October 14, 2005

Published Sun Alum Shares Tips on Freelance Life

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Former Sun managing editor Marc Zawel ’04 spoke and presented media clips about “Untangling the Ivy League” yesterday in Rockefeller 132. The workshop, which followed the recent release of Zawel’s book, “Untangling the Ivy League 2006,” was sponsored in part by The Sun.

Zawel shared his experiences working on the guidebook as a senior at Cornell as well as life after college as a freelance writer. After graduating, Zawel worked on the Kerry-Edwards campaign and began work as a freelance writer. His clip-file includes articles from the New York Times and Playboy.

“What should go in an Ivy League guidebook? Obviously admissions,” Zawel said. But more than appealing to prospective applicants, Zawel wanted “to focus on current college students, students like you all that might be interested in what is going on at Cornell, or stories about Cornell, or stories across the Ivy League.”

The book covers typical college guide areas such as quality of a particular school’s curriculum, but also targets less-published topics such as attractiveness of student body, secret societies, inter-Ivy rivalries and pranks.

While a rising senior, Zawel was approached by the book’s publisher, College Prowler, to write a comprehensive Ivy League guide. The publisher, whose founders began it while still students at Carnegie Melon University, aims to provide college reviews written by students, for students.

The task was not an easy one, according to Zawel. “Not a single book has been written about these eight schools. There have been studies, and very brief guidebooks, but nothing on a comprehensive scale,” Zawel said.

Zawel remembered thinking to himself at the beginning of his senior year, “‘Hey, I’m going to pound this thing out I am going to have this book done in like two months, November senior year, you know, do the rest of the senior year and not have to worry about it, graduate from Cornell and have a book published.’ Ha haha ha, rude awakening.”

He used his first semester back at Cornell to take an independent study course researching the history of the Ivy League with the guidance of Prof. Isaac Kramnick, R.J. Schwartz Professor of Government, who was vice provost of undergraduate education at the time. Zawel also relied on assistance from fellow Cornell undergraduates for later chapters.

“The hardest task by far was finding admissions officers to talk to me,” Zawel said. “We wanted the admissions advice in this book to be advice that you cannot find anywhere else. And in order for that to happen you don’t really get admissions officers who say ‘I’m willing to talk to you on the record.'”

“I spent a lot of time trying to find admissions officers who would talk to me candidly and honestly, but remain anonymous. And we found that, several across the Ivy League,” Zawel added. “The admissions advice that we include in this book is really unparalleled; it’s something that you cannot find anywhere else.”

During his work, Zawel interviewed Jeffrey H. Orleans, executive director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, and Ivy League student government leaders, as well as Cornell alums former president Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54.

Throughout the presentation, Zawel showed video clips about the Ivy League that he gathered over the course of his research, such as references from “The Simpsons,” reports from news networks, and the first filmed Ivy League football game – something he played to emphasize the founding of the Ivy League as a football conference and later a complete athletic conference.

“Not many people when you say Ivy League think football, think athletics. But at its heart that’s what it is,” Zawel said. “It is barely 50 years old.”

Zawel also shared his experiences with the publishing process after a book is complete, including proofreading and book distribution. In her introductory remarks, Linda Grace-Kobas, senior director of Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, recounted some of her experiences with Zawel. “I worked with him throughout his college career. I was the news director and Marc was one of the people who most often woke me up in the middle of the night.”

Grace-Kobas felt that “when Marc was editor of the Sun he was the guiding light on some of their infamous stories,” referring to articles concerning the release of false acceptance letters by the Admissions Office, as well as another where a Sun photographer was able to break the security of Cornell’s Ward Laboratory, gaining entry into the reactor complex.

“I’m not at all surprised that Zawel has published within a year or so since graduating,” she added.

“As someone who is an English and a medieval studies major, which is somewhat obscure, it is really interesting to hear his side about what is possible to go and do out there,” said Alex Wolf ’06. “Also to hear from him what it’s like to find a publisher, the whole process, because that is something you don’t get to hear about very often.”

In addition to the Sun, the workshop was also sponsored by the Office of Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, the John S. Knight for Writing in the Disciplines, the Society for the Humanities and Cornell University Communications.

Archived article by Brian Kaviar
Sun Staff Writer