Seth Brown | The Pun Also Rises: The life of stories


On Thursday I went to see Ta-Nehisi Coates at MCLA. Many have called him one of the most important writers of our time, for his long and thoughtful articles in the Atlantic, and his award-winning books. The most recent thing of his I had read was a Black Panther comic. But I maintain that's still important, because our stories outlive us.

I was thinking of this last month when I learned that my former advisor, a dean at Williams College, had died. This was a man who had a tremendous spirit of generosity, who not only helped me navigate the trials and tribulations of freshman year, but even invited me into his home for dinner. He would regale me with tales and pictures of his time in Africa, sharing the joys he experienced there and talking about the help he offered. Years after graduating, I would learn from another college friend that when she was in dire straits and in need of help, he gave her a bicycle.

Everyone had a Dean Sneed story.

His name alone was enough to move the world. At least, it seemed that way to me. Back when I was in college, I was applying for a job working at the Williams Press Office over the summer, and had set up an interview. Time management was not my strong suit in those days, so I began wandering over a few minutes before the interview was scheduled. On the way, who should I encounter but Dean Sneed. As always, he was very friendly and asked what I was up to. I explained that I was on my way to an interview in the press office. He said to mention his name, because it might help.

I arrived at the building roughly one minute before my interview started. Unfortunately, the interview was on the fourth floor. With little time to spare, instead of waiting for the elevator, I sprinted up four flights of stairs. I should point out that normally I only sprint when being chased by some form of impending death, so this was quite unusual for me. By the time I reached the fourth floor, I was completely out of breath, and hyperventilating madly.

I was also about to be late, so I immediately burst into the office where my interview was scheduled. In hindsight, this may not have been the ideal choice.

"Hello," said the businesswoman who might determine whether or not I would get a job.


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"Would you like a glass of water?", she asked?


In spite of this inauspicious start, after a glass of water I managed to talk my way past the preliminary interview into the second round, so they sent me into a conference room where my potential boss introduced himself and began asking me questions. As soon as there was a lull in the questioning, I said, "Oh, Dean Sneed said I should mention his name because it might help me get a job." And then I began to wriggle my fingers as if casting a spell on the interviewer, and repeated "Dean Sneed."

And it worked.

I was a ridiculous person in college. Still am, in fact. Last week at MCLA a few minutes before it started, I was blathering made-up nonsense about the event. The young woman next to me turned and politely explained how the event was actually set up. I asked how she knew. "My mother is the one interviewing Ta-Nehisi Coates," she replied. The interviewer was Frances Jones-Sneed, which meant this woman was Dean Sneed's daughter.

The conversation on stage was fascinating, and I was pleased to see Ta-Nahisi Coates talk about how stories can inspire people and change the world. He even talked a bit about Black Panther, how it's important that young white boys could be inspired by a black hero. And I knew he was right.

After all, my college advisor was Dean Sneed.

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor writer, the author of "The Little Book of Mahjong," and thinks if you leave behind a lot of stories about your kindness you have probably lived well. His website is


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