Research Trip: Princeton University

Come with me on a research trip to Princeton University.

Make the approach under a canopy of trees on a drive one could easily imagine Model Ts or horse-draw carriages traveling. Cross a slim channel and a set of athletic fields, freshly mowed and lined. Walk with me up a hill, past historic brick and stone houses where the echoes of rowdy egoists still linger on the leaded glass windows and important stone crests.

Enter the great Princeton Arch, just one of many passages from here to there on campus, that act as portals or as frames for the views through them.


Pass the ivy covered buildings and social halls until you enter the great shadow of the chapel, imposing its silent discipline on the courtyard.











As you approach the Library you are conscious of those who’ve tread these cobblestones before you, the sounds of their footsteps mingling with your own, the air of old money.

On the approach to the Special Collections Wing, you walk through an exhibit on Irish writers. The eyes of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Oscar Wilde stare out from old sketches and photographs as you pass, quieting you. You may not bring your camera or personal possessions into the research room. You are only allowed a pencil and paper provided by the University for what you seek.

While you wait for the assistant to bring your materials you bask in the unexpected pleasure of the primitive note-taking materials: the scratch of the pencil over the orange paper, its woody scent mingling with the wood of the wall panels. You reflect that the act of erasure is a lost art–the revelation of old words under new words, that not all thoughts are finished thoughts. There is purity in these layered marks.

When the folders are brought, you are astonished to see exactly what you crave is here waiting for you. The records begin in 1932, right in the time and place your new novel begins. Then you accept the gift because you know down to your bones that when the Universe winks at you, you are on the right path.


11 thoughts on “Research Trip: Princeton University

  1. Sounds wonderful. Thank you for sharing this experience, Erika! Best wishes for the new novel you are embarking on writing.

  2. “you walk through an exhibit on Irish writers. The eyes of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Oscar Wilde… ”

    Sigghh. Man weren’t those some of the greats, the masters, the all-star wordsmiths. To write in the aura of Joyce’s ghost alone must’ve been intimidating.

  3. Finnegans Wake doesn’t make sense, intimidation, perfectly.

  4. Anna Elliott says:

    You’re making me homesick! We lived in Princeton until a year and a half ago. It’s such a beautiful place.

  5. Oh, Erika. It sounds like you had a great trip. I love old buildings and their smells. The history of the place must have taken your breath away.

    Love the pictures!

  6. I love this post, Erika… your POV is wonderful. Can you imagine doing that for an entire novel? (Yikes!) But I love it for this post.

    Also, Princeton is a favorite of mine. When I lived in Yardley (across the river in Pennsylvania), Brooke Shields went to Princeton, and friends saw her daily. A funny thing to think, especially at the impressionable age I was then (6th, 7th grade –er, a baby, of course! Showing my age.) The ivy-covered playground that is Princeton is one like no other in all the world. I can only imagine your library experience! Wonderful. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • erikarobuck says:

      Jennifer–I can’t imagine sustained 2nd p POV, though it does allow even greater intimacy with the reader than 1st person. It feels like I’m conspiring with the reader or sharing a little secret.

      Thanks for your comments, everyone!

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