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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 16, 1999.
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At the PAW: Accidental Bride, Intentional Editor
When Lily Blair, the fictional heroine of Janice
comic novel "The Accidental Bride," moves from an editor’s
job in New York to work as a reporter for the daily paper of a dismal
Rust Belt city in Ohio, the singles scene proves so barren that
weeks, she had reread most of Jane Austen in the hours she used to
spend in Third Avenue bars with other reporters."
Much the same could be said of the real Janice Harayda, who, steeped
in the novels, manners, and wit of Jane Austen’s world, recently
to Princeton to become editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW),
after spending 11 years at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, preceded by
three years as editorial director for Boston magazine, and a stint
as a staff writer at Glamour in New York.
"In Cleveland, I loved my job but missed this area so much,"
says Harayda, a writer who literally brims with enthusiasm about the
present, past, and future. "Ohio is an extremely married state.
I lived in Shaker Heights, a conservative suburb, and one of the
I discovered is that marriage is still really big out there. A single
person in Princeton will probably always have some community, whereas
in Ohio single people are literally the odd men out."
In "The Accidental Bride," which is Harayda’s fiction debut,
we first meet Lily on the morning of the month before her splendid
society wedding to "the third richest man in the second largest
city in Ohio" — when she wakes to the realization that she
does not want to get married. While Lily’s mother is worrying over
seating charts, veal medallions, and the caterer’s non-refundable
deposit, Lily grapples with the big existential questions. In
witty comedy of manners, clearly colored by those idle hours spent
revisiting Jane Austen, the furtive meetings, scented love notes,
and anxious faux pas of Austen’s world are replaced by the relentless
answering machine logs and wedding software programs of the 1990s.
As a happily single, 40-something, Harayda now plans to celebrate
the publication of "The Accidental Bride," her Princeton
and her new job as editor of PAW, the university’s alumni magazine,
with a party and a white-frosted, three-tier wedding cake.
But first Harayda will be on Nassau Street on Saturday, June 19, at
8 p.m., to talk about and sign copies of "The Accidental
at Micawber Books.
"Austen was very much an inspiration for the book and so was the
experience of living in Cleveland, Ohio," says Harayda. "They
fit together. In Austen, the women were being pressured by their
mothers to marry. But life has not changed that much from Georgian
England. It was a lucky coincidence that at the time I was thinking
about Jane Austen I was living with these pressures in Ohio."
Harayda grew up in North Brunswick, the oldest of three
siblings. Her parents, now deceased, were John Harayda, who taught
English in the Middlesex public school system, and Marel, who worked
as a freelance photojournalist for what was then the New Brunswick
Home News. During her teen years, the family lived on Route 27, so,
as she points out, "I really did grow up on Nassau Street."
Her father had attended graduate school at Rutgers and her mother
was a graduate of an Illinois teachers college. "My parents made
me aware of the two wonderful universities nearby — Rutgers and
Princeton," says Harayda. "I feel so fortunate because I think
many people grow up in this area and don’t use the resources.
"My mother often took me with her on photo assignments. And when
John F. Kennedy spoke in New Brunswick in 1963, my mother said, `this
is more important than going to school. Come with me on this photo
shoot.’ I remember sitting under the police barricades watching him,
and I even remember some of what he said." Another memorable 1960s
assignment was to the South Brunswick home and studio of artist George
Segal. "I remember seeing those wonderful statues in
their incomplete stages, and feeling how exciting it was to have
access to all that."
Education was a top priority for both her parents and teachers, and
they regularly came to Princeton for performances and special events.
"The big event of my childhood was going to McCarter to see `Amahl
and the Night Visitors,’" Harayda recalls wistfully, disappointed
to discover that Gian Carlo Menotti’s family opera has, in recent
years, been pre-empted by Dickens’ "Christmas Carol."
Now Harayda is quick to note that this is the first time in history
that Princeton (formerly the College of New Jersey) has appointed
an Alumni Weekly editor without either an undergraduate or graduate
degree from Princeton itself. Like her general air of independence,
her institutional connections are somewhat offbeat.
Among the old Princeton institutions Harayda remembers most fondly
is Renwick’s restaurant and ice cream shop on Nassau Street. Although
it seemed like an ordinary spot when she ate there, her discovery
of a reference to it years later in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel,
Side of Paradise," made her realize just how historic it was.
Harayda also has her own well-worn romantic associations with
"My first date at age 10 was with a student at Columbus Boychoir
School — now the American Boychoir School. He invited me to their
Halloween party. I was a nurse and he was a doctor. I wonder if it
set the tone for my entire dating life!"
