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Starting Point: Hunter Arrow, Fall 1960

Between the years 1960-64 I cut my eyeteeth as a critic and cultural journalist by working on the Hunter College Arrow, the newspaper of Hunter College, City University of New York, while contributing poetry, short fiction, and a one-act play to the college’s literary magazine, the Echo. I did this while earning a B.A. in English Literature. In my senior year I edited the Arrow, preceded in that role by people like Paul Du Brul, Jack Newfield, Brian Sharoff, and Rita Dershowitz.

Hunter College students in the Roosevelt House library, 1950s. Courtesy Hunter College.

A reunion of those who worked on the Hunter Arrow in the 1950s and 1960s was held on Friday, May 7, 2010, at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, 47-49 E. 65th St., New York, NY. Recently reopened after substantial renovation, Roosevelt House was the New York City home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt until the death of FDR’s mother Sara in 1941. So the place feels imbued with history; and, since most of those who worked on the Arrow came from parents rooted in the left-wing/labor movement, it seemed an appropriate venue for this gathering.

Dorothea Lange, "San Francisco Unemployment Benefits Line."

That was enhanced, for me, by the presence on its walls of a small but powerful exhibition of photographs, “Picturing Policy: Legacies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt,” organized by Rickie Solinger. This exhibition combined images from the 1930s drawn from the files of the Farm Security Administration, the Office of War Information, and the National Archives, all relating to the Great Depression and the New Deal. Some were by figures like Dorothea Lange and John Collier; others were anonymous. All evoked the difficulties that the parents and grandparents of my cohort struggled through, whose influence had inevitably seeped into our consciousnesses as we came of age.

I hadn’t yet become involved with photography during my years at Hunter, which made it curious yet apropos to have such works present and visible during this quasi-homecoming. Meditating before the get-together on my deep four-year involvement with this college newspaper (and its sister publication, Echo, the school literary magazine), I gradually came to realize that it prefigured virtually everything that came afterward in my life as a professional writer — that the experience proved not just instructive but, in the deepest sense, formative. So, as I usually do, in part because of that early engagement with public commentary, I wrote something about it. This is the complete text of remarks I delivered at the reunion.

It’ll be be exactly 50 years next September that, in the fall of 1960, at the age of sixteen, I stepped onto the Bronx campus of Hunter College as a freshman and, a few days into the semester, walked through the door of the Hunter Arrow office.

Jack Kerouac, speaking about chance as a determining factor in one’s life, once wrote about how you can “make a turn down some alley and nothing is ever the same.” The Arrow office wasn’t exactly an alley — instead, a dingy, cramped space with beige walls, a ratty couch, several weathered desks, a manual typewriter or two, a telephone, and windows that had not seen washing for some decades, located in the top corner of an imitation stone castle intended to impress returning World War II vets there on the G. I. Bill. But that moment had the same transformative effect that any major turning point does. I wouldn’t say I saw myself as following a path in my life at that juncture; I knew I’d write as part of my future, but had no vision of what that would entail. Nonetheless, I can state now with confidence that my life would not have taken the shape it did if I hadn’t climbed those steps and crossed that threshold.

Between fall 1960 and spring 1964 I worked for the Arrow — first as a feature writer and reviewer, then as a weekly columnist, next as a sub-editor and editorial writer, and finally as editor-in-chief. Some of what I wrote fell into the category of reportage, some was criticism, some was what we now call op-ed writing, and most of it would probably get lumped under the new rubric of “cultural journalism.” No one had taught me how to do any of that when I started at the Arrow, and no one taught it to me formally during my four years at Hunter. The school offered some journalism courses, but I didn’t take any. I learned by doing, as I think we all did, and of course learned from my colleagues on the staff. I don’t mean to suggest, however, that we had no mature professional models. New York City was a metropolis rich in newspapers at that moment: the Times, the Post, the Daily News, the Village Voice, the Daily Mirror, the World-Telegram and Sun, the Journal American — don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? We read all of them, and their writers and editors were our teachers.

L-r: Richard Barr, Lewis Taishoff, Brian Sharoff, Allan Coleman, Blanche Wiesen Cook.

