True North Essay - Critical Essays

Jill Ker Conway

True North

Jill Ker Conway’s first autobiographical volume, THE ROAD FROM COORAIN, ended with Conway, at age twenty-five, boarding a plane that would carry her away from her native Australia to her new home, the United States. TRUE NORTH begins when the plane lands, in a hurricane, in New York, and it follows Conway’s journey through graduate school at Harvard University, to teaching and administrative positions in Toronto, and concludes with her decision to accept the presidency of Smith College. Each leg of this journey offers Conway challenges which she accepts with equanimity and humor, believing, as she notes in the foreword, that her destiny is to “jump off the edge of the world into an unknowable future.”

At Harvard, Conway encounters graduate faculty and graduate students who stretch her intellectual and human capacities. Chief among these influences is the historian who becomes her husband, John Conway. A decorated Canadian war hero, John becomes her “true north,” her compass point guiding her as she determines what direction to pursue, both as an academician and as a human being. In Toronto, the Conways assume academic positions and also face a serious challenge: John’s illness results in his undergoing electric shock therapy. Surviving this difficulty, Jill Ker Conway also survives another potential obstacle, the political and labyrinthine ways of academe. When she assumes the position of vice president for internal affairs at the University...

(The entire section is 406 words.)