College Left Lasting Impressions on Renee Chinquapin ’69

Renee Chinquapin ’69 is a writer of plays, poetry and travelogues who lives in Salzburg, Austria. After Columbia, she studied languages and psychology, taught in Europe and the San Francisco Bay Area and managed an organic fruit ranch, but abandoned all to write. Chinquapin is currently revisiting all the great museums of Europe and learning 1930s French and German chansons on the guitar.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was born with “Harvard Law School” imprinted on my forehead, but I didn’t make the grade, bitterly disappointing my father. Settling for Columbia, I was nonetheless the absolute pre-law nerd: short hair, bulky black glasses, huge ears and a god-awful know-it-all attitude masking the usual teenage insecurity about everything.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

My John Jay roommate was rightfully indignant to be living with me. His buddy would hang out and together they doo-wopped and Strolled endlessly as I furiously wrote CC papers and tried to make sense out of The Satyricon for Moses Hadas GSAS 1930. The roommate wanted me out and I obliged, landing into The Great Gatsby with as preppy a born-to-rule, White-Man-with-a-Sportscar as I’d ever met who also was less than overjoyed to be living with me. So I switched again and got a lanky Polish math whiz who dropped out and was replaced by a commuting Chasid from Brooklyn, all of which most definitely was my real education!

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

The first day of Robert Belknap SIPA’57, GSAS’69’s Lit Hum class was, of course, on The Iliad. He began by asking us what we thought of it. Huh? Me, having an opinion on that ponderous war-is-holy tome? Wasn’t just finishing it enough?

But I never read anything afterward without forming my own personal opinion of it, because of my forever-internalized Belknap.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

The Butler Reading Room was located in mid-Lothian, not America. It could have been Cambridge, England, or Oxford, but it sure wasn’t teetering on the cliff overlooking civil rights-seething Harlem. It was there I did my extracurricular studying (I admit it, I was a goody-two-shoes — I wanted to know everything!) soaking up R.R. Palmer’s A History of Modern Europe, scribbling twaddle for The Sundial, daydreaming about an upcoming trip to Europe.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

In my senior year, my girlfriend, Jan, and I couldn’t find digs and so housed in one of the 114th Street frats that had an extra room. Sympathy for the Devil was blasted day and night and they had no clue whatsoever of civility, hygiene or that school was for learning.

But I credit both CCs — the College and Contemporary Civilization — with my passion for European art, music, history ... you name it!