Calvert School’s alumni community boasts many successful authors whose articles, books, screenplays, and other works cover a diverse range of topics and interests. The early foundation received at Calvert provided these writers with the skills necessary to produce notable content. It is no surprise that the authors, poets, playwrights, journalists, essayists, memoirists, and novelists who attended Calvert first have been among the most well-known writers in America.
John Bordley “Jack” Rawls ’33 was one of the foremost political philosophers of the 20th century. His influential book, A Theory of Justice, now occupies a place in the canon of political philosophy next to the great political works of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, and Kant. Bruno Babij ’09 studied A Theory of Justice, along with another of Dr. Rawls’ books titled Political Liberalism, during his time at Stanford University. Bruno wrote, “Dr. Rawls was an exceptional philosopher and, by all accounts, an unfailingly modest and compassionate man. I am grateful to have studied his work and feel honored to have in common a Calvert education.”
John Waters ’58, just wrapped up a book tour for the release of his ninth book entitled Mr. Know-It-All, The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. The 73-year-old writer, director, and actor still lives in Baltimore. “If I think back on it, the only things I ever learned at school were at Calvert,” revealed Waters. “I remember writing at Calvert School more than anything. Compositions, friendly letters, business letters, sympathy notes, even letters to the editors of national magazines, and that’s what I do for a living today. I write everything. I write spoken word shows, I write eulogies. I write my movies, I write my books. My artwork is conceptual artwork. I think it up before I do it, so that is written too. That’s what I do. I think up weird things and get paid for it.”
Frank DeFord ’51 captured a broad audience as one of the most versatile American writers of his time. From 1962 until his death in 2017, Deford wrote for several magazines, but the majority of his time was spent with Sports Illustrated magazine. Also an accomplished novelist, Deford wrote 18 books, nine of which were novels. Frank appeared regularly on NPR’s Morning Edition as a Sports Commentator and was a correspondent for Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. In 2012, Deford became the first magazine recipient of the Red Smith Award. A year later, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal, and he became the first sports journalist ever to receive the National Press Foundation's highest honor, the W.M. Kiplinger Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism.
Frank’s brothers, Gill Deford ’60 and Mac Deford ’54, remember Frank showing an early interest in writing. “He started a regular newspaper, one or two typed pages, in the Twelfth Age,” Mac recalled. “So, Calvert was really the beginning of his writing career!” Gill, who was nine years younger than Frank, looked back fondly on the memories of his big brother and his affinity for writing “Frank realized at a young age that he had a talent for writing and he fell in love with it. He wrote all the time. He had just finished one book and was working on another when he died.”
The Great Gatsby novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was not the only writer in the family. Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald ’33, this only child, attended Calvert and later became a well-known writer and journalist for such notable publications as The Washington Post and The New Yorker.
Scottie's schoolmate, Tom Cassilly ’35, recently had this to say about her: “I remember our student play like it was yesterday. The scene was set in the 16th century when Britain invaded the city of Calais. I played the British King, and Scottie was Queen. Starvation eventually ensued in Calais. Westy Fenhagen ’35 was playing the part of a starved townsman, when he choked on the bread he was given by Scottie. He spit out the bread on Scottie’s pink evening gown, and Scottie screamed in horror. The curtain was drawn, and we never finished the play. Years later, in Washington, D.C., I saw Scottie at a dinner and asked her if she remembered the play. Her response was, ‘I’ve never forgotten or forgiven!'”
Jean Harvey Baker ’45 is an American historian and professor emerita at Goucher College. Jean has played an important role in advocating for increased recognition of the role of women in society. Throughout her life, women were frequently excluded from historical and academic narratives. Her stories about suffragists explored these deficits. Over the years, Jean received many honors including being elected an American Council of Learned Societies fellow in 1976; the faculty teaching prize at Goucher College in 1979; a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow in 1982; and winning the Berkshire Prize in History in 1983 for her book Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. She also received the Willie Lee Rose prize in Southern History in 1989 and was a Newberry Library fellow in 1991.
Joe Hooper ’69 got his start at a weekly newspaper in California called The Palo Alto Weekly. He migrated to Manhattan which, at the time, was the hub of vibrant magazine culture. Joe learned you could make a living as a free- lance magazine writer and he did, writing for publications like Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, Elle, Popular Science, and Men’s Journal. These days, Joe is concentrating on books, and he recently shared “I’ve got two non-fiction book projects in the works, one health, one true crime, and if they go anywhere, you’ll read about it in these pages.”