That scruffy little office — and the premises of Citywide Printers, the grimy, low-ceilinged Lower East Side print shop where we produced the paper — became my home away from home during those years. I spent most of my free time on campus there, much of my time in general in one or another of those spaces until we put out the final issue of the spring 1964 semester and I graduated. The people with whom I worked so intensely became, as I suppose is usually the case, my extended family.

Like many families, it had its dysfunctions. To the best of my knowledge, I was the only editor-in-chief of the Arrow up to that point, possibly still the only one ever, to be subjected to impeachment proceedings by a portion of his editorial board. The grounds, as I recall, were that I endorsed the full bifurcation of the two Hunter campuses and supported Roberta Kantor as my successor for the editorship. The separation of Hunter uptown, as we called the Bronx campus, and Hunter downtown, as we called the original Park Avenue location, seemed inevitable to me after several years of managing the logistics of a two-campus newspaper, though of course it also meant a diminution of the circulation and power of the Arrow, which is what upset some of my staff and editorial board. That divorce of the campuses happened anyway, in 1968, just a few years after I left.

And though Roberta — known to us all as Tom, having arrived with a Thomas Hunter scholarship — lost the open election for editor that year, she won it the next. So apparently others not under my influence thought she was fit for the job. I don’t know how well she did in that role. Perhaps someone else here today can speak to that. A year or so later she was dead. I can’t listen to the Neil Young song “The Needle (and the Damage Done)” without thinking of Roberta and wondering if our personal relationship — for we were lovers as well as colleagues on the paper — contributed to the burden of griefs that took her where she ended up so much too soon. Chalk her up among the missing but not forgotten at this gathering.  (Correction: Roberta died in 1973. See comments, below.)

In the event, the impeachment attempt failed, rejected by the Student Council, and I served out my term. But that experience has certainly flavored my memory of those years, so my mood today isn’t entirely nostalgic, though none of those who sought to remove me from office are present at this event to enrich the psychodynamics of the occasion for me, conceivably for them also.

At the urging of David Mairowitz, who’d edited Echo, the Hunter literary journal, in 1963, and graduated a year ahead of me, I went out to northern California in the fall of 1964 to take a master’s degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from San Francisco State. When I completed my thesis, a set of short stories, I promptly stopped writing poetry and short fiction for twenty years, returned to New York, and began working as a freelance cultural journalist. Shortly thereafter I developed a specialization in the history and criticism of photography, started a column on that subject in the Village Voice in 1968, and in 1970 began writing also for the New York Times. That led me to considering the new digital media as they emerged, so I’ve addressed that topic substantively for decades. And, for both print and online outlets, some of them local and some international, I’ve written about everything from art and politics to cooking and sex.

Since 1967, entirely freelance, I’ve published some 2000 essays in a wide assortment of periodicals, 8 books of my own critical writings (including five collections of my essays), and, avocationally, two volumes of poetry. That work in prose-essay form has been translated into 21 languages and published in 31 countries. I’ve also founded and edited publications (including online ones), and served on the editorial boards of others. In doing all that I’ve relied heavily on what I learned during my apprenticeship at the Arrow, working under people like Brian Sharoff and Rita Dershowitz. That’s where I cut my eyeteeth on the basics of reportage and investigative journalism; it’s where I developed my sense of relationship with a readership; it’s where I became addicted to seeing my name, and my words, in print; and it’s where I acquired my undeniable appetite for provocation, controversy, and confrontation — especially for “speaking truth to power.”

Indeed, just shy of a year ago I transformed an online newsletter I’d published since 1995 into a blog called Photocritic International. While it includes a diversity of material, its primary focus has become the attempted dismantling of the unique and world-famous Polaroid Collection. This complex story involves two bankruptcies of two major corporations in two states over a ten-year period, one of them consequent to the collapsed multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme of Tom Petters, sentenced last winter to 50 years in the pen. My blog, which has received 416,000 pageviews since December 26, 2009, has become action central in the last-ditch effort to save the collection. Along the way I’ve been threatened with whopping lawsuits by a bankruptcy-court trustee in Minneapolis and Sotheby’s auction house in New York. But one possible outcome of my digging and probing and advocacy may be that the collection will get preserved intact as the irreplaceable cultural resource it is. So I proceed undeterred.

