“You Just Have to Read This . . .” Books by Wesleyan Alumni Dass ’69, Greenidge ’04, and Saba ’81

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Delaware, reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Being Ram Dass coverRam Dass MA ’54 and Rameshwar Das ’69, Being Ram Dass (Sounds True, 2021)

When Ram Dass, then known as Richard Alpert, was fired from his position as a professor of psychology at Harvard University for giving psychedelics to undergraduates in pursuit of a research project, his adventure-loving soul decided to use the initially disappointing dismissal as an opportunity and a path towards freedom. A few years later, he traveled to India, where he met his Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name of Ram Dass (which means “servant of God”). From then on, Ram Dass led a life of spirituality, teaching, leadership, meditation, yoga, charity, and yes, drugs. His posthumously published autobiography and memoir, which was co-written with his longtime collaborator Rameshwar Das ’69, provides a rich and detailed account of these events and more, starting from his early life, tracking his many transformations over the years, and even including some details about his time at Wesleyan.

The book transcends the genre of memoir, as Ram Dass also philosophizes and educates in his writing, giving readers a glimpse into his areas of expertise such as clinical psychology and Eastern spiritual practices. Although he died in 2019, Ram Dass’s voice remains strong and alive in the nearly 400 pages of his book; he uses his writing as a tool to promote his own beliefs about reincarnation and immortality, allowing his powerful influence to live on.

Ram Dass MA ’54, born Richard Alpert in 1931, was a spiritual leader and psychologist. He is the author and co-author of 13 books about spirituality, including the famous Be Here Now, published in 1971. He founded the Love Serve Remember Foundation and co-founded the Seva Foundation, Lama Foundation, and the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, New Mexico. He died in 2019.

Rameshwar Das (aka James Lytton) ’69 is a writer and photographer. He has co-authored several books with Ram Dass, including Be Love Now and Polishing the Mirror. He met Ram Dass in 1967 when he was a junior at Wesleyan and Dass was giving a talk. He lives in East Hampton, Long Island.

Libertie coverKaitlyn Greenidge ‘04, Libertie (Algonquin Books, 2021)

Kaitlyn Greenidge’s stunning second novel Libertie delivers a story that will not disappoint readers of her widely successful and critically acclaimed first novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman. Greenidge conveys impressive creativity, expansive historical knowledge, and dynamic characters, managing to produce a piece of historical fiction that has massive relevance for the cultural and racial landscape in the Americas today. Libertie, titled after the name of its protagonist and narrator Libertie Sampson, begins in 1860. Libertie, a freeborn young Black girl, is living in Brooklyn with her physician mother.

As Libertie begins to grow up and gain awareness of the world around her, her expectations of what her life will look like begin to shift, and she starts to question the role of freedom in her life. Greenidge tracks the progression of Libertie’s life with clarity and emotionality, with history undergirding the prose. Readers will delight in not only the thrill of a good story, but also Greenidge’s engagement of history and its implications for the present.

In addition to Libertie, Kaitlyn Greenidge ‘04 is the author of We Love You, Charlie Freedman. She is currently the features director at Harper’s Bazaar and a contributing writer for The New York Times. Her writing has appeared in publications including Vogue, Glamour, and the Wall Street Journal. She also runs a Substack newsletter called “What It Is I Think I’m Doing.”

A Luke of All Ages and Fire and Ice coverMark Saba ’81, A Luke of All Ages and Fire and Ice (Adelaide Books, 2020)

Readers of Mark Saba’s new book will be pleased to find not one but two beautiful novellas packed inside the pages. The first novella, A Luke of All Ages, is an intimate and emotional third-person portrait of the life of Luke, whom we see in both childhood and adulthood. The second, Fire and Ice, is a rotating first-person narrative between characters Tom and Anne, whose lives become intertwined. In both novellas, Saba and his characters quietly reflect on the everyday as well as bigger-picture concepts like aging and death, resulting in profound and understated meditations on life, love, and the passage of time.

Saba’s lovely writing shines just as much as his characters and plot. Though he is clearly an expert in the world of prose, the lyricism and rhythmic nature of his writing call attention to his skills as a poet as well. Readers are invited into a world of metaphor and figurative language while still being pulled into the exciting pace of a good story. Saba’s novellas are worth savoring, and readers will likely be craving a reread soon after they finish.

Mark Saba ‘81 is a writer, poet, artist, painter, and filmmaker. He has written several works of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, as well as produced and directed two poetry videos. His work has appeared in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies. He works as an illustrator and graphic designer at Yale University. He lives in Connecticut.