After working in public relations for three decades telling other people’s stories, NIU alumna Rita Dragonette is telling her own and will mark the occasion with a series of events at her alma mater.
Dragonette chronicles her own experiences as a college student during the Vietnam War era in her first book, titled “The Fourteenth of September,” a coming-of-conscience novel.
“I was a student during two pivotal events – the first draft lottery in 1969 and the Kent State shooting in 1970,” she said. “Like other college campuses across the nation, NIU was enraged. There were riots and for two days we camped on the bridge near the lagoon. The National Guard was brought in.”
The book, which took 12 years to write, chronicles the inner struggle of Private First Class Judy Talton, who arrives on campus on a military scholarship which is her only means of attending college. By the fall of 1969, she starts questioning the war and her role in it. She secretly joins the campus counterculture on her 19th birthday, Sept. 14, which ultimately leads to her being forced to make a life-altering decision.
Judy’s journey mirrors Dragonette’s experience at NIU – arriving on campus as a nursing major on a U.S. Army scholarship.
“I didn’t believe in the war and became politicized,” she said. “I wanted to follow my passion and become an English major but I was fearful of losing my financial support.”
“Like so many other students at NIU, my family didn’t have the money for four years at college,” Dragonette said. “I had adjusted my dreams to study what my scholarship would pay for. Yet, because it was a military scholarship at the time of an unpopular war, the bargain I’d made with myself became increasingly uncomfortable to the point where I had to make the decision of my life—my personal coming of conscience.”
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the unrest of 1968 and the Vietnam era, Dragonette believes the lessons illustrated in her book are timely in today’s turbulent times.
“The similarity of between [those] times and today is staggering, as is the equal need for meaningful activism and bold personal responsibility,” she said. “In this spirit, as part of the launch of ‘The Fourteenth of September,’ I’m funding a ‘Coming of Conscience’ scholarship for an NIU student.”
Students interested in the “Coming of Conscience” scholarship can contact the NIU Scholarship Office at 815-753-1395 for more information and details on how to apply for funding.
Dragonette will return to NIU on Thursday, Oct. 25, to participate in a series of events related to the book’s launch. She will conduct a reading/book signing at 12:30 p.m. in Altgeld Hall room 315. A panel discussion, featuring Dragonette and NIU faculty and students who were on campus during that time, will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Cole Hall room 100. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact [email protected].
“The Fourteenth of September” been designated as a finalist for two 2018 American Fiction Awards by American Book Fest, and has received an honorable mention in the Hollywood Book Festival. Dragonette is currently working on three additional books.