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Kathleen Balet Hill '62

Kathleen Balet Hill '62

Congratulations to Kathleen as she was featured as one of our writers during our Meet the Writers series on November 2, 2010.

Please visit Kathleen's website for more information.

Kathleen Hill2

What Being a Manhattanville Alumna Means to Me...

We were the class of 1962 and were to experience the transforming changes of the 60's. But our time at Manhattanville was still very much part of the pre-Vatican II world that would soon disappear. What strikes me now, though, as matter for gratitude, were the vital concerns  - reflected in some of the courses we were taking, in some of the social justice activities on campus - that anticipated those changes. In Mother Adele Fiske's course, "Religions of the World," we spent one semester reading the texts of Western religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; in the second semester we studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Lao Tsu. Mother Fiske would say speculatively that if she were given the choice she'd wear saffron robes, like a Buddhist monk. She told us that at their center all religions - the mystical strain that expressed itself at the heart of each of them' were fundamentally the same. And so when Vatican II arrived with its call for travel across old boundaries and borders, we were unsurprised, ready.

The same might be said of our view of the social changes that were already underway. In the fall of 1960, when we were juniors, JFK was elected president and Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and jailed in Atlanta for leading sit-ins. Buses began leaving Manhattanville on weekends to join those working for civil rights in the south. Some of us accompanied Mother Ruth Dowd and Mother Mary Clark to listen to Robert G. Pollack, the philosopher, whose incarnational thinking forever changed the way we imagined the world. Teillard de Chardin's books were on the verge of wide recognition but we had already glimpsed something of his vision.

"It (Manhattanville) prepared us for a lifetime of concern for social justice and civil rights."

This was the last of the "old" Manhattanville, but what strikes me now is how modern, how adventurous, some of it was. It prepared us for a lifetime of concern for social justice and civil rights. It pointed the way to an ecumenical embrace of religions other than our own. It became a point of reference long after its particular way of life had disappeared.  

kathleen hill 4Currently, I teach in the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence College. My novel Still Waters in Niger was named a notable book by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award. The French translation, Eaux tranquilles, was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Étranger. My stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize XXV, and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories.

Still Waters in Niger is set in West Africa and tells the story of the narrator"s return to a country where she'd lived when she was in her twenties and where two of her children were born. She is visiting her daughter who is working in a clinic and first-hand views the reality of famine. The novel tries to describe the relationship between a mother and daughter at a time when the daughter is newly grown.

kathleen hill 3Who Occupies this House, my second novel, will appear with TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press, in October 2010. It's set in the house where I grew up, in Pelham, and evokes the lives of four generations of an Irish American family who lived there for almost a century. In every generation a child is lost, but in the end the narrator acquires some new recognitions that allow her to re-imagine the life that is hers. 




The advance blurb that was written about Who Occupies This House:

In the tradition of To The Lighthouse and Howards End, Kathleen Hill's Who Occupies This House explores the uncanny power of a family house to pervade and permeate the lives of generations. With a lyric precision, she insists that we rethink what it is to be American, inhabiting our complicated history, a history which, for this family, includes the history of Ireland and the shifting and uneasy place of Catholics over a century of American life. All the important subjects are treated here: birth, death, betrayal, loyalty, remembrance, forgetfulness, the wounding silences and the choking secrets kept in the name of love. It is an entirely original book that makes us feel and see and understand.

Mary Gordon