, but trying to show the life of the mind, so that the pictures- it wasn’t just- Usually, in yearbooks, you get the pictures of the faculty and that’s the last you see of them, but I think in our yearbook what we tried to do was to incorporate a sense that this was a college where people actually studied and-Mark: Yes.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: They had a huge feature, as is illustrated in the show that’s over- that they’ve mounted, but they had a huge section on the Library, and it was really the first time that the new Burling Library was featured as an essential component of college life. You’d look through the typical yearbook of anyone, and there’d be a few obligatory pictures of people studying. But here was a whole section on the culture of the Library, the life of the Library, how to sleep in the Library, how to- everything you could possibly think of.Karen: Get a date in the Library.Mark: Yeah, how to gate a-
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And again, with purposefully minimalist captions that- I was talking to them last night, we were-Karen: Mhm.Mark: And the text was kept down. The stories, they were very congruent with the leading photojournalist magazine of the day, Life Magazine.Karen: Mhm.Mark: That- very short captions that just carried- gave you enough of the story so you could then scan the photographs and, I mean, you know, really interpret the photographs and the story emerged from the photographs themselves.Karen: Yeah, and that was something that we did in the ’65 yearbook. I mean, we just eliminated the text. There’s very little text, in- I think there’s more in the ’66 than there may be in ours, except, y’know, we had- so....
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: Yeah, they took many good things from the ’65 and Henry was saying last night that you trained them, Karen.Karen: Hmm. I don’t know about that.Mark: But... And then, anyway, you at least turned them loose very successfully.Karen: Well, I turned them loose. That is certainly true.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: And I think the other thing that I- I want to brag a little bit. Not just turning them loose, but there was, besides the conversation about the equipment in the darkroom, which I also weighed in about – on their side – but, there was another candidate for the editorship of the yearbook who would've produced- He was a perfectly competent photographer, but he would have produced a fairly pedestrian book. And so, I really advocated that Henry and, y'know, John be selected as editors of the yearbook, and I think that there were lots of reservations about them, and I kind of insisted that, you know, they had to use these guys because they were just such superb photographers, and that they would produce a book that would be talked about for... well, now it’s going on 46 years, isn’t it?Mark: Yes.
  • Mark Schorr
    Mark: Yeah, part of it was because of the controversy that it was withheld in limbo for 20 years. It was held in limbo in a bank vault in Poweshiek County National Bank, but then released to some fanfare 20 years later. Time Magazine did a cover story on it- not a cover story, a story on the yearbook that now, finally, was produced, and-
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: But more importantly, it was the yearbook itself that had- it really caught this kind of golden age before the seriousness, the enormity of Vietnam settled on the entire country. There’s one photograph of six students with handwritten signs in the hall, down the hall of ARH, this very building, protesting the CIA recruiter coming to Grinnell. That story was picked up on the Des Moines Register wire service and ran coast to coast.Karen: Mhm.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And... That- they caught the protests that were beginning to emerge. They had a special section on radicalism on the campus and the students who were branching out to the protest movements.Karen: Mhm. Yeah, it wa- really, when we were here was a watershed period. The sort of quiescent 50s, there was, I would say a large segment of the campus, who were in that mode, or at least were not overtly political. And then, there was a growing group of people who really saw, y’know, the Civil Rights movement was very powerful for us, and I think that that helped to radicalize a segment of the campus.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: So you had these two almost competing cultures side-by-side simultaneously. And what- I think what Henry and John did was to really capture that watershed moment as we move out of the 50s. I mean, it was ’66 but we were a little slow.Mark: Yes.Karen: Actually, we weren’t a little slow.Mark: It was just as it has been in many other periods in its history. Grinnell was a- Grinnell was a small pond that reflected the big pond but in different ways.Karen: Mhm.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: The first big demonstrations broke out at Berkley and Harvard, a year or two later. Then, they were mirrored here at Grinnell in different ways. But, the little demonstrations that were depicted in this book broke out before those demonstrations at the campus, before the Berkley free speech movement got started, as far as I know.Karen: Yeah.Mark: This campus was, to borrow one of our English metaphors, it was both a mirror and a lamp. In this case they were shining the lamp on a small pond and seeing what was going to come in the rest of the country.Karen: Yeah.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: I remember the conversation right before we graduated, with you, and as a woman, I didn’t have to worry about the draft. And all the men in our class were scrambling to figure out how they were not going to go to Vietnam, and, as a woman, it really weighed on me that I was exempt simply because I was a woman.Mark: Yeah.
  • Mark Schorr & Karen Adkinson Reixach
    Mark: And I- you know, I did eventually have high enough blood pressure that they didn’t want me, but the- I felt bad for years. One of my classmates, John Baloben, went and worked as a nurse in Vietnam, and I felt that I should do something like that. He was very committed, Quaker.Karen: Hm.Mark: And he ended up spending over half his life in Vietnam, wri- doing translations. He was a wonderful linguist and translator. Then came back, taught at State College, Pennsylvania.Karen: Ah.Mark: But he gave a huge amount of his life to that commitment.Karen: Mhm.Mark: That was a conscientious objection.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr
    Karen: And, of course, John had, John Phillips, who was the other Editor of the yearbook, went to Canada because of the war. And so, he developed his whole career in Canada.Mark: But he also went to Vietnam as a photographer, so he was…Karen: No, I think that was Hodierne, wasn’t it?Mark: Oh, Hodierne went to Vietnam as a photographer. So, again going to Vietnam without a... I’m not sure what his draft number was, but without a job, to become a war photographer.Karen: Yeah.
  • Karen Adkinson Reixach & Mark Schorr & Tamara Grbusic
    Karen: So, well, we could gas on for hours, couldn’t we?Mark: We already have.Karen: Thank you.Tamara: Thank you very much.
Alumni oral history interview with Karen Adkinson Reixach '66 and Mark Schorr '66. Recorded June 2, 2012.
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