Lauren Kunze '08 (Novelist, THE IVY YA series)
By Cristina Slattery '97
The ten-year-old Lauren Kunze ‘08 was already devouring books and "pretending” to work, brush her teeth, eat vegetables and to sleep in order to make her parents happy. She remembers attempting to read PARADISE LOST, rehearsing for her acting debut as Puck in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and attending soccer practice. Kunze grew up in the Bay Area and a she conveys a certain Californian breezy optimism over the telephone that seems the antithesis of the brooding "serious writer” persona that one sometimes encounters. But, Kunze is, in fact, a serious writer. At age twenty-four, she is about to publish her fourth and final novel in THE IVY young adult series – a series that she began writing her senior year in college.
Among the writers Kunze admires are Shakespeare, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Woolf, Fitzgerald, Coetzee, Ishiguro, and McEwan. She explains that she had always dreamt of becoming an English professor and that she had even applied to graduate programs in literature and philosophy at Oxford and Cambridge – and was accepted – her senior year in college. However, after she began writing – and found early success – these plans were put on hold indefinitely. She admits that she still expects that she will end up teaching "in some capacity” in the future, but that right now, she is waking up each day to pursue writing instead of just thinking about it while following a different professional trajectory. Lauren says that she admires J.K. Rowling, who spoke at her college graduation and that she is "still waiting for the day that [she’ll] stop using adrenaline (and all-nighters) to fuel productivity.”
What does it mean to be an eighteen-year-old at an elite institution? How can a young person remain true to himself or herself while also becoming open to new experiences and new perspectives? Lauren’s novels appear to be attempts to answer these questions. Readers who have yet to attend college or who attended a long time ago will relive those initial awkward moments that may have served as the beginning of lifelong friendships or brief romantic relationships in her series. It may seem clichéd to call the series a SEX & THE CITY for Harvard College, but, in many ways, the female friendships that characterized the popular TV series are also central to Kunze’s fictional world. (By the way, the world of Harvard in the books, although fictional, should seem authentic to any alums who have attended the college within the last fifteen-to-twenty year period.)
Kunze’s characters, Callie Andrews, the protagonist – a soccer player from Southern California – and her roommates, Vanessa von Vorhees of Manhattan’s Upper East Side society, Dana Gray of South Carolina’s Bible belt and Marine Aurelie Clement, the daughter of a French diplomat, encounter heartbreak and failure – and experience many adventures as well – as they navigate university life and try to find their place in its social hierarchy.
Like her main character, Kunze lived in Wigglesworth her freshman year. Afterwards, she lived in Winthrop House. Kunze says that she tried – and failed – to start a creative writing club in college, tutored for the Bureau of Study Council and that she also spent a lot of time in physical therapy for a back injury that was connected with rowing. (Kunze was a nationally-ranked lightweight rower in high school.) She explains that there were unforeseen benefits that came along with such a physical trauma. "I would say that my back injury might have indirectly helped my writing, because if I had been medically cleared to row in college, then rowing would have been my life,” she says, continuing, "In fact it's possible that the-former-athlete-sidelined-by-injury and therefore in search of a new ‘college identity’ is the most autobiographical aspect of The Ivy." She adds, that "the rest is purely fictional though -- I swear!”
Kunze’s father always told her to "embrace confusion and the possibility of failure” and she has heeded his advice by risking failure in the ever-fickle publishing industry. Now, the former Harvard student who wrote her senior thesis on trauma in literature -- where she tried to understand how various people (or characters) made sense of traumatic events -- has chosen to leave her success in the young adult genre behind her and move into the arena of science fiction. Kunze says that she is "thinking a lot about technology – what it’s going to look like down the road,” and that she is also re-reading science fiction classics as well as teaching herself how to build android applications. While the main characters of her next novel may not live in Cambridge, or have any Harvard connection whatsoever, hopefully Harvard alums – and readers in general – will want to get to know them as well. Lauren studied neurobiology at Harvard in addition to her English concentration and she is apparently listening to another piece of advice that her father gave her, to "find what you’re passionate about and pursue the hell out of it.” This advice, although given to her, she would also likely pass on to Callie Andrews, Vanessa van Vorhees, Dana Gray and Marine Aurelie Clement as she finishes their stories in the fourth and final novel in the series.
Lauren states that "It's kind of difficult to digest that, after publishing four novels, you still have to start from square one with regard to new material.” But, the unknown can also be exhilarating, right? Yes, Lauren seems to agree. Although ”there's a sense of panic--you still have to sing for your supper,” she acknowledges, "that panic is ultimately what drives you forward.” Here’s to facing the panic and pushing through the fear. Fans of Callie, Vanessa, Dana and Marine are sure that the experience will be worth it!