Peter Schrag '53

Peter Schrag

Peter Schrag

Place of Birth
Karlsruhe, Germany in 1931

Current Home
Davis, CA

Attended schools in Luxemburg, Brussels and New York City. Graduated from Amherst in 1953

Why I chose Amherst 
Totally fortuitous. A friend of my father, I think, mentioned it. None of us knew anything about Amherst, had never been there, and I don’t recall ever even discussing it, but we must have. Also, Amherst offered some financial aid, which I badly needed. I applied to Amherst, Columbia and Queens College in New York. Amherst started a little later that year, so that’s where I went. But after a shaky freshman year, I never regretted it.

Most influential professor
My favorite teacher at Amherst, and later a good friend, was Leo Marx (English and American Studies).

Awards and Prizes
The only significant “award” was a Guggenheim Fellowship in the early seventies. The rest were mostly plaques and certificates that organizations hand out by the bushel.

Favorite Book
Nowadays I mostly read fiction – a mix from classics to serious novels to a lot of whodunits and what Graham Greene called “entertainments”.

Favorite Author
My current favorite among the latter are Martin Walker’s Bruno stories. But over the years, classic fiction, American, English, French.

Tips for aspiring writers?
I’ve been a journalist all my life, beginning with the Amherst Student. I can’t add much advice to the countless writing tips and models that are available. When I taught at the UC Berkeley Journalism School, I used, among many others, Joan Didion, John Updike, Albert Camus, and George Orwell as models (and Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” as holy writ. Now I’d also use Michael Lewis, especially for his research and reporting.

Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
My father wrote a couple of novels and some short stories when I was a teenager and we talked about American fiction, which led me to writing stories, as well as a novel, trying to be Thomas Wolfe, not a great a model, except maybe for a teenager. Journalism started with the Amherst Student. But I had a number of journalist heroes: Izzy Stone, John Hersey, Albert Camus. I think It was the only thing I ever wanted to do. As an immigrant eager to know America, it also seemed to be the best way to get to know and understand my country.

Peter Schrag, who served for 19 years as editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee, has long followed California affairs. A former executive editor of Saturday Review, he is the author of articles and reviews in the Atlantic, Harper’s, the Nation, the New Republic, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Playboy, the American Prospect and other publications. His book, Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future, was a New York Times Notable Book in 1998. Among his other books are Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America (2010) and, with Otto Schrag, When Europe Was a Prison Camp: Father and Son Memoirs (2015) and, most recently, California Fights Back: The Golden State in the Age of Trump (2018) and The World of Aufbau: Hitler’s Refugees in America(2019). A former Guggenheim Fellow, and for many years a visiting scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, he has taught at Amherst College, the University of Massachusetts, and at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and its Graduate School of Public Policy. He lives in Davis, CA.

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Photo credit: Patricia Ternahan