Elizabeth Percer is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and has twice been honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. She received a BA in English from Wellesley and a PhD in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at UC Berkeley.An Uncommon Educationis her first novel.
When I first came to Wellesley College, I was in much the same position as my main character, Naomi, is in the book: naive, inexperienced, idealistic, and lost. Like Naomi, I came dangerously close to losing my childhood self on campus, or at least not caring if I did. I took astronomy and tried to join the right clubs, competed academically and talked about how stressed and overworked I was in that tone only the most over-privileged learn to adopt. But I also lost thirty pounds and stopped wanting to visit my parents or write or--gasp--even read for pleasure. Fortunately, at the very last minute I was saved by the play. Actually, by playing.
The first time I acted in a play I was the third of the Three Billy Goats Gruff; the first time I took on a Shakespearean role, I played a simpering and long-winded man. I never grew, really, as an actor. But acting helped me to grow, perhaps simply by placing me within a series of great cocoons playwrights help create for their characters so that I might protect myself and emerge later, fully formed.
If I have learned anything as a lifelong student and sometimes teacher, it is that when we lose connection to our messier, less defined selves we also lose hope for true brilliance. I think about my kids--the way they play all the time and mess up language and talk to themselves unselfconsciously and cry and laugh openly in public--and I feel so grateful that I walked into a house of cross-dressing women devoted to the plays of a five-hundred-year-old playwright when I was nineteen. I might have otherwise been fine, but I also know that I would have grown disconnected to that more nebulous self, the one wherein all the truly important, undefined stuff of life has the opportunity to blossom.