From the University Archives: Et Cetera Magazine and Philip Roth ’53

One of the more interesting aspects of working at the Bertrand Library’s Special Collections/University Archives is coming across elements of the University’s history that are less well known. Due to the sheer breadth of interests and activities of both students and faculty over the last century and a half, it’s easy to overlook some of the unique things that have taken place on campus.

One such find in the archives was Et Cetera Magazine, which was a student publication that printed thirteen issues between March 1952 and May of 1954. The first issue was part of a long series of magazines on this campus, but one of the more pioneering—Et Cetera was first and foremost a humor magazine. Under the masthead of the first issue, the editorial board stated that this magazine was intended “for those that find ‘Little Orphan Annie’ wearying and ‘True Confessions’ magazines trite”.

Rummaging through the first issue, it is impressively well put together. There is a strong collective understanding between the editors and writers—as well as the photographers and cartoonists—of the purpose and direction. Any page you flip to will feature some sort of insightful quip or non-sequiturial jab at campus life. Submissions from faculty were also welcome, providing a welcome respite from the divide that sometimes comes between students and professors in the classroom. One such piece was an amusing story about a student athlete complaining about a “random old man” taking up space in the gym, not realizing that the student athlete had had “old man” as a professor twice.

This sardonic literary streak is characteristic of one of the early writers—and later editor-in-chief—Philip Roth, one of the more notable Bucknell alums of the past century. Roth, an English major graduating with the class of 1953, has a pervasive presence over the magazine. His short stories are engaging and emotional, and strangely serious in a magazine that never seems to take itself seriously.

Roth counteracted this tendency with piercing editorials. In one case, he laments the lack of humor and the ungrounded seriousness of the Bucknellian, saying its editors would love to see “kids [on campus] go hog wild” rather than actually confront anything worthwhile. It is a devastatingly funny piece, but shows that while Et Cetera may have been a humor magazine, it was guided by the interests and passions of those who felt adrift in general university life.

Strangely, all of the contributors seemed oddly prescient of the magazine’s fate. In the fourth issue—the one where the overall direction of the magazine seemed to become firmly solidified—Roth writes about the history of magazines on campus and how they have all floundered: indicative of “both the history—and the fate—of the magazine at Bucknell.” There was an understanding that this magazine wasn’t just something that could be put together, but a short-lived vision that could only be crafted by bright and sardonic students.

The history of Et Cetera is really one of those unique stories that introduce you to some of the people associated with the University throughout its history. It was a pet-project among various students, as well as an instrumental period in the growth of the magazine’s editor-in-chief, who went on to become one of the most famous American writers of the 20th century. How many universities—or their students—could boast of getting to hold such an interesting artifact of American culture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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