João Marcos Copertino spent a lot of time reading and writing outside while growing up in Brazil. When he got to Cambridge, he wanted to replicate that experience — weather permitting, of course.
“I needed somewhere that would be quiet and beautiful,” away from the stress he sometimes feels in the stacks of Widener Library, said the doctoral candidate who studies history of emotions in Iberian and Latin American societies between the 19th and 20th century. It turned out he didn’t need to go far.
Copertino is one of countless students, faculty, staff, and affiliates who spent their summer in courtyards, hallway alcoves, cafes, and library stacks around Cambridge and Boston, working on their writing. The pandemic created unusual circumstances in which they could take advantage of the relative quiet of campus to delve deep into their research and pursue their craft. As Harvard begins its full reopening for faculty and students, those quiet moments are even more precious, with the added anticipation of a new semester among colleagues and friends once again.
Copertino’s search for a special space started on a walk from Harvard Yard and to the lawn of the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site on Brattle Street. The tree-studded gardens gave Copertino a tranquil place to read, write, and contemplate life in all its forms.
“Humans often want to identify ourselves as different from everything else in nature, but when I’m in the garden, I feel like I’m being part of nature,” he said, describing the joy of touching grass, feeling the sun on his face, and even getting bitten by mosquitoes, which reminds him of the vulnerabilities of living in one’s environment.
On regular visits to the grassy spot, Copertino leaves his computer at home to avoid distractions, and brings books, pens, and lined paper to invite spontaneity and ingenuity.
“When I’m writing outside, I’ll sometimes start drawing, or I’ll read something that isn’t for my work and it will blend together with whatever I’m working on,” he said. “That blank page can bring some creativity.”