Richard Fariņa at Cornell

  • Photos of Richard Fariņa
  • His professors and classmates
  • Odds and Ends


    Fariņa the Frat Boy
    With Delta Upsilon, in the back row, seventh from left. Probably 1956.

    Duelin' Dick
    A joke edition of The Cornell Sun announces: "Hotel Student Slain in Early Morning Duel. Austrian Student Kills Friend in Clash Over Weekend Date." The story is not credited, but was most likely written by Fariņa, considering the wacky names of the characters (Duc de Pot de Chambre, etc.) and the sly jabs at repressive campus rules.



    Richard in a student production of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood.

    Richard the Rebel
    The legendary student demonstration of May 23, 1958, which made its way into Been Down So Long. Photos from the Cornell Daily Sun. The students charged were Richard Fariņa '59, Kirkpatrick Sale '58, David Seidler '59, Robert Perry '59, and Peter Wheelwright '61. Fariņa only played a peripheral role in the demonstration, but he thought that getting expelled would make a more dramatic exit from Cornell than simply dropping out.

    "looks like up to me"

    Another photo from the same source, picturing Kirk Sale and David Seidler. I can't tell if the guy on the right is Fariņa or not. Did Fariņa ever wear glasses?

    Fariņa with friends, summer, 1960.

    Adults from left to right: Charles Ginniver (a sculptor graduate student), Ruth Kahn (wife of Professor Peter Kahn), C. Michael Curtis, and Richard Fariņa. The children are daughters of the Kahns. The photo was taken outside the Kahn house, which Richard often visited.
    Many thanks to C. Michael Curtis for contributing this photo.


    Vladimir Nabokov
    emigrated to the U.S. in 1940 and was appointed Associate Professor of Slavic Literature at Cornell in 1948, where he taught until 1958. While at Cornell he wrote his most famous novel, Lolita, which was published in Paris in 1955 and the U.S. in 1958 (a bootleg edition was available at the Cornell bookstore before the official U.S. publication). Fariņa wrote a review of Lolita for the Cornell Daily Sun, and read from the novel for the Book & Bowl literary club. The scholar Robert Scholes recalls Fariņa raving about Lolita. Nabokov taught two courses at Cornell, "Masters of European Fiction" and "Russian Literature in Translation." Student transcripts show that neither Fariņa nor Pynchon ever took either of these classes. However, Robert H. Eisenman '58 (later a professor of Religious Studies at Cal State) has said: "Everybody who was anybody audited the legendary Nabokov lectures, to hear the showman on Emma, Anna, and Gregor Samsa. It was a very large lecture hall with no attendance monitors, so auditors caught individual lectures as they pleased." It is possible that Nabokov's combination of lyricality and bizarre humor had some influence on Fariņa's style.
    James McConkey
    came to Cornell in 1956. He was the editor of Epoch and faculty advisor of Trojan Horse, two literary publications to which Fariņa contributed. Professor McConkey took Fariņa with him to the Antioch Writer's Conference in 1957. McConkey is the author of several novels, including Crossroads (1968) and A Journey to Sahalin (1971), the latter dealing with racial conflict at a college similar to Cornell.
    H. Peter Kahn
    came to Cornell in 1958 as a Professor of Art. Although Richard never took a class with him, he played an important role in Richard's life. Kahn was the inspiration for the character David Grun in Been Down So Long, and his wife was the inspiration for Grun's wife, Catbird. (In a 1962 letter to Kahn, Fariņa wrote that Ruth, as Catbird, was the hero of the novel!) According to a profile of Peter Kahn in the Cornell Alumni News, his house was "for ten years a prominent off-campus hangout for a wonderful assortment of gifted and zany students... Scenes of the Dryden barn are in Richard Fariņa's famous novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. Students just started living out there, so the Kahns with typical generosity started making the place liveable....It disappointed Peter when Fariņa wind-broke the family horse by riding it too hard, but then he knew Dick Fariņa as a precocious student--not as a famous novelist." When Richard left Cornell in 1959, he moved to Manhattan and stayed for a while in the loft of Wolf Kahn, Prof. Kahn's brother, who was also an artist.
    C. Michael Curtis '56
    met Fariņa in the spring of 1958, when he returned to Ithaca from a short stint in the U.S. Army. They were roommates for a while, and Curtis was best man at Fariņa's wedding to Carolyn Hester in 1960. That same year, Curtis founded the Trojan Horse literary journal, to which Fariņa contributed "The Dream Song of J. Alfred Kerowack." Today Michael Curtis is fiction editor of The Atlantic Monthly.
    Kirkpatrick Sale '58
    was editor of the Cornell Daily Sun, the campus newspaper. He and Fariņa were roommates and had co-written a Sun article protesting repressive policies against male and female students fraternizing (see letter). Kirk Sale led the student demonstration of May 23, 1958, an incident that made headlines across the country. Sale also wrote a review of Fariņa's story, "With a Copy of Dylan Thomas Under My Arm," and praised his literary talents: "He has a grasp of both style and message, of what to say and how to say it, that is rare and valuable among college writers." This was probably the first published literary criticism of Fariņa's writing. Kirk Sale was in part the model for both Youngblood and G. Alonso Oeuf in the novel. After Cornell, Sale became a noted author, writing about the environment, technology and social changes.
    Faith Apfelbaum Sale '58
    was known as the only woman Richard Fariņa courted but failed to win. "The first night I met him he was trench-coated, very poet-y looking. He was chasing me around trying to make me." Faith was actually the one who first thought of starting the demonstration to attract media awareness of Dean Malott's repressive regime at Cornell. After graduating she married Kirk Sale and became an editor, working with Pynchon, Vonnegut, Heller, Amy Tan and others. She died in 1999.
    Diane Divers '59
    was a student to whom Richard was engaged briefly. Her parents disapproved of the marriage (see Positively 4th Street, p. 42).
    David Leshan '59
    was, like Richard, a literature major and member of the Book & Bowl Club. He hung out with Richard at Beebe Lodge: "We would go canoeing on the lake, and he talked about Hemingway, whom he admired.... What we talked about most was his future career. But he saw a role for me. He thought of me as... the great editor. I would be the editor, and I would edit his work, and he would be the novelist. It was a kind of fantasy, and most of my contact with him had to do with these sorts of fantasies." (from Positively 4th Street, p. 44.)
    David Shetzline
    is the author of DeFord (1968) and Heckletooth 3 (1969). He was friends with both Fariņa and Pynchon. He dedicated DeFord to the memory of Fariņa.