Photographer unknown, "Hot Lunch, Tennessee."

I can say, in all honesty, that I don’t think I’d be doing this if I hadn’t undergone the shaping experience of writing those early columns and editorials for the Arrow that pissed off Hillel and the Young Americans for Freedom and the Hunter administration and members of my own staff and editorial board (and, yes, also writing a one-act play about the death of God that got published in Echo in 1963 and nearly brought down censorship on the entire CUNY student-publication system). To put it another way, I trace a direct line from choosing to take those stands in print during my years at Hunter, and dealing with the public consequences thereof, to making a decision to spend the past year digging through legal documents and old news stories to unearth nuggets of pertinent information, contacting sources and extracting quotes, writing and publishing regular updates, and feeding information and leads to other reporters at other publications, all at my own expense, because I think the cause is just and someone needs to speak up for it.

What I’m proposing, in short, is that working on and writing for the Hunter Arrow didn’t just develop in me the ability to write rapidly and well, an awareness of solid journalistic practice, rudimentary editorial savvy, and the sometimes unwelcome skill of immediately identifying typos in any printed material that passes before my eyes. It made a full citizen of me, in the deepest sense in which I understand that word, by teaching me the price you have to be prepared to pay when you embrace that role.

It’s a lesson that’s stood me in good stead for half a century. For that I’m grateful, without qualification, to everyone with whom I shared those long days in that grungy third-floor office and those late nights in the East 4th St. print shop, drinking coffee gone cold from the diner on Avenue A and correcting inky proofs while the linotype machine chattered away under Gene Tasone’s fingers in the next room.

Postscript: There’s a curious link between the end of my involvement with the Arrow and the start of my career as a freelance cultural journalist. While the staff and I put together the final issue of the spring semester, way past midnight at Citywide Printers, I struck up a conversation with a man who introduced himself as Jerome Agel. Jerry had come to oversee the printing of another publication, a small newspaper (we’d probably call it a newsletter now) about the workings of the publishing industry. He gave me his card and, upon learning that I planned to leave shortly for the west coast, told me to look him up if and when I returned to New York.

I kept that card. Two and a half years later, when I headed east again after grad school, I gave Jerry a call. He still published that little paper, and I wrote an article for him. More importantly, he’d started working with Marshall McLuhan as the packager of mass-market paperbacks with experimental image-text layouts. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, which appeared in early 1967, became a bestseller for Bantam Books and a cult classic.

The team had just produced an LP version thereof, on the Columbia label. One day Jerry handed me an advance review copy of the record, suggesting that I write about it and see if I could get that published. Soon thereafter the Village Voice ran it, on its front page — initiating a six-year relationship with that paper, and kicking off my life as a permanent freelance writer.

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20 comments to Starting Point: Hunter Arrow, Fall 1960

  • Colin Guenther

    Hi. I attended a concert at Hunter College on October 20th, 1967. The main act was the Jefferson Airplane. I am trying to confirm that Joni Mitchell was the opening act. Since the concert may have been advertised and/or reviewed by the Hunter Arrow, I wonder if you would know of anyone who might be able to answer my question, such as a staff member of the Arrow in 1967.

    Many thanks.

    • That’s several years after my time at Hunter. Per my essay, the two campi didn’t split formally till 1968, so the Arrow would still have served both uptown and downtown Hunter when that concert took place on October 20th, 1967. Undoubtedly it would have been advertised in the Arrow, and almost certainly reviewed therein.

      I’d assume that the libraries of Hunter College (Manhattan) and Lehman College (Bronx — the former Hunter uptown) include back files of the Arrow. I also assume that the current Hunter College newspaper, The Envoy, and the current Lehman College newspaper, The Meridian, have — or have access to — such archives. A call or email to either of them should elicit the confirmation you seek.

