Winter 2010

Editor’s Note

In good hands


Late in his memoir of addiction and Hindu mythology, In Hanuman’s Hands, Cheeni Rao, AB’98, has settled in at the Oasis, a halfway house on the North Side. Committed to recovering, he catalogs the skill set he’ll have to convert to make a life off the street: “I could wedge my fingers in mortar gaps between bricks and clamber up the sheer face of a brownstone to the open third-floor window. I could crack a deadbolt, boot a door off its hinges. I could rip a purse, stiff-arm a Samaritan, and outrun a cop.”

What Rao could do better than anything is write. He’d always known he was good at it, and at the College, working with teachers like William Veeder and Richard Stern, his future as a writer was cemented. From Chicago he moved on to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and, in short order, acquired an agent and book contract. Today he lives in Iowa City, where he’s at work on his second book, a novel, as well as a screenplay, and is soon to be a dad.

A Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote that In Hanuman’s Hands “goes a long way toward redeeming a dubious genre,” the drug memoir, and the Washington Post called Rao “a great storyteller.” The book, published last spring, tells how an angry young Rao rushed headlong toward trouble, and found it, at his bucolic first college. In a return to sobriety that was far more painstaking, he found spiritual guidance in stories from the Indian epic poem the Ramayana and especially in its monkey god, Hanuman.

The book ends when Rao receives his acceptance letter from the College. We crossed paths at the end of his next chapter, when Rao was a senior. He had recently won the Nick Adams short story prize and was working on a novella for his BA honors project. I didn’t know about the Oasis, Carl, Tats, or anything else in the story he tells in this issue, just that his writing was hard to shake. The lessons of his essay’s title have much to do with why.

Kate Beaton is a comic artist from Halifax who has a serious gift for finding the fun in historical events and intellectual figures like David Hume, Robespierre, and Queens Elizabeth and Victoria. Several of us at the office check her Web site daily, crack up, and think of the Core curriculum. If you like what you see on the inside back cover, check out the full archive of her work at and watch for original strips in future issues.

Laura Demanski, AM'94