    From Among the Heroes
    Kristin Osterholm White Gould '57
    was another friend of Richard. She died on September 11, 2001 when terrorists hijacked United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania. Her story, as told in Jere Longman's moving book Among the Heroes, reveals some remarkable similarities to Richard: "She had a duality, one side being a conservative background, the other being a free spirit, creative, artistic... In that sense, she was ahead of her time." She was the valedictorian of her high school, studied Greek and Latin, traveled widely in exotic places, dabbled in poetry, wrote articles for the National Enquirer for kicks, worked in the music business for a while, wrote articles on musicians (including Joan Baez), and hung out at the West Village literary saloon, The Lion's Head. She once wrote in a letter to a friend that "inside every great poet and elegant thinker there dwells a Winnie the Pooh who must have A Little Something at about four o'clock."
    Stephanie Greene '59
    first met Richard in a Spanish class in 1956. Years later, she shared some memories of Richard in a letter to the Cornell Alumni News: "Later on I came to appreciate the fervor and creativity behind those "killer" dark eyes and shock of wavy hair. As an editor of the Cornell Writer I was privileged to read Richard's published and unpublished works, and I admit that much of it made as deep an impression on me as Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, and Yeats had obviously made upon Richard....He refused to live an ordinary life, and we all became the richer for following his lead. Our lives would never quite be the same--the boundaries between life and art were fuzzier and fuzzier."
    Thomas Pynchon '59
    has written warmly of his friendship with Fariņa in the 1983 edition of Been Down So Long. He was best man at Fariņa's wedding with Mimi and a pallbearer at his funeral. He dedicated his greatest novel, Gravity's Rainbow, "To Richard Fariņa."


    Peter Yarrow attended Cornell at around the same time Fariņa did. They apparently didn't know each other well back then, though David Hajdu says that both attended Sunday evening sings at the Cornell Folk Song Society. Years later they performed together at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and the following year Peter, Paul & Mary recorded "Pack Up Your Sorrows."

    The famous Cornell gorges, where Gnossos romps with the returning spring in chapter nine.

    An advertisement for Johnny's Big Red,
    the restaurant that served as a model for Guido's Grill in the novel.

    Cornell Alumni News featured an article on Richard in 1991. It was written by Jaime Wolf, who had begun to research a biography before turning over his material to David Hajdu.

    Kirkpatrick Sale Bibliography:
  • SDS: Ten Years Toward a Revolution (1973)
  • Power Shift : The Rise of the Southern Rim and Its Challenge to the Eastern Establishment (1975)
  • The Human Scale (1980)
  • Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision (1985)
  • Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future (with Judith and Christopher Plant) (1990)
  • The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (1990)
  • The Green Revolution : The Environmental Movement since 1962 (editor) (1993)
  • Rebels Against the Future : The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution (1995)
  • The Fire of his Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream (2001)
  • Why the Sea is Salt: Poems of Love and Loss (2001)
  • After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination (2006)
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