      Coincidentally, the San Francisco band in which I sang lead and played rhythm guitar 1965-67, Daemonlover, had second billing to the Jefferson Airplane at the “Edwardian Ball,” a homecoming event sponsored by the Associated Students of San Francisco State College at the Fillmore Auditorium, November 6, 1966. Here’s the poster, designed by Stanley Mouse of Mouse Studios and printed by the Bindweed Press. Our band’s name appears in almost invisible small type in the lower left, just above the date. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

      Edwardian Ball poster 1966

  • Ed Gorin

    You bring back a lot of memories, Rita, and it was nice to remember Roberta. You are right in how important those years on the Arrow meant to all of us, although we obviously did not know it at the time.

    I went on to a career in newspapers, then hospital administration, then ran my own marketing agency in Miami and was a columnist for the Miami Herald before retiring two years ago. Married 41 years, two kids, two grandchildren and another on the way.

    I found out about the reunion at the last minute and it was too late to attend, but I would love to be in touch with you and others again. I’m still in touch with Ira Furman, who has some photos from those years.

    Those were really good years.

    • Rita? Eddie, I think you’re confusing me with Rita Dershowitz, who preceded me by a year as editor, and groomed me for the slot.

      But good to hear from you, and to know where you landed after Hunter. I’d enjoy seeing whatever photos Ira has of us back then.

  • Ed Gorin

    I saw your posting but was responding to the original article that Rita wrote about the reunion and recalling her Hunter days.

    Give me your email and I will get photos to you. I think you are in one or two. We were SO young!

    Let me know how you have spent your life and with whom you are in touch.

  • Ed Gorin

    Oh, I see now that YOU wrote the article! Sorry about that. I am, after all, old and feeble.

  • “Found” you again courtesy of Ed Gorin. I am sure we corresponded about something after Roberta’s death. Good to hear you are so diversified and so focused at the same time. Can you remind me why I associate you with pictures of a tombstone? Charles Parker?

    I have shared some pictures with Ed that I found going back to a New Year’s Eve party at your home in Manhattan attended by Barr, Gorin, Wolman, Dershowitz, Tom, Mara, Elaine and her sister.

    I, too, suffer from spotting typographical errors and smiled at that reference.

    In summary, my career went from full-time newsman while still in my senior year, to Consumer Reports magazine as its spokesman, then deputy director at the FTC, before a similar post at the NTSB where I participated in aircraft and railroad disaster investigations. Law school along the way. After a partnership, now in solo practice and I operate a private investigation business that safeguards high value movements through JFK.

    My son is vice-president for corporate affairs at Mars International Chocolate and my wife and I of 40+ years have two grandsons.
    Be well,

    ijf

    • Long time no see, Ira.

      You may have been the one who sent me the New York Times clippings about Roberta Kantor’s censorship uproar during her editorship of the Arrow, and another about her death from a heroin overdose a year or so later. I was in San Francisco at the time.

      In spring 1964 I published a story in Echo, the Hunter literary magazine, about making a pilgrimage to the Kansas City grave of jazz musician Charlie Parker, and making snapshots of his grave marker. I later turned that into a little artist’s book, including the images.

      Amazing what bits and pieces stick to the pipes as experience flows through us.

  • Allan,
    Many thanks for the article and the picture of us at the Hunter Arrow reunion. Special thanks to Alan Richman, editor 1959-60, who devoted many hours to enabling the reunion. So many memories! Best wishes to all.

  • William Moskoff

    I, too, used to write for the Hunter Arrow, from 1957-??? I have been looking for a long time to make contact with Rita Dershowitz and I would be most grateful for an e-mail address or telephone number.

    Bill Moskoff

    William Moskoff
    Hollender Professor Emeritus of Economics
    Lake Forest College
    Lake Forest, IL 60045

    • No one at the Arrow reunion knew how to reach Rita. I’ve tried periodically to find her online, with no success. If you locate her (and she wants to hear from people from her past), encourage her to post a comment here at my blog with her contact info.

  • Mara Beck

    Hi Allan – Not to be argumentative but Roberta didn’t pass away until August 1973 – quite a few years after she graduated from Hunter…..sorry I missed you at the reunion last year. You look pretty much the same as I remember.