So where does Calvert fit into all this? Joe says “Calvert was really good at driving home the fundamentals of reading, spelling, writing.” Joe recalls a time when his Ninth Age teacher, Mac Gillet, handed back his two-page essay on Greek mythology. “I had four gold stars pasted at the top of mine. That made an impression. I was a good student but, I knew I would never have the kind of brain that could unravel extra-credit math problems the way a couple of my classmates could. But writing? That was going to be my thing.”
Eric Puchner ’82 is the author of the novel Model Home, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and two collec- tions of stories, Music Through the Floor and Last Day on Earth, which won the 2018 Towson Award for Literature. His work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including GQ, Granta, Tin House, Zoetrope, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, and The Best American Short Stories 2012 and 2017. He has received a California Book Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Eric is now a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and he lives in Baltimore with his wife, novelist Katharine Noel, and their two children.
Eric said, “I think by getting me to write early, and to write a lot, Calvert helped demystify the process for me and taught me that clarity and precision were the hallmarks of good writing (not wordiness). But really it was the number of books we read that left the most lasting impression. I wouldn’t have had any interest in becoming a writer if I hadn’t fallen in love with short stories and novels, and Calvert gave me the first nudge in that direction. I also have excellent grammar!”
Miranda Rose Hall ’01 is a playwright who splits time between Baltimore and Brooklyn. Her plays include Plot Points in Our Sexual Development (LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater, finalist for the 2019 Lambda Literary Award in Drama), The Hour of Great Mercy (Diversionary Theater), Bulgaria! Revolt! (upcoming at Single Carrot Theatre), and A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction. She has developed her work with theaters around the country, and she is currently under commission from LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater, Yale Repertory Theater, and Trinity Repertory Company. She is a founding member and resident playwright of LubDub Theatre Company, and she has taught at Georgetown and Wesleyan University. She received her BA from Georgetown and her MFA from the Yale School of Drama.
“I adored Ms. Smith’s composition classes. She was my writing teacher for many years. She was such a wonderful model for the imagination, precision, and courage you need to be a writer. Thanks to her, I still write mostly with pencil and paper when I compose first drafts and revise!”
Andrew Schapiro ’95 is the former Head of Brand Creative at Airbnb, where he worked since the company’s inception. He appreciates the value of communication and traces it back to his days as a student at Calvert. “As a designer, the product of my work tends to be visual. However, the process of getting to a final creative solution requires research and clear communication. Words shape a brand as much as the visuals. I credit Calvert with instilling in me a passion for words—what they mean, how they are structured, and how to use them to build a compelling narrative. I have an advantage in my work today because I can communicate an idea or tell a story in writing with ease and clarity. The lessons I learned in writing at Calvert will benefit me for a lifetime.”
Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley ’83 is the Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She lectures around the country and abroad and is the author of numerous books and articles. She is currently writing the first-ever catalogue of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s celebrated American furniture collection, to be published in 2020. Alexandra serves on the Curatorial Advisory Board of the United States Senate’s Commission on Art; is a trustee of The Delaware Historical Society and The Andalusia Foundation, which oversees the Biddle family’s Delaware River estate; and is a member of the Board of Governors of The Decorative Arts Trust. “Writing–especially about art – takes creativity and discipline, an essential but tricky balance derived from Calvert’s curriculum. Of course, Calvert’s strength in the fundamentals of grammar prove tremendously helpful too. The better one’s grammar, the more smoothly and effectively one can convey ideas--and the more editors and readers will enjoy the writing!”
Dr. Bruce Beehler ’64 is an ornithologist and naturalist. Throughout his 37-year professional career, Bruce worked for the Smithsonian Institution, Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the U.S. Department of State. Beehler is now retired and serves as a research associate in the Division of Birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Beehler’s scientific research focused on birds and rainforests of the Asia-Pacific region. In 2007, Beehler’s field research was featured in a “60 Minutes” piece that described an expedition he led to the mountains of western New Guinea, where the team discovered more than 100 species of plants and animals new to science. Today, Beehler focuses on writing about the natural history of North America, based on solo camping field trips he takes across the continent. Bruce had this to say about his elementary school’s influence, “Calvert allowed me to pursue my early natural history interests (I recall doing my Ninth Age report on woodpeckers!), but also provided a strong foundation in the basics of writing that still benefits me today.”
The alumni highlighted here constitute only a portion of our notable alumni authors; this article is in no way is a complete listing of our accomplished and published alumni. For a comprehensive list of authors, please visit www.calvertschoolmd.org/authors.