The first in what may or may not become a sporadically updated series of posts about successful Wes grads important enough to merit substantial Wiki pages (a.k.a. evidence that there’s hope for more in life after graduation beyond living in a shitty Brooklyn apartment and reliving college during weekend brunches with fellow alumni):
Mary Roach ’81, a Psychology major during her days at Wesleyan, is a well-published journalist and science writer who fuses extensive research on obscure topics with an often morbid sense of humor in such books as Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (which was featured on an episode of Six Feet Under), and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, a study of the weird mysteries of sexual physiology which was published earlier this year and topped bestseller lists.
An excerpt from her website bio:
I grew up in a small house in Etna, New Hampshire. My dad was 65 when I was born. My neighbors taught me how to drive a Skidoo and shoot a rifle, though I never made much use of these skills. I graduated from Wesleyan in 1981, and drove out to San Francisco with some friends. I spent a few years working as a freelance copy editor before landing a half-time PR job at the SF Zoo. My office was in a trailer next to Gorilla World. On the days when I wasn’t taking calls about elephant wart removal surgery or denying rumors that the cheetahs had been sucked dry by fleas, I wrote freelance articles for the local newspaper’s Sunday magazine. Eventually, my editors there moved on to bigger things and took me along with them.
I mostly write books these days, but I still write the occasional magazine piece. These have run in Outside, National Geographic, New Scientist, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine, as well as many others too embarrassing to name. …I often write about science, though I don’t have a science degree and must fake my way through interviews with experts I can’t understand. I also review books for The New York Times.
My first book, Stiff, was an offshoot of a column I wrote for Salon.com. It was sort of a reported humor column, wherein I covered things like vaginal weight-lifting and amputee bowling leagues and the question of how much food it takes to burst a human stomach.
I have no hobbies. I mostly just work on my books and hang out with my family and friends. I enjoy bird-watching–though the hours don’t agree with me–backpacking, thrift stores, overseas supermarkets, Scrabble, mangoes, and that late-night “Animal Planet” show about horrific animals such as the parasitic worm that attaches itself to fishes’ eyeballs but makes up for it by leading the fish around.
In an interview with Salon.com, she describes the sometimes hilariously awkward sex research involved in the process of writing “Bonk”, which included studies of couples having sex in MRI machines, bonobos being shown gay porn, and getting it on with her husband while a doctor took notes.
Somebody get this woman on campus!
- Salon.com: Archive of Mary Roach columns
- Salon.com: Mary Roach, “Bonk”: Getting it on for science