    Mara

    • You’re quite right about that, Mara — more than “a year or so later,” to be sure. Thanks for the correction. I looked up the New York Times report of her death (“Ex-College Editor and Man, 41, Found Dead Here From Apparent Overdoses,” by Mary Breasted, August 22, 1973 — available in their archive to subscribers). It includes a brief account of her stormy time at Hunter after I graduated and left New York. There’s more about that in an earlier Times story, “HUNTER SUSPENDS PAPER AND EDITOR; Dispute Leads to Defiance by Bronx Publication,” March 5, 1966, also in the NYT archive.

  • Chilling because it brings back so so many memories of moments, some of which I would like to forget, but others that are ineradicable. Now, with two sons, divorced, I hang onto stuff like this. It connects me with a past that really isn’t so much past at all but an update to what I liked to think happened long ago in a galaxy far away. You can’t lose yourself. Ask me: I tried.

  • Hi, Allan,
    I never attended Hunter, but my husband, Marc, did. He, too, was on the staff of the Arrow, and had many fond memories of the staff. Unfortunately, he died eight years ago. I know he would have been happy to reconnect with you.

  • Hi A.D.:

    Interesting, I’ve enjoyed your columns over the years and never realized there was some sort of a Hunter connection. I found this page because I was nostalgic for Roberta and for the first time since my 1992 web connection I did a Roberta Kantor search.

    I still miss her and her face and voice appear as clearly as ever in this now slightly used memory. I’m surprised that Richard Goldstein’s name has not come up as he was also involved with the Arrow as I seem to recall; and finally his Drugs on Campus book which pissed a few fellow students off.

    I was never an Arrow member and took first took up photography in 1967; then a year later I started my association with Rolling Stone from the West Coast, remaining on the masthead until Annie Leibowitz took over.

    All the best,
    Robert

    http://www.altmanphoto.com

    • A. D. Coleman

      Good to hear from you after all this time.

      During my years at Hunter, and on the Hunter Arrow (fall ’60-spring ’64), Richie Goldstein worked for the Uptowner, the weekly mimeographed handout that concerned itself mostly with doings on the Bronx campus. The Arrow, which came out twice weekly, printed on newsprint in a much larger edition, covered both the Bronx and Manhattan campi.

      I dimly recall that, at the end of the spring ’64 semester, the Uptowner merged with the Arrow, which in practice simply meant that assorted Uptowner editorial staffers, including Goldstein, became Arrow staffers. Charlotte Linde succeeded me as EIC of the Arrow, and Roberta succeeded her.

  • Barry Boyce

    Hello Allan: No idea how I managed to find this site, but you will remember me as the freshman who worked as Sports Editor on the Arrow in 1962-63.

    Incredible to find you and the others who have responded. Those were such significant days for me and I think back on them just about daily.

    I went on to do a variety of things, including a graduate fellowship in brain research, 2 years in the Peace Corps in Uganda (just prior to Idi Amin), science textbook editing at Prentice Hall, and then my real love – I started a company in the 1980s to offer natural history workshops to the Galapagos Islands – did that for over 25 years, sold the company and retired. Wrote a book, currently in the 4th ed, called A Travelers Guide to The Galapagos Islands.

    Saddened to hear by the passing of Tom (Roberta). I’m not much on reunions but I would have loved to have been there in 2010. Would very much like to hear from you and others that remember me. BTW, with your specialty in the history of photography, do you know, at least by name, Alan Cohen (my cousin), and Gail Greene (Buckland), an ex. from the 1960s.

    Love to all,

    Barry Boyce

    • A. D. Coleman

      My goodness! Sure I remember you, though not in great detail; 1962-63 was my junior year at Hunter, and I was getting ready to take over the editorship of the Arrow.

      In the course of my professional life I’ve crossed paths with your cousin, the photographer Alan Cohen, and, more frequently and at greater length, the photo-historian and teacher Gail Buckland. Six degrees, eh?

  • Barry Boyce

    Good to hear from you Allan. My Hunter days were very significant for me, a true awakening. I would love to hear from anyone that remembers me from the Arrow days. Without taking up much of your time, is there a summary of where we all are now. The names in yr blog I certainly remember, and then there was Charlotte, Lennie,
    Joanne Beane, etc. Would love to get together sometime. I can be reached at barryboyce at juno dot com

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