"The Write Stuff"
  • The Write Stuff

The Write Stuff

Ursinus alumni pen books that level life’s playing field.

Story by Geoff Gehman

A sports journalist who uses basketball to reduce racism. A former physician who mixes playful elements—rhymes, illustrations and animals—to alleviate bullying. A retired math professor who explores the Titanic as a sailing, sinking, everlasting symbol of class distinction.

The world of self-publishing and independent publishing is growing, and three Ursinus alumni are turning to it as a new-ish venture.

Chapter 1
Remember to Box Out

Kevin Callahan ’83 has played enough pickup basketball to know it can be a pick-me-up. Race doesn’t matter as long as you pass. Religion doesn’t matter as long as you box out. Age doesn’t matter as long as you win and stay on the court.

The court is a refiner’s fire in The Black Rose, the first published novel by Callahan, a sports journalist, former high-school basketball coach and ex-Ursinus guard.

In the self-published book, summer pickup games at the Jersey Shore unite Pete, a 50-something white alumnus of a legendary Ursinus basketball team, with two teens headed to play varsity hoops in Collegeville: his daughter, Andie, and Nate, the African-American graduate of a high-school basketball powerhouse. Andie uses Facebook to recruit Nate, the book’s narrator; Callahan uses basketball to recruit alternatives to religious terrorism, racial violence and other American diseases.

The author grew up in Pennsauken, N.J., and at Ursinus had pivotal experiences on the court and in the classroom. He played guard on the 1981 and 1982 Bears teams that reached the NCAA Division III Final Four and Elite Eight.

Kevin Callahan '83Kevin Callahan '83“Basketball connected me to people who were different from me,” Callahan says. “On the court you don’t care about age or race or sex as long as you box out and win and don’t sit out for three games. We all just got along as teammates; we became friends with people we didn’t know an hour or two earlier. We found common bonds that helped us find common ground.”

Callahan graduated to a 33-year career as a newspaper sports writer for the Courier-Post in Camden. His characters ranged from Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White to heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, then in his pulverizing prime. He worked on a novel while working on deadline stories. The Fish Finder received a blunt critique from his late mother, Barbara Hayes Callahan.

Black Rose“Nice try,” she told her son. “Keep chipping away. If you really want to do this, you can’t do it casually. You have to dive in.”

Callahan left the Courier-Post last year to dive into fiction. Learning the rules of writing a novel as the pages piled up, he made The Black Rose a crucible of parental dilemmas. The book’s protagonists learn to understand, accept and forgive the way Callahan did: on the court and in bars.

Basketball remains in Callahan’s wheelhouse. He writes for the Philadelphia 76ers website, plays with former Ursinus teammates in a summer tournament and watches older guys school his 23-year-old son, Jackson, in pickup rules. He plans to work into senior citizenship, an off-limits zone for the pro athletes he profiles.

“I want my best writing to be over the next 30 years,” he says. “Who says you can’t hit your peak when you hit your 80s?”

Chapter 2
Rhyme and Reason

Staci Schwartz ’86 specializes in teaching resilience to those who are bullied and tolerance for those who bully. The physician-turned-author leads bullying-prevention workshops, using children’s books she has illustrated and written in rhyme.

Her characters include a turtle optician who helps a town’s angry citizens see that their new resident, a tiny bear, mangles their gifts only because he lost his glasses.

Staci Schwartz '86Staci Schwartz '86“There’s more control when kids collectively decide they’re not going to tolerate bullying in their classroom,” says Schwartz. “They don’t even have to open their mouths; all they have to do is to stand next to the person being picked on. In the process they learn that friends can be different, that part of being a true friend is accepting someone for who they are.”

Schwartz hails from the Philadelphia suburb of Lafayette Hill. In high school she wrote and illustrated her first story, Webster the Spider, about befriending flies he’s supposed to eat. She re-illustrated the tale at Ursinus, where she briefly considered switching from the intimidating pre-med program to medical illustration.

Schwartz received her medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University and in 1990 became a physician at Temple University Hospital. She left Temple in 1996 to prepare for the birth of her first child with her husband, Marc, a Jefferson cardiologist, and delivered her daughter prematurely.

