ABOUT THE BOOK:
The Serpent Papers
Columbia University alum – Jeff Schnader’s – debut novel
Released to Commemorate 50th Anniversary of
Vietnam War Protests at Columbia University
Columbia University alumnus, Jeff Schnader’s debut novel, The Serpent Papers (The Permanent Press: March 1, 2022), a work of historical fiction, will be released just in time to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the April 1972 marches, building take-overs, riots at Columbia University that suspended classes after the University summoned the police to remove the protesting students. Set on the tumultuous 1972 Columbia University campus during the time of nationwide demonstrations against the Vietnam War, The Serpent Papers is the first book of any kind written about the protests and is based on the real-life experiences of a participant and witness to the events of the era.
The Serpent Papers is the story of J-Bee, raised in the violent world of the 1960s, who chooses to matriculate at Columbia in 1971 rather than join the military. A Southern boy who comes from a conservative Catholic military family, J-Bee exemplifies the struggles of his generation and the challenges they faced balancing patriotism with a rejection of the war.
When he arrives at university, J-Bee is immediately thrust into the anti-war atmosphere and becomes ideologically trapped between his best friend’s fighting overseas and Columbia’s cauldron of anti-war protest. When the moral quandary of a protracted, escalating war comes to a head, and with his own conscience and the conscience of the nation on his mind, J-Bee is forced to make the decision that defines his life.
The mysterious “Serpent” is an invisible voice that emerges from the basement of a seedy Broadway bar. Labeled the “patron saint of The Apocalypse,” the Serpent urges the students to act on their consciences. In this coming-of-age story, the Serpent is the personification of the political ideals of the age.
Schnader, a graduate of the Columbia College class of 1975 and retired full professor from Eastern Virginia Medical College, participated in sit-ins, marches and protests, including the April 25, 1972 riot in front of Hamilton Hall where 1000 students were beaten by hundreds New York City Tactical Police in full battle regalia. J-Bee’s story mirrors Schnader’s life and follows the events of the time by telling the authentic story of what students lived through.
For the Vietnam War generation, the war is still the defining event of their lives and rivets their interest; it created a generational rift between those who fought and those who protested, a rift which this novel aims to heal. The book also features three murders along with a vividly accurate portrayal of 1970s counterculture.
Although not a true memoir, The Serpent Papers reads like one.
Columbia University Protests Timeline:
April 12, 1972 – Hundreds of anti-war demonstrators march to mid-Manhattan and break through police barricades to disrupt a dinner for Vice President Agnew at the Americana Hotel. One Columbia student is arrested for disorderly conduct while the NY Tactical Patrol (Police) Force (TPF), on horseback, swings clubs at the crowd, injuring marchers and dispersing the crowd.
April 17, 1972 – Columbia students march down Broadway, from 116th St to 107th St, to protest the renewed bombing of North Vietnam and the American invasion of Cambodia, ordered by President Nixon. Police estimate the crowd at 2000. The students demand a shut-down of Columbia in protest.
April 18, 1972 – More than 2000 Columbia students march through Morningside Heights, demanding that Columbia be shut down to protest the American military presence in Southeast Asia.
April 19, 1972 – After a noon rally at Pupin Hall (physics building), over 1000 Columbia students march through Morningside Heights, demanding the university be shut down. At 3PM, Columbia President McGill personally presents protestors, who are barricading Hamilton Hall, with a restraining order.
April 20, 1972 – More than 75 helmeted NYC police force a group of 30 picketers to end their blockade of the 118th Street entrance to Columbia’s School of International Affairs.
April 22, 1972 – 50,000 demonstrators march 30 blocks down 6th Avenue in cold driving rain to voice opposition to the Vietnam War. They rally in midtown Manhattan where celebrities and peace activists speak. John Lennon and Yoko Ono are greeted by the crowd midway through the rally.
April 24, 1972 –Columbia’s Lewisohn and Pupin Halls are occupied by protestors against the Vietnam War, and three students are arrested as the student strike enters its second week.
April 25, 1972 – Hundreds of NY Tactical Police, swinging clubs, surround and storm hundreds of protesting students on the Van Am Quad in the most violent day of Columbia’s anti-war student strike.
April 26, 1972 – 100 anti-war students seize Mathematics Hall, bringing the total to five student-occupied campus buildings. At 10 PM, 200 students rally at the Sundial, center of Columbia’s campus.
April 27, 1972 – Students in the anti-strike Majority Coalition, in support of Nixon and his “silent majority,” take back Mathematics Hall from anti-war protestors. They also briefly hold Pupin Hall, only to be retaken later by anti-war protestors.
Late April, 1972 – Columbia University classes end; final exams are canceled. University President McGill publicly vows never again to call police to campus.