Community of Letters
September 8, 2023
We are building many types of communities at Thaden – artistic, athletic, culinary, philanthropic, and much more. We are also building a community of letters – readers and writers who commune through literature and language.
A community of letters is boundless in space and time. It lives in the annotations of the books we pass forward through the generations, in the missives that we send or receive in the mail, and in the pages of manuscripts we might discover in an attic. I will never forget the thrill of sitting with the copy of Paradise Lost that Melville annotated before he penned Moby-Dick, a rare window into the incubation of Captain Ahab. Of course, we mostly annotate for ourselves so we can retrace our steps in books that have the potential to change the course of our lives. Students in my Moby-Dick seminar will make their marks in the voluminous margins of the Northwestern-Newberry edition, wrapped in a soft sea green cover. The whale requires no less.
Our community of letters also lives in our library, quite intentionally adjacent to the Great Hall, another room for rumination (we are what we eat and what we read). Last spring, I found a “false book” in our library – a decorative box masquerading as Melville’s masterpiece. I filled the void with a simple note inviting the discoverer to lunch and left it there to drift into summer like a message in a bottle. Shortly after we returned this fall, I found this reply in my email:
"I'm in sixth grade at Thaden. At the end of last week, at the library, I picked up a copy of
Moby Dick and found an interesting note inside. It said that I could redeem the note for
lunch with you. Please let me know if the offer still stands. You may be surprised that a
sixth grader picked up Moby Dick. The thing is, I love to read and would like to be a
writer when I grow up."
A sandwich with Dr. Marsh is meager sustenance for those who hunger for true learning, but that lunch certainly filled me with gratitude and admiration for the community of letters that flourishes at Thaden. And inspiration – several volumes in our library now hold notes for those who are inclined to look for them. Of course, the search will be its own reward, and along the way, you might enjoy our namesake’s seventh grade literature anthology (now on display) filled with the musings of her young mind in flight.
Together we read, write, and ruminate.
Clayton K. Marsh
Founding Head of School