‘Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College’ shares origin stories of writers Bret Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt, and Jonathan Lethem

Society & Culture September 30, 2021
Listen to ‘Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College’

Vermont’s liberal arts hub, Bennington College, was a wild place in the 1980s. The idyllic countryside campus was packed with bright Generation X minds, intellectually stimulating classes, friendship, money, and madness. This whimsically-enriching environment, filled with academia, lush nature, rolling mists, and keg parties became a magnet for writers and artists whose work would impact the cultural canon in following years. Several members of 1986’s graduating class would rise to notoriety, as detailed in Audacy’s C13Originals’ documentary podcast, “Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College.”

Among Bennington’s ranks stood Bret Easton Ellis, future writer of American Psycho and co-leader of the literary Brat Pack; Donna Tartt, future writer of The Secret History and Pulitzer Prize winner; and Jonathan Lethem, future writer of Motherless Brooklyn and MacArthur Fellow. You’ll hear parts of the story directly from Bret and Jonathan in episodes, and they’ll share how attending Bennington College informed their work.

“Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College” takes listeners back to the 1980s to speak about this mythologized time frame, where Hemingway’s Moveable Feast‘s concept flew from Paris to northeastern America. We’ll hear about friendships, the competition spurred, the rivalries, elation, and disappointments experienced by this group of geniuses. As we listen throughout the series, we’ll learn how attending Bennington College was likened to “attending school in Andy Warhol’s Factory,” as described by Jonathan.

Bennington College attracted artsy, urban, young adults whose families could swing the high tuition costs and trips to NYC whenever they chose. In the first episode, listeners learn about Donna, Jonathan, and Bret’s on-campus arrival, and why the school was nicknamed “The Little Red Whorehouse on the Hill.” Which one of these writers arrived with a suitcase filled with drugs? Bret shared his story in the second episode, discussing his upbringing, Los Angeles’ glorious youth culture and pessimism in the 1980s, and what lead to writing his novel, Less Than Zero.

Vanity Fair’s Lili Anolik hosts “Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College.” She has been researching this story since 2016, as she pitched and wrote a piece for Esquire magazine. But the idea began in 2013. When Lili visited Bret in his office, she spied a copy of The Secret History and asked why Donna co-dedicated the book to him. Bret told Lili about their friendship, and how they went on a date during freshman year. This story is further explained in the fourth episode of this podcast.

Lili will chat with Bennington’s alumni, as well as other notable guests throughout the season. In upcoming episodes, we’ll hear from Jill Eisenstadt (writer, Literary Brat Packer); Graydon Carter (co-founder of Spy magazine, long-time editor of Vanity Fair magazine); Michael Tolkin (filmmaker and writer), and more!

The first season of the podcast’s franchise was the psychological thriller, “Once Upon a Time..In the Valley” chronicling underage adult star Traci Lords’ journey. In addition to podcasting, Lili is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Her work has also appeared in publications such as Harper’s, Esquire, and The Paris Review. Lili has written Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A. and Dark Rooms. 

The first four episodes of “Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College” were released on September 29. Tune in for new episodes on Wednesdays.

Listen to ‘Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College’

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