A New Book Celebrates Kenyon’s Bicentennial

“Place and Purpose: Kenyon at 200” will be unveiled on Tuesday, April 9, at 11:10 a.m. in the auditorium of Oden Hall.


When David Lynn agreed to oversee the creation of book to mark Kenyon’s bicentennial, he knew that the project would celebrate the campus’s beauty and architecture. But he had no idea that it would grow to embrace scores of writers, countless delightful surprises and an expansive vision of how place inspires connection.

After more than two years of brainstorming, writing, editing and designing, the book is a reality. “Place and Purpose: Kenyon at 200” will be unveiled on Tuesday, April 9, at 11:10 a.m. in the auditorium of Oden Hall. After a welcome from Kenyon President Julie Kornfeld, Lynn will describe the genesis and development of the book, in which hundreds of photographs and what Lynn calls a “mosaic of voices” — lyrical, probing, poignant, humorous — reflect the College’s powerful sense of belonging through essays and personal stories.

Lynn’s coeditor, Dan Laskin, will then give a PowerPoint tour of the book’s key elements, showing how they invite readers to appreciate Kenyon’s remarkable history, natural and architectural beauty, and ethos of community. Many of the contributors to the book, including professors and alumni, will be on hand — as will Brad Collins, the head of Group C, the firm that designed the book.

A Kenyon College Bookstore representative will be at the event to sell copies of “Place and Purpose.” The price of the 322-page book is $65.

Five major chapters anchor the book. Lynn opens the volume with a foreword, “Why Place?,” explaining the book’s focus and its role in the bicentennial. Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic (and a Kenyon parent and former trustee), discusses the significance of the Kenyon campus from a national perspective, in “Belief in a Place.” Adele Davidson ’75 of the English faculty, in “Kenyon, the Verb,” explores facets of the Kenyon experience including the intensity and camaraderie of academic life, student activism, social communities, and the sometimes uneasy assimilation of women when Kenyon went coed.

Howard Sacks, a professor emeritus of sociology and the founder of the Rural Life Center, and Judith Rose Sacks write, in “Living Together,” about how the College’s connections with the agricultural and small-town communities of Knox County are vital to a liberal arts education. Tom Stamp ’73, the recently retired College historian, traces the history of the campus and its architecture, from Philander Chase and Old Kenyon to the West Quad and the emerging South Campus residence halls, in “This Will Do.”

“These chapters alone, with the notion of place providing a unifying thread, provide a rich appreciation of Kenyon’s distinctiveness,” said Lynn. “But ‘Place and Purpose,’ as it evolved, became so much more.”

He explained that the idea for a bicentennial book emerged in late 2021, in a conversation between Goldberger and then-president Sean Decatur, who envisioned a book showcasing the campus. That December, Decatur approached Lynn, at the time a special assistant to the president. A 1976 Kenyon graduate who had returned to the College in 1988 to join the English faculty, Lynn served as the editor-in-chief of the Kenyon Review from 1994 to 2019, while continuing to teach literature and creative writing.

“When Sean asked me to create a bicentennial book,” Lynn said, “I immediately turned to two trusted colleagues and good friends. One was Tom Stamp, who knows more than anybody else — and who has written more than anybody — about Kenyon’s history, the Kenyon campus, Kenyon architecture, and Kenyon people. Tom also knows literally hundreds of Kenyon alumni, many of them fine writers. The other is Dan Laskin, a gifted writer and editor who worked closely with Tom for many years in the Public Affairs Office and who later worked with me at the Review, writing our monthly email newsletter.

“We quickly decided that the bicentennial deserved more than a beautiful coffee-table book,” Lynn said. “While we couldn’t undertake a comprehensive history, we realized that one thing uniting all Kenyon generations was the place itself, the deep feelings people have always had for the campus and its surroundings, and the way place shapes community here.

“During weeks of brainstorming, we settled on the main chapters. And we kept coming up with ideas for shorter additional features that would complement the chapters — pieces on the Kokosing River, say, or Kenyon swimming, or singing traditions — and with the names of alumni, professors and others who could write about these topics with feeling and eloquence.”

The trio soon decided to bring in other perspectives by creating an advisory committee. Serving on the committee were Daisy Desrosiers, director and chief curator of The Gund; Cornelia Ireland “Buffy” Hallinan ’76 H’91, a former Kenyon trustee and board chair; Anna Duke Reach, a publishing professional who later served for more than 15 years as programs director for the Kenyon Review; Professor of Music Reginald Sanders; Lisa Schott ’80 H’22, who led the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs as well as the Philander Chase Conservancy before her retirement in 2022; and Jan Thomas, who at the time oversaw the Office for Community Partnerships.

With more ideas coming from the committee, the editors began reaching out to writers. “We were absolutely blown away by the response,” said Lynn. “The pieces we got were vivid, moving, funny, thought-provoking, poignant, passionate, full of delightful surprises — and Kenyon through and through.”

For example, Jené Schoenfeld of the English faculty wrote about the outdoor fall “feast” that gathers the community before classes begin. Paul Singer ’88 recalled the generous, intimate spirit of the old Gambier Folk Festival. Michaela Jenkins ’19 wrote about the role of the Ujima Imani Lounge in Black student life. Biologist Robert Mauck humorously explored “owlish superpowers.” Emilie Hanka ’26 wrote a hauntingly beautiful evocation of the cycle of seasons on campus.

Fred Baumann of the political science faculty paid tribute to the rigors of teaching in a tent during COVID. Psychologist Irene López recalled a Latino student who came, left, and then returned. The writer Daniel Mark Epstein ’70 H’20 remembered his encounters with Kenyon Review founder John Crowe Ransom. Emeritus art professor Gregory Spaid ’69 contributed a portfolio of his stunning photographs of rural Knox County. Ted Walch ’63, shortly before he died, sent a deeply felt essay about discovering the theater at Kenyon.

Stamp, meanwhile, provided numerous short essays on notable aspects of Kenyon’s campus and history, from the stained-glass windows in Peirce Hall to the College’s small “academic houses,” from the Old Kenyon fire to a history of Kenyon’s libraries.

It fell to Brad Collins and his team at Group C to create a design that would organize the abundant material and that, visually, would do justice to Kenyon’s beauty and character. Collins had designed a number of Goldberger’s books and thus had experience with complex projects incorporating large amounts of both text and illustration. He was able to gather hundreds of superb Kenyon photos, thanks to the help of Adam Gilson and Dannie Lane ’22 of the College’s Communications Office. College archivist Abigail Tayse and her work-study students helped with archival material.

Many of the shorter pieces were placed within the main chapters, as “sidebar” features amplifying aspects of the chapters. Others were grouped in special sections with such themes as Kenyon’s literary heritage, performance, science, the visual arts, spiritual life, athletics, and Commencement. A timeline of key events in the College’s history runs through the entire book. And at the end, just before the appendices, a section called “My Kenyon” presents memories and stories submitted by dozens of alumni, from 1948 to 2021, in response to an open invitation issued in May 2022.

The final result, Lynn believes, is a compelling, moving, and fun portrait of the College — its history, beauty and diversity. “No book can fully capture Kenyon,” said Lynn. “But I think that this book will resonate deeply with readers who know and love this special place.”