Joseph Dobrian’s Novel Uses School Mascot To Explore American Values, Family Dynamics

What happens when a professor at a small college decides to defend the school’s iconic but politically incorrect sports mascot? What happens when he falls into the middle of a feud between two famous writers? What happens when the college’s reform-minded president decides to use the professor as “the chicken who’s killed to frighten the monkeys”? And what happens when a fashionable filmmaker decides to make a movie about the whole to-do?

Joseph Dobrian shows what might happen, in his novel, Willie Wilden (Rex Imperator, 538 pps., trade paperback, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-9835572-1-0): a rollicking and slightly naughty narrative of the clash between traditional and progressive American values.

“This story takes place at Van Devander College, which is a stodgy, old-fashioned school in upstate New York, where the new president is trying to modernize,” Dobrian explains. “The book’s main character, Roger Ballou, is a novice professor who has made a mid-life career change and doesn’t know much about campus politics—but he finds out, fast.

“The title of the book, Willie Wilden, refers to the mascot of the college’s sports teams, who’s a funny-looking cartoon Indian. The question of whether that mascot should be retained is one of the hottest issues on campus—and Professor Ballou, being a football fan, can’t stop himself from getting involved.”

Willie Wilden is contrarian social criticism, in the tradition of Thank You For Smoking or A Confederacy of Dunces. The author, who was the Libertarian candidate for Mayor of New York City in 2009, doesn’t pretend to take an even-handed approach.

“Roger Ballou and his friends are fighting what they consider the forces of evil: progressivism and political correctness,” Dobrian explains. “Roger Ballou is almost a time-traveler from another generation, and he’s the first to admit it.”

Willie Wilden isn’t just the story of one man’s struggles, though. It’s a book full of intriguing, eccentric, but entirely believable characters—and the characters drive the story, rather than vice versa. At bottom, Willie Wilden is a book about the dynamics of American culture and ideals. It’s a book about family, friendship, and romance—and about people’s willingness to fight for what they love and care for.

“In terms of style, I guess you could call this a literary novel—I certainly paid as much attention to the style as I did to the story—but I’m not trying to show off how beautifully or obscurely I can write,” Dobrian says. “It’s a fast read, it’s an easy read. I’m hoping that the reader will find the story entertaining, but I’d say that this book is much more character-driven than plot-driven.”

The cast of Willie Wilden is large and various. It includes:

  • Faye Bannister, the college president who wants to turn Van Devander into “a byword for progressive education”;
  • Martin Wandervogel, a filmmaker who has built a reputation as an advocate for “social justice”;
  • Frank Leahy, a crusty local lawyer who knows the dirt on everyone;
  • Dr. Dora Fox, a plastic surgeon who has mysteriously abandoned her practice;
  • Charlotte Fanshaw, whose new tell-all novel has made her one of the best-loved and best-hated writers in the country;
  • Llandor, “the man who taught two generations to love poetry”;
  • and Willie Wilden himself—the school mascot, who ends up standing for a lot more than just Van Devander College.

“Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, you’ll find something in this book to offend you,” Dobrian warns. “But that, I hope, will be part of the fun of reading it.”

Joseph Dobrian is a freelance writer, now living in Iowa City, Iowa. He makes his living as a business journalist, and is currently at work on a book of essays.

To arrange a book signing or interview, contact Joseph Dobrian at 319 351 2672 or

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