“Because she was exceptionally tiny, I felt even more protective of her,” Schwartz says. “I wanted to

protect her from things that could hurt her. I wanted to teach her things that could make her strong and independent.”

New Bear on the BlockChildren’s books became Schwartz’s main medium for giving Jamie “a moral message in a fun, non-preachy way.” A second career as an author of books for school kids—all published by an independent publisher—emerged from Schwartz’s concern that Jamie’s teachers focused too much on reaching standardized scores and too little on raising character standards.

In 2006, she released The New Bear on the Block. The first line of the book’s pivotal couplet, “To judge before you know someone is never, ever fair. You’ll miss the chance to make good friends like Mr. Grizzly Bear,” came from a young Jamie Schwartz, who at the time was studying engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

Schwartz blends fiction with nonfiction in her latest book, I’ve Got Your Back: Help Children Say Hello to Friends & Goodbye to Bullies, coauthored with Lorna Blumen, a bullying prevention expert. She has other plans to help people of all ages navigate nastiness. She wants to teach bullying-prevention in nursing homes, where oppression may be aggravated by dementia, and publish Webster the Spider with better illustrations.

“I don’t love drawing spiders,” she says with a laugh. “I’m stuck on making them cuter.”

Chapter 3
Ned Schillow Goes Deep

Ned Schillow ’72 has a titanic fascination with the Titanic.

The retired math professor is the author of two books on Pennsylvanians anchored to the most famous ship that ever sank. The self-published volumes are 360-degree, 3D tours of moguls and maids, stewards and immigrant passengers, heroes and scoundrels, on the fateful voyage on April 15, 1912.

“Let’s face it, if the Titanic hadn’t been on its maiden voyage, we wouldn’t be talking about it today,” says Schillow.

Ned Schillow '72Ned Schillow '72Schillow’s Titanic co-captain is his brother, Dru, a store manager who served as the books’ adviser, proofreader and lending librarian. The Skippack natives have been shipmates since childhood, watching countless telecasts of Titanic and A Night to Remember at their grandparents’ home.

According to Ned, the brothers couldn’t get enough of the liner’s state-of-the-art luxury; its dramatic descent after slamming into an iceberg and breaking in half; the extreme, other worldly differences between the three classes of passengers. Their interest was intensified by their grandmother’s tale of watching a carriage carrying Titanic survivor Charlotte Cardeza, who topped the ship’s personal-effects list with a whopping 21 pieces of luggage and 91 pairs of gloves.

In college Schillow shelved his interest in the Titanic to concentrate on math, and later began a 36-year career at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, Pa., where his statistics students analyzed the eerily low survival rate of Titanic crew members and second-class passengers.

In 2007 the Schillows added to Titanic literature and lore by self-publishing a pair of all-ages books: Titanic Tears, the tale of an Irish family traveling to Norristown, and Titanic Hearts, the tale of a Skippack woman who collects coins for survivors. Around the same time Dru persuaded Ned that he could enrich his retirement years by writing a history of the rich relationship between the Titanic and Pennsylvania.

Titanic HeartsSchillow wrote two histories of the Titanic’s 188 Pennsylvanians. He linked them through unbelievable coincidence, unimaginable luck and unfathomable tragedy. He approached his pilgrimage with a mathematician’s precision, a storyteller’s passion and the persistence of a deep-sea diver. He visited cemeteries in 17 states, including California. He found the unmarked grave of a private nurse buried in Pennsylvania only because her remains were sent to distant relatives.

In the archives at Jefferson Hospital, he found Thomas Cardeza’s journals and scrapbook photos of safaris he took with his mother, Charlotte, who just couldn’t travel without her 91 pairs of gloves.

“There was something real about connecting with the Cardeza family through their papers,” says Schillow. “It humanized them in a way that you don’t find in cemeteries.”

He’ll continue expanding his Pennsylvania volumes, the blessing and curse of a self-publisher.

“When I began this project I wondered: Who am I to write something like this?” Schillow says. “I’m not an expert in the field; I’m not even a trained historian. Since then I’ve become more confident in my ability as a writer and my credibility as a researcher. I’m not in above my head anymore.”