The University of Montana has a very pretty campus. One of its most remarkable features is the view from the west side of the oval with its giant bronze grizzly statue framing Main Hall and the “M” on the side of Mount Sentinel. That’s inspired me to choose Under the Big M as the title of a memoir I’m working on.
I was at UM from 1963 to 1967. Those were heady years there. The arts were alive with Avant Garde plays, painting, sculpture, and jazz. The English Department was headed by one of the top critics in the county, and the sciences had been jolted forward when the Soviets sent Sputnik into space.
The University was a cultural enclave of student activism more than a thousand miles from the hotbeds of protest like Berkeley and the University of Michigan. UM Students were going to the Deep South to register Black voters and were beginning to protest the Vietnam War.
A thousand students marched on Main Hall to protest the suspension of three men for participating in a snowball fight that newspapers called “a near riot.” Professors complained when students published their classmates’ evaluations of teaching. Women were chafing under university dress codes and curfews. Marijuana was becoming common. The Beetles and The Pill arrived.
When I arrived at the university, I was a naive ranch kid from a country of nearly 4,000 square miles and about that many people. Of those people, only one was Black. I had never known a person from another country, not even a Canadian. I had never heard live jazz or bought art from the person who produced it. I got a part in a major production of Macbeth and wrote a news story that Associated Press distributed across America.
I watched my housemate load is pistol and leave to shoot a professor. I was beaten up by gay bashers. I fell in love, got married, and lived in poverty. All Under the Big M.
So, please tell me: Do you think there’s an interesting book about my university years? Do I have a good title?