Graham ’07 and Aaron Purr
Barbora Gia Barbs

If you’re a regular reader of PAW, you know the work of Elyse Graham ’07. She writes articles faster than I can read them, becoming the most prolific contributor to the historical “Portrait” that appears regularly on our last page. She has authored PAW cover stories on people including mathematician Oswald Veblen, a savior of WWII-era refugee scholars, and poet T.S. Eliot, whose letters were recently unveiled at Firestone Library. She has a day job as an associate professor of English at Stony Brook University in New York; this semester, she’s teaching an introductory class that she describes as “programming for philosophers and philosophy for programmers.” Elyse lectures in costume — Mozart one day, Harry Potter the next, complete with a glowing wand and wafting smoke — to grip the attention of 600 or so students on Zoom. 

And now she has a new book. Make that two. 

Over the summer, publishers came out with You Talkin’ to Me?: The Unruly History of New York English (Oxford University Press); and A Unified Theory of Cats on the Internet (Stanford Briefs). The first is a colorful account — so colorful I cannot quote the opening lines here — of New York history, class, and culture as well as language. The second explores the culture of the internet: “Westerners have used cats for centuries as symbols of pathos, anger, and alienation. The communities that helped to build the internet, whose members construed themselves as outsiders who worked against the mainstream, made snark and alienation a part of their identity.” Both books are published under Elyse’s pseudonym, E.J. White.

Elyse began her association with PAW as a student writer. We have always known her to be a prodigious researcher; it was no surprise that in researching the internet book, the former cat hater got a kitty so she could better understand her subject. The name chosen by this longtime teller of alumni tales seems especially fitting, a tribute to a renowned Princetonian who, like a cat, has been misunderstood: Aaron Purr.