Anthology of columns chronicles 20 years of college town living

Jonathan F. McVerry
September 20, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- If you’re scoring, Russell Frank has written roughly 1,100 columns since moving to State College 22 years ago.

The short essays chronicle the joys and challenges of living in Happy Valley, the region of Pennsylvania surrounding Penn State. A selection of the essays appear in the book “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town,” due out Oct. 15 from Penn State University Press.

A New York City native, Frank moved to Happy Valley in 1995 to become features editor for the Centre Daily Times, a local newspaper in State College, Pennsylvania, after spending 20 years in California as a printer, graduate student, folklorist, reporter and teacher. His family bought a house in the fraternity district where the “woo people” live, and a tradition of weekly observations in the local newspaper was born.

“Woo people” refers to the groups of students that would pass by Frank’s house on a nightly basis and, according to an April 2011 piece, “pierce the nighttime silence with warlike cries,” which were often “woo’s.”

Frank, now an associate professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State, spent much of the summer of 2016 combing through boxes and binders of newspaper clippings and searching the internet for his best columns. Some of the older articles unearthed forgotten memories, but Frank was surprised to see he maintained a consistent voice over the 20 years. However, choosing nearly 90 columns out of more than 1,000 was no easy task.

“I tried to pick the ones that I thought were the best. In some of them, I talk about events that happened a long time ago, so it might be a nice walk down memory lane for long-time residents,” said Frank. “But I hope the columns will also interest people just moving to town.”

Frank is a wise-guy city boy who loves the outdoors. He is a hard-nosed journalist who enjoys poetry and philosophy. He is a thoughtful academic, but thrives when writing short, quirky op-eds. His contrasting qualities have provided readers in State College an interesting perspective on a wide variety of issues.

Over those 22 years, State College and Penn State faced some of their most challenging times. With sharp reflection, Frank’s columns offered insight and calming realism.

Topics in “Among the Woo People” stretch beyond living near fraternity houses. Frank talks about transitioning from the newsroom to the classroom, our culture’s obsession with football and the flora and fauna of Central Pennsylvania. He also covers national issues and their local impacts.

Frank wrote for the Centre Daily Times for 14 years before taking his column to StateCollege.com in 2009. Over those 22 years, State College and Penn State faced some of their most challenging times. With sharp reflection, Frank’s columns offered insight and calming realism. As a faculty member, a resident, a father and a sports fan, it was important for him to offer honest criticisms of some of the ideals Penn Staters hold dearest.

Although his criticisms may seem harsh, “it comes from an idealism that things can be better,” he said. “This is a very pleasant town to live in, but it’s almost really, really great. I try to be clear-eyed in how I write and see the world.”

“Among the Woo People” will be available on Oct. 15 at Webster’s Bookstore and Café in State College, and online on the Penn State Press website and Amazon.com. It is Frank’s second book; the first, published in 2011 by University Press of Mississippi, is titled “Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet.” Other writings have been published in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the San Jose Mercury News and other papers.

A book release event and reading of “Among the Woo People” by Frank is scheduled for 4 p.m. Nov. 15 in Foster Auditorium of Paterno Library. Webster’s Café and Bookstore in State College will host a book launch party at 6 p.m. on Oct. 28.

  • "Among the Woo People" by Russell Frank
    IMAGE: Cover art by: Hallie Bateman
  • Russell Frank

    Russell Frank, associate professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, local columnist and author of “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town."

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated June 02, 2021