‘Admission’ penned by alum, turned into film
By Amelia Rosch, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, February 22, 2013
Since her first day at Dartmouth in 1979, Jean Hanff Korelitz ’83 knew she wanted to become a writer. Her career began in the oak-paneled nooks of Sanborn Library, her favorite place to write. The bright and old-fashioned space even appears in her fifth novel, “Admission,” and her experience at the College in its early years of coeducation color the pages of her work.
“Admission” was adapted for the screen and stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, and will be released in theaters next month.
“I got to write about Sanborn in Sanborn,” she said.
Coming to the College unsure of herself, Korelitz looked to her writing to find her place on campus.
“I was admitted off the waiting list, and I came in with a feeling that I had to prove myself,” she said.
At the time, the creative writing program was largely underdeveloped, with only had two professors: one who taught fiction and another who taught poetry. Although she was an English major, Korelitz did not have many opportunities to practice creative writing until after she had graduated.
But the absence of such opportunities may have been to her benefit.
“I don’t know if just studying creative writing in college is a good idea,” Korelitz said. “Take religion, history, philosophy, literature, all that other stuff. You’ll have plenty of time for writing later.”
Korelitz’s experience at the College had a major impact on her work. Her 1999 novel, “The Sabbathday River,” is set in and around Hanover. A major plot component of “Admission” centers on the protagonist’s time at the College in the 1980s.
“Dartmouth creeps through my novels in all sorts of ways,” Korelitz said. “There are themes that just keep recurring, like the idea of remote natural beauty or the feeling of being a liberal person surrounded by conservatives.”
When she was a freshman, the College was in its seventh year of coeducation and a period of transition, and these changes strongly influenced her writing.
“I kept thinking about how the 1960s became the 1960s, how we went from being slightly more conservative to slightly more crazy,” she said. “I think I thought about this because we were in the middle of all this change because of coeducation.”
“Admission,” Korelitz’s fifth novel, was published in 2009 and tells the story of Portia Nathan, a Dartmouth alumnus who works as an admissions officer at Princeton University.
“I think I’ve really broken true with ‘Admission’,” she said. “I’m so lucky because I’ve done five novels, and I’m still going.”
While researching the application process, Korelitz worked as an application reader at Princeton and interviewed dean of admissions and financial aid Maria Laskaris.
“We talked about the fundamental parts of the process and how we focus on students as individuals,” Laskaris said.
Korelitz said one of her toughest decisions was whether to set “Admission” at Dartmouth and Princeton or at fictional equivalents.
She chose to remain true to the actual schools because it felt “too satirical” to create mock institutions in the novel. She hopes that “Admission” conveys her love of the College.
“I have really warm feelings for Dartmouth,” Korelitz said. “I come back for reunions and my daughter did a language program here one summer.”
Though the Dartmouth portions of the book were cut from the film adaption, Korelitz said she is satisfied with the movie’s interpretation of the book.
“It’s not an exact translation of the book,” she said. “It’s a variation on a theme.”
Dartmouth Bookstore general manager Bernadette Farrell said the store may put up a special display to advertise “Admission” when the movie is released, but details have yet to be finalized.