By Dorothy Rice Bennett
In the fall of 1993, I attended my thirtieth college reunion. Thirty years is about right to begin to be a little nostalgic, so I had a great time visiting my campus, meeting with classmates, and reawakening some great memories about my college days.
The following summer, I had a sudden idea for a novel. My ideas for novels tend to come to me all at once, in a flash. Then I just have to write them. (That being a lot harder than getting the flash in the first place) After my inspirational moment, I spent every spare hour after work during the next three weeks typing out the first draft of a novel about a teenage girl who wants a college education. I was excited, because I had attempted for years to write a novel and usually got stopped after four or five chapters and never finished one. This attempt had a beginning, middle, and an end, and I named it The Artemis Adventure.
Once the euphoria was over, I put the novel in a drawer and moved on with my life. Over the next few years, I worked on two other novels, which have now been published: NORTH COAST: A Contemporary Love Story and GIRLS ON THE RUN.
In the meantime, my late partner, Vera Foster, had told me that she liked the Artemis story better than anything else I had written. My present partner, Connie Jenkins, said pretty much the same thing. So I decided to resurrect that first novel and see what I could do with it. The process was a bit like exhuming a corpse, because the book was written in an obsolete format that I could no longer open on my computer. I had to take the one printed copy that existed, scan it page by page into PDFs, and then find someone to link the pages and convert the mish-mash into Word, so that I could finally open the document and work on it again.
The story of The Artemis Adventure focuses an eighteen year old girl who dreams of going to college. Kiki Rodriguez, product of the American melting pot, is Polish, Filipino, and Puerto Rican. To escape family arguments she has hidden out on the roof of her apartment building in the South Bronx and studied the stars, one of which she has called “Artemis” after the Greek goddess. Her conversations at night with Artemis provide her the inspiration to pursue her dreams. She leaves home, crosses the country via bus, trucker, and some Berkeley college students, and is dropped off accidentally at the front gate of a college in Oakland, California.
I have no idea at this point how Artemis came into my mind, but after doing some research I came to the conclusion that for this young girl, Artemis is perfect: she’s independent, she’s an archer, she goes off into the forest with a companion animal, either a hunting dog or a deer, she’s a virgin—meaning only that she never married nor bore children—yet she was a protector of women, children, and animals, and nature. Artemis went off the beaten path and sometimes broke the rules.
My resulting novel, thus Artemis influenced, is many things; a colorful story, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, about a girl growing into a woman during her college years and about fellow students, faculty, and administration of her school, and the world around her. It is also about issues—racial prejudice, gender equality, and homosexuality. It looks back at the past, where we’ve been, and at the future, where we are and are going. It is both real and fantasy. Kiki has to find out what she wants to do with her life and who she is at the same time.
When I was an undergraduate in college, 1959–1963, the concept of “gender equality” did not exist. I remember a visiting lecturer who told students gathered in the concert hall for assembly that the most important thing we could learn in college was to be “flexible and adaptable.” I turned to my roommate and whispered that if my father knew that, he would question whether he was getting his money’s worth. Yet 1959 was during the Eisenhower era. My college, created for women, had a father figure, male president. Women were homemakers, and college women were still girls—girls planning and dreaming about getting married and having children. Careers? Maybe, but only secondarily. Yes, it was still like finishing school.
And during that time, homosexuality was defined as a mental disorder, and those who “acted out” were put in jails and mental hospitals. Two seniors in my dormitory were caught doing something “inappropriate” and were expelled from college one semester from graduation. Several of our PE teachers were single and called “different” but no one suggested they were lesbian. Who ever heard of the word back then? Some of the faculty members were “spinsters” yet in their obituaries years later, long-time partners were mentioned.
By the 1970s, homosexuality was no longer officially considered a disease, and in the wake of the battles for civil rights and women’s rights, gay rights also came on the scene. Although those battles are not over, on many college campuses today, there is an air of openness and acceptance of gay and lesbian students and staff that certainly didn’t exist when I was in school. My own college now has a lesbian president, who is married to a woman and has five children.
Updating the file
The biggest challenge for me in bringing The Artemis Adventure from 1994 to 2017 was in updating details of the world that Kiki Rodriguez inhabits. Movies on DVDs were just appearing. Smart phones didn’t exist. Laptops were new and not seen everywhere. iPads and tablets were unknown. Today, nearly everyone has access to all of these devices. Introducing these everyday items into the novel made me very aware of how quickly our world is changing, in so many, many ways.
And in my novel, Kiki as an aspiring young woman is constantly in a state of growth and transition. One of my own favorite moments in the book is when Kiki, having been left behind in Goodland, Kansas, by her Greyhound bus driver, meets a woman trucker, Sally Anne Tucker, who with the companionship of a German shepherd, Aisha, travels the east-west routes of the United States in a pink eighteen-wheeler truck. Kiki immediately admires Sal, who makes her living in a man’s world—out on the road and alone with her dog. A little like Artemis, perhaps?
Now in the publication process, The Artemis Adventure will be available in quality paperback from Outskirts Press sometime in September. Stay tuned!