Interview with Winslow Eliot
Posted on Why Waldorf Works
Last May, Kate Christensen won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction for her novel The Great Man. Kate graduated from Green Meadow Waldorf School in 1980, determined to be a novelist. She proceeded to write and publish four humorous, caustic, utterly compelling novels: In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, The Epicure’s Lament, and The Great Man. All are well worth reading! Although she attended a Waldorf school for just her junior and senior years, her teachers and classes left a lasting impression on her.
WE: You moved to another state and a completely new kind of school for the last two years of high school. Since this was your first taste of Waldorf, how different was it and what surprised you, delighted you, confused you?
KC: I was born in Berkeley, California – my parents were both quite politically active there in the 1960s. My mother is a clinical psychologist (recently retired) who got her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona, which is why we lived there. I went to public schools through 10th grade. When I was in 9th and 10th grade, I lived with my mother and two younger sisters in Jerome, a ghost town in the mountains of Northern Arizona. The high school I attended down in the Verde Valley was, I started to feel with increasing urgency, not challenging enough for me academically. During the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I decided to transfer to Green Meadow, which I knew about from visiting my grandmother, Ruth Pusch [editor and translator of many of Rudolf Steiner’s work, as well as others]. I applied, and got in with a heap of financial aid, which enabled me to pay the tuition. I lived with the Eaton family – Ann Eaton was teaching English at the High School – and did housework and babysitting in exchange for room and board. After being in a huge public high school with hundreds of kids in my class alone, I now found myself in a class of 13-15 kids – in a school of less than 60 altogether. I was very lonely at first; a lot of these kids had known each other since kindergarten, and they shared long-term history together, and I was the new kid, the outsider. But gradually I started to feel a bit more of a part of things, although late adolescence was never easy for me; it was a very lonely, awkward, painful time.
But in terms of the school, I was enthralled with the academic course work and the artistic and musical challenges I found at Green Meadow. We sang Mozart’s Requiem, wrote and illustrated our own main lesson books, read Wordsworth and Thoreau, had a lacrosse team, played Brandenberg concerti! Although at home my sisters and I had always sung three-part harmony, studied classical music on our instruments, and read literary novels and poetry, at school I was used to show tunes, standardized textbooks, volleyball, and cheerleaders… it was a thrill to be not only encouraged but challenged in my most passionate interests at school – I could hardly believe my luck. I never took it for granted for a second – I felt a profound and constant sense of gratitude during my time at Green Meadow, the relief of being among my own kind, whatever that was, for the first time in my life at school.
WE: What was your dream when you left – were you determined to “be a writer” right from the beginning?
KC: I have known I was a writer from the very beginning of my life – I wrote my first story at 6 – “My Magic Carpet Ride” – about a girl and her sister who go around the world on a magic carpet and get home in time for tea – and I have never wanted to be anything else.
WE: What year did you graduate, exactly?
KC: I graduated from Green Meadow in 1980 – which makes me 45 years old now – amazing.