Alumni include Cornell College themes in newly written books
Michael Bellito ’72 used to tell high school students during his creative writing class, “write about what you know and love.”
That’s precisely why Bellito and Mike Conklin ’69 wrote fiction books that include pieces of Cornell College woven throughout the pages of their stories.
“The Hilltop (A College Tale)”
Bellito, from Wheeling, Illinois, set out to write “The Hilltop (A College Tale)” after a visit to Cornell College’s Hilltop during Homecoming 2017. The same visit in which he was awarded the Leadership and Service Award–something he says is one of the greatest honors of his life.
It took him a little less than a year to write this fiction story, which he describes as a little bit of life with a lot of humor. The story follows a student who enrolls at a small college in Iowa in 1968, a place that might sound familiar to Cornellians. The cover has a familiar image too–a picture of King Chapel taken by Mount Vernon photographer Lisa Lewis.
“It was, like any of my books, a chance to write about a place I truly loved,” Bellito said. “I thought about all the good times I’ve had at Cornell, most of which are captured in these pages. I also thought about the Vietnam War and the general unrest it caused on a college campus.”
While writing, he also recalled simpler times where students didn’t have access to the internet, cell phones, or social media and times when he played soccer for the first time in his life and put on his own play on the King Chapel stage, all of which are described in this book.
While times were simple back then, times aren’t as simple now. Bellito had a stroke six years ago and learned to type with his left, non-dominant hand to write this book and one other. He had to put an end to his 40-year career as a teacher in high school and community college classrooms, but through all of that, he’s finding time to do what he loves.
“I always loved writing; I was published in the Open Field while at Cornell,” he said. “But I just couldn’t find the time to write while teaching and grading. So, I write because I love to write.”
In all, Bellito has written five books. Interested readers can purchase “The Hilltop” on Amazon.
Conklin, a native of Lisbon, Iowa, who now resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, hopes people are entertained and laugh out loud as they read his second fiction novel, “Transfer U.”
The 2004 Cornell Distinguished Achievement Award winner says readers get a peek behind the curtain and will come to understand that things aren’t always what they seem. The story features a mythical, reputable liberal arts school in Indiana called Harrison College and is a humorous look at higher ed, sports, and China with a motorcycle gang tossed in the mix. Cornellians should recognize some settings and themes throughout the book.
“Look no farther than the cover,” Conklin said. “Any Cornellian should recognize a slice of King Chapel. It’s even got a purple roof. Why not draw on Cornell and its community for my inspiration? It’s like they say: Write what you know. I am sure there will be local people, school administrators, and area settings–Sutliff, Airliner bar in Iowa City, campus buildings, Bauman’s Clothing Store–that will ring some bells.”
The long-time writer and daily columnist for The Chicago Tribune put his imagination to work, tying in his experiences as a journalist to create this book.
“The storyline moves around a lot, and every setting or scenario I experienced through participation or work as a journalist,” Conklin said. “This includes teaching in China, NCAA Final Fours, surviving an earthquake, illegal sports recruiting, off-road Oklahoma Panhandle, social work on the Mexican border, college faculty meetings, and Chicago criminal court proceedings.”
The story also comes to life on the cover of the book, which was illustrated by Georgia Gump ’18, a talented, young Cornell graduate who was recommended by the art department’s Tony Plaut ’78.