Kent State bookstore hosts May 4 authors 


Ella Donovan

A 1972 Kent State University graduate and author of Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties, Thomas Grace, attends an author’s visit on May 4, 2022.

Morgan McGrath , Reporter

The Kent State University bookstore was filled with students, staff and alumni on the morning of Wednesday, May 4, 2022.Long tables were covered in blue cloth with name tags of various authors, all of whom wrote books about the tragic event on campus that happened 52 years ago.

Some of these authors were Kent students around the time of the shooting, while others were impacted by the stories of survivors.

One author, Robert Giles, was a managing editor for the Akron Beacon Journal on the day of the attack.

“We covered a number of demonstrations here on campus…so we had good sources, and we knew how to get the story out,” he said.

Giles’ book, When the Truth Mattered, is described as an authoritative novel, and it tells the accounts of his fellow reporters at the scene of the shooting.

In fact, on the day of the attack, Giles’ news team was able to share the story with the public by 4:30 p.m., thanks to a secretary in the journalism dean’s office, who allowed the school’s phone line to continue running.

A student reporter was able to get in contact with the secretary, and he covered the shooting as best he could.

“One of the key things, on the morning of May 4, was we had a young journalism student who was a stringer for us,” said Giles. “And we didn’t think there was gonna be any violence, so we sent him to the campus along with two photographers.”

Giles’ novel also talks about the tense relationship between Kent students and the outside community.

To most people at the time, protestors were thought to be hippies who made a strong stance against the U.S. government.

“All they were doing was expressing their first amendment rights to protest a popular war, and they were really upset about the presence of armed soldiers on campus,” Giles said.

His team of journalists at the Akron Beacon Journal were eventually awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for their work on this particular story.

Sitting next to Giles was author Sabrina Fedel, who wrote a young adult fiction novel about a young girl who wanted to study art at Pratt Institute, but ended up at Kent State.

The main character of the story, Rachel Morelli, is also “in love with a kid who just got back from Vietnam who she grew up with, so she sees how he kind of has to reintegrate into society,” said Fedel.

In order to write this particular story, Fedel had to explore the Record Courier’s archives from the week of the shooting, and she also spoke with members of the university to learn more from a historical perspective.

When talking about the shooting, she said, “[i]t kind of shows how Kent became a microcosm for what was happening across the country, and how what happened here could happen here.”

Sitting a few tables away were Chera Thompson and Neal (NJ) Johnson, Kent State alumni and co-authors of A Time to Wander, which is the story of a hitchhiking trip they both went on.

“We were boyfriend and girlfriend back in 1970 to ‘73,” said Johnson. “And we connected after 38 years.”

The pair took a 16,000 mile road trip together, and the book is told from the perspective of when they were teenagers.

It also mentions the historic moments of Kent State’s history, as both Thompson and Johnson began college in 1971, just a year after the events.

“We included the shooting in the first part of the book,” said Thompson.

During the time they were in college, Thompson also said there were a lot of important issues going on in the United States.

“You had to decide, a lot of decisions,” said Thompson. “Women’s lib, civil rights, all of that.”

Kent State University Professor of 50 years and author of Kent State & May 4th, Jerry M. Lewis, attends an author’s visit on May 4, 2022. (Ella Donovan )

One of the attendees of the event, Joe Collum, played softball at Kent State with Jeffrey Miller, who was one of the four students that got killed on May 4.

Collum originally studied at Kent from 1968-1971, and he’s been coming back to the campus for 40 years to commemorate the historic events.

“I was one of the 25 people indicted for whatever we did, after we got shot at,” Collum said.

He mentions the university’s willingness to teach students about the shooting, saying, “[i]t was a long time for the university to accept the fact that this happened and turn this into a teachable moment instead of trying to run away from it.”

Collum added that “the educational process goes on. Still, a lot of people have misinformation about what events occurred that day.”

One other person in attendance was Kjera Sereji, a former employee and current student at the university.

Sejeri took the separation plan offered to staff members during COVID, which came with a four year tuition.

Now, she’s taking the time to study topics of personal interest, including a class called Media Advocacy and the May 4 class, as well.

In Media Advocacy, her class focused on movement.

“Our group, the movement that we studied was SDS…,” she said.

Sejeri has been able to speak with old and new members of SDS, or Students for a Democratic Society.

She also accredits the May 4 Task Force, as well as students including Colt Hutchinson, and Maya Niesz-Kutsch, as well as Avery (last name unknown) for increasing her passion for May 4.

“The interest has just grown since then, and the activism, and learning more about it.”

At noon, the bookstore event came to an end, and events were moved to Prentice Hall for the 52nd anniversary commencement ceremony.

Morgan McGrath is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]