Ivy League instructor tells tales of his tough A.C. childhood

Atlantic City native James Rahn, who dropped out of high school in his junior year, went on to get his master’s degree and now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He relays stories of growing up as a teenager in 1970s Atlantic City in his new book, ‘Bloodnight.’

James Rahn gives readers a glimpse of life as a teenager in 1970s Atlantic City - post Golden Age, but pre-casino - in a novel of 11 linked stories, titled "Bloodnight."

When Rahn was growing up in Atlantic City, the cool thing was to be in a gang if you were a teen.

"The high school fraternities granted a person star status. You would do almost anything to be a member. You endured physical and health torment, but the reward was great. You were a star," said Rahn, 57.

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In Rahn's book, he describes such initiation rituals as being beaten, buried up to the neck in sand and tied to railroad tracks. Rahn says he has no permanent scars, but he describes his childhood as a mixed bag of good and bad. Most of the stuff in his book happened, for instance, being thrown off a low rooftop or having food pulled out of a person's stomach by a string, but he also used invention and exaggeration to tell his story.

Some things actually happened to other people, but not him.

Rahn was a juvenile delinquent, who dropped out of high school in his junior year, but he avoided the fate of many of his classmates.

"I saw a lot of guys that I knew getting into drugs. Guys going to jail. I could see where I was headed," said Rahn, who added he obtained his general equivalency diploma before attending Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona for two years.

The Atlantic City native later earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and master's of fine arts from Columbia University.

Rahn could be one of the only juvenile delinquents in history to be an instructor at an Ivy League school. He teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania. He also started the Rittenhouse Writers' Group in 1988, which may be the longest-running independent fiction workshop in the country.

"Bloodnight" is Rahn's first book. He has been picking away at it for most of his adult life. It coalesced during the past five years, he said.

While Rahn doesn't paint an entirely rosy picture of the Atlantic City of his childhood, he does own a house in his hometown. He is here almost every weekend of the summer with his nieces and about once per month outside of the summer season.

Rahn said his nieces are having a much better experience with Atlantic City than he did growing up.

"It's a nice contrast. They go down to the beach. I don't go down. It's quiet and green. They are more beachy kids than city kids," said Rahn, who added his family's roots in the resort stretch back to 1922. "I'm in the house editing for the writers group. (But) I do go running a lot on the Boardwalk."

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By James Rahn

Aberdeen Bay


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