Former student returns as accomplished author


Is June the month for graduation? Or should we use the word “commencement ?”  The start of what? Going forth into the wide world of tough and real responsibilities? Or on to graduate school?   

I choose to think that the sixth month marks the boundary between listening to your teachers and visiting them as alums and hoping they will listen to you as you report your progress.   

This is my thank you to an alum who won a Fulbright grant to sojourn in Naples ... I mean “Napoli” ... and wrote a beautiful book about it called “Seeing Naples.” The subtitle reads “Reports from the Shadow of Vesuvius.” This large, impressive volume features a cover photo of the author, Daniel Rothbart, cruising on his small motorcycle, which he named Rocinante. Its foreword is a masterpiece of poetic praise by Wayne Koestenbaum, and the publisher’s appropriate logo reads “Edgewise.”

The book contains a movie review of “The Gold of Naples,” by the late director Vittorio de Sica, with a photo portrait of Sophia Loren, and a chapter labeled “Jewish Naples.” There’s also succinct accounts of Rothbart’s friendships with Naples residents and its culture, which is aptly described on the flyleaf as “baroque, classical but expressive, and paradoxical.”

Rothbart never said goodbye to his professors at the Rhode Island School of Design when he departed from our town. But, later, he walked with me on the avenues of Manhattan when I was in New York for my annual conference at the Algonquin, and he was a student at Columbia pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts.

During a recent visit to our town, Rothbart joined me and another professor for breakfast, at the Arcade’s Rogue Island outdoor café, and later sent me a visual record of our rendezvous. Rothbart and his lady, Francine Hunter McGivern (to whom he lovingly dedicates this handsome tome), insisted on treating us to this sumptuous celebration of a long-ago commencement.   

You can get “Seeing Naples” from or It’s a groundbreaking and delightful mix of image, research, travelogue and diary.

MIKE FINK ( teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Fink, book