During Harayda’s teen years, she combined a serious interest in
with an avid babysitting career. And one of the families she regularly
sat for was that of a Princeton alumnus who happened to keep the
Alumni Weekly in the house.
This was at precisely the time it carried a weekly column by
correspondent Landon Y. Jones Jr. ’66, later to become editor of the
PAW, managing editor of People magazine, and now strategic
of Time Inc. At the time Harayda was writing a weekly high school
column for the North Brunswick Sentinel, in addition to working as
an editor on her school paper, the New Brunswick Highlight.
"I was a teenager writing a weekly teenage column, and Lanny Jones
had this regular column in the Alumni Weekly," Harayda recalls.
"I could do math and I could figure out that he wasn’t much older
than I was. And he had such an interesting voice, I read his columns
"His column gave me something to aspire to," she continues.
"It’s wonderful to have a model who’s not much older than you
are. Older writers can be very intimidating. I think that made it
From New Brunswick High School, Harayda headed to the University of
New Hampshire, a seasoned teen journalist attracted by its journalism
faculty. "New Hampshire had a strong journalism program and I
wanted to study with the Pulitzer prizewinner, Donald M. Murray."
And although she might have wanted to stay with one of the area’s
eminent universities, she notes that "Princeton didn’t admit women
at that time."
In her senior year at New Hampshire, where she graduated at 20, a
member of the Class of 1970, Harayda won Mademoiselle magazine’s
writing competition, a competition made mythic by its roster of past
winners that includes the young Sylvia Plath, Ali McGraw, and Joan
Didion. Winners received a free trip to Europe and a month’s stint
as guest editor at Mademoiselle. Harayda was subsequently given a
one-year staff job at the magazine, effectively launching her
In addition to working as a staff member at Glamour, Boston magazine,
and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, she has done book reviews for the
Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Philadelphia Inquirer,
and she has written freelance articles for the New York Times, the
Wall Street Journal, and the Christian Science Monitor. She made her
debut between hard covers in 1986 with the non-fiction hit, "The
Joy of Being Single."
Harayda still credits her parents with both her early
interests and her subsequent successes. Both, she says, were
in writing and both became published authors. While she was growing
up her father, who taught English to vocational students, wrote a
manual on "English for Printers" published by the State of
New Jersey, which brought her pride. Later, her mother published
Magic with Two Basic Stitches," a book of unforeseen popularity
and longevity. "My mother’s book was published when I was an
but it’s still in print, something like 11 years later," says
Harayda. "My goal is to have a book that stays in print as long
as my mother’s did!"
Harayda’s fictional look at modern marriage is not the first time
she has considered the subject. She published "The Joy of Being
Single" at the very moment when newspapers and magazines were
bandying about shocking statistics about how the chances of an
woman over age 35 marrying an American man were roughly equal to her
chance of being assassinated at home by international terrorists.
"This was exactly the moment!" Harayda exclaims, "and
in my book I said, `Who cares? It’s how you live life that counts.’
Essentially I felt I had a very good life as a single woman; so it
was a self-help book that drew very heavily on my own experience."
"The Joy of Being Single" was selected by two book clubs
Doubleday, which has now selected "The Accidental Bride")
and excerpted in four national magazines, generous exposure that
sales significantly. And the issues it addresses — not unlike
the fictional worries of "The Accidental Bride" — remain
"I think, the ideal life would probably mean being single for
four days a week and married for three. The key is not which one you
do, but what you make of what you have. I don’t want to be married,
but I’d like to be able to rent a husband for special occasions —
like reunions," she adds shamelessly.
Now Harayda looks forward to settling back in her childhood home,
one that she has identified as being singles friendly. And one that
hearkens back to her love of Austen’s fiction, her particular favorite
being "Pride and Prejudice."
"Out of every town in America, if you had to pick one where Jane
would feel at home, Princeton would be it," she says. "The
scale of Princeton is very much the scale of a Georgian town. You
can walk to school, to the shops. Jane Austen’s heroines walk —
in fact there’s a slight correlation between walking and virtue.
"I live at the east end of town and don’t have a car. I love to
walk past the big English park benches, noticing the kind of things
that Elizabeth Bennett notices." Princeton also has the right
kind of weather for an Austen heroine. Because, as Harayda is quick
to remind us, "In Jane Austen, even rain is a good plot
— Nicole Plett
609-921-8454. A reading and signing by the Princeton author of
Bride: A Romantic Comedy." Free. Saturday, June 19, 8 p.m.
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