John Jay Dinner 2002
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  Peter Cincotti '05
Student Spotlight:
  Alisa Weilerstein '04
Columbia College Fund
  Turns 50


Roar Lion Roar


Herman Wouk ’34 Raises Caine, Again

By Alex Sachare '71

Jerome Charyn '59
Herman Wouk '34 reads from The Caine Mutiny at the Kraft Center.

He entered the College at 16 and graduated at 20 after serving as a staff writer of the Spectator and editor of the Jester, a portent of literary things to come. Herman Wouk ’34 went on to become one of this nation’s greatest storytellers, and he recently returned to Morningside Heights to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Caine Mutiny.

Wouk’s reading on February 7 at the Kraft Family Center for Jewish Student Life had been postponed from last fall following the events of September 11. The event was held in conjunction with the Rare Books and Manuscript Library, where many of Wouk’s papers are housed.

Wouk briefly addressed the audience of several hundred, reflecting on what he described as the unexpected success of his novels, which include Winds of War and War and Remembrance. He also reflected on his days at the College, which awarded him the Alexander Hamilton Medal for distinguished service and accomplishment in 1980. “Columbia is, in effect, a philosopher’s holiday,” Wouk said at the time, referring to the title of a book by one of his favorite professors, Irwin Edman ’16. “Philosopher, because you came to grips with ideas and values that matter most. Holiday, because it is exciting and alive and great fun. It’s a glorious school. I owe what skill I have in the wielding of the English language to what I learned at Columbia.”

The son of Russian Jewish parents who emigrated from Minsk, Wouk grew up in the Bronx, attended public schools and enrolled at Columbia at a time “when great numbers of Americans, young and old, came to believe that the capitalist system had betrayed the citizenry, and that the whole structure was obsolete and doomed. We had a spell of upheaval and agitation at Morningside; it took place in the spring, as those things do. Thirty-five years had to pass before an equally radical crisis in American life, the Vietnam War, would evoke in Columbia College a comparable springtime storm.

“Trustees are embarrassed at such tempestuous moments, and alumni fret. As my hair has gone from thin and black to thin and gray, I have evolved from a vocal demonstrator to an anxious fretter. But now, as then, I am secretly proud of what these rough moments indicate. My school dwells at the leading edge of social events and of progressive thought. Its situation in New York, the world’s greatest city, so wealthy, dazzling and racked by change, guarantees this. In the long, quiet years, as well as in the brief troubled outbursts, Columbia is — to use the vivid jargon of the moment — where it’s at.”

In introducing Wouk, who will be 87 on May 27, Dean Austin Quigley called him a writer who “has displayed a variety of talents — an indispensable gift as a storyteller, a capacity to create vivid and original characters, a remarkable ability to depict in evocative detail social and historical situations, a highly developed sense of humor and irony, and in the midst of it all, a strong sense of moral imperative, of the importance of understanding how human beings make choices, how people invoke, abandon and defend values. This is not the moral imperative of an ideologue who thinks he knows what is best for everyone in all circumstances, but the moral imperative of someone who recognizes with sympathy and humor the force of the old phrase that if we do not all hang together, we will surely hang separately.”

Quigley concluded his introduction by describing Wouk as “a true son of Columbia, a man of great religious faith, great artistic talent, and great human achievement.”


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