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Isaiah Berg: 40 Towns

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This space has previously covered one of Dartmouth’s bright lights, English Professor Jeff Sharlet. On the subject of student writing at Dartmouth, Professor Sharlet shared the following:

I’m not sure what accounts for the disconnect at Dartmouth. I think both sides of the equation suffer for it — creative writing would benefit from more students who want to go out and find their material in the world, and The Dartmouth would certainly benefit from a more powerful sense of storytelling — including the kind of storytelling that involves asking tough questions about motive and meaning.

A few months after writing this, 40 Towns went live. Dartmouth Now ran a story on the new online magazine, a “periodical of literary journalism about the Upper Valley by students in Jeff Sharlet’s creative nonfiction courses at Dartmouth College.”

I have been working my way through 40 Towns since then. It is filled with deep and captivating work, no doubt a reflection of the students’ abilities and also Professor Sharlet’s skill as a teacher.

Danny Valdes ‘13 wrote “The Shady Lady,” which explores the lives of people who call a gritty motel in White River Junction their home. His descriptions are evocative and unexpected:

The Shady Lawn Motel has no lawn, just a big dirty concrete parking lot. Behind the motel is an alley way and houses. On one side, the train station and on the other more houses. I walk down the stairs past two stacks of old TVs and a rusty bike. A woman comes out from her room with two little dogs. “Come on, assholes” she yells while pulling their leashes.

Lindsay Ellis ‘15 authored “Kings of the Counter,” which details her time spent at the counter with the regulars of The Fort:

The more facts of his pre-Fort life Stan gives me, the more gaps I see in his story. The dates and places switch in his retellings as he rubs his temples, kneads his hands. Korea. 2nd Battalion, 2nd Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment. He worked for a few years at the mills in Hartford, but fires, spurring layoffs and closures, gutted the industry. Then, H.W. Carter, “cah-tuh,” shipping and warehouse advisor for thirty years. Stan stayed, but ownership changed, from the Jackson family to residents of Foxboro, Maine, then to a New York firm.

Valdes and Ellis have written my favorite stories from the first issue, but there are more I have yet to read. Many students come and go from the College having never appreciated the local context and history of the Upper Valley, and the way that many of its people live in a world apart from an Ivy League liberal arts college. Professor Sharlet’s students will not have that problem, and hopefully their work will make richer the world of their readers.

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