by BRITTANY BROWN Sports Editor, Plainsman Press, May 1, 2015
Permission requested; this article appears on p. 11.
Not very many people wake up and instantly know what they want out of life. That’s not the case for author Anita Harris. Harris grew up in Albany, New York and always knew she wanted to write. “I can’t remember not wanting to be an author,” says Harris, who recently wrote a book about her college experiences. “When I was growing up and expressed an idea, my father would say, ‘That’s interesting; You should write a book about that.’
Harris set out to do just that. She attended Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences in 1966, where she led a demonstration against the military on graduation day in 1970. In between were draftcard burning demonstrations, fires, beatings, an iconic building takeover by 140 black students who emerged with rifles, and the National Guard’s shootings of 13 students at Kent State University.
Harris continued her education at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism from 1974-1975. As a journalist, Harris has covered everything from feminism, law, justice, and environmental affairs for news outlets such as Newsday and PBS. Harris later attended Harvard University from 1981- 1982 as a Nieman Fellow.
During Harris’ freshman year at Cornell, her writing instructor, James McConkey, who is mentioned in the book, encouraged her to keep a diary. “As a student at Cornell, I knew I was living through an amazing time and kept the diaries, in part, because I hoped to write about them one day,” explains Harris.
Harris’ recently published book, “Ithaca Diaries,” is a memoir of her college experiences in the tumultuous 1960s. During that time, students and the nation first confronted a new era of racial unrest, drugs, Vietnam War protests, rock music, and burgeoning movements for women’s and African-American rights. With the current campus demonstrations against racism, sexism and university investments along with concerns about climate change and U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, “Ithaca Diaries” is extremely timely.
Also, with upcoming graduations and the 45th anniversary of the Kent State shootings on May 4, the diaries couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I wrote the book to keep a promise to myself to understand what had happened, and why, and to pass on that understanding to a new generation,” says Harris. Not only does “Ithaca Diaries” inform others, but it gave Harris the opportunity to relive her past.
“Researching and writing “Ithaca Diaries” gave me a chance to revisit and understand a very important, formative time in my life, and to share those formative experiences with others,” Harris says. Even though the book touches on many controversial topics, Harris is able to use humor to lighten it up and add her own experiences to give it a more personal feel.
“Readers seem to find it laugh-out-loud funny, but also intensely serious,” explains Harris. “Most appreciate the interweaving of my personal story with events of the day.” Harris says her most gratifying response to the book came from her former instructor, McConkey, who, at 94 years old, “told me he loved the book,” says Harris.
“Ithaca Diaries” is a must read for people of all ethnicities. It shows just how far the country has come, but also shows the progress it still needs to make.