Pluck and Circumstance

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

Dina Peone '15When Dina Peone ’15 was 12 years old, she began keeping a diary. Between smoking cigarettes and playing her guitar late into the night, she filled pages with the details of her sadness about not feeling pretty enough, her anger with her divorced parents, and thoughts about how sometimes she’d rather just be dead. Around that time, she told her brother she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. His matter-of-fact response: “You should go to Sarah Lawrence.”

Peone could never have predicted the turns her life would take after that conversation. In particular, she couldn’t have predicted that at 3:45 a.m. on April 21, 2005, when she was 16, a house fire ignited by a forgotten candle in her bedroom would burn to the muscle almost 70 percent of her body.

It probably goes without saying that Peone is far from your typical Sarah Lawrence senior (as if there were such a thing).

At 26, she’s a sort of modern-day George Eliot heroine, all pluck and wisdom, but with more of an edge. A good edge—and one that has driven her intensity as an artist and writer ever since she relearned how to hold a pen after the fire, which stole two fingers from her right, dominant hand.

Doctors placed Peone in an induced coma for several months after the fire, bringing her out in time for her 17th birthday. She would undergo more than 40 surgeries and relearn “how to do just about everything,” she says. “That’s when I realized how ungrateful I was before—of my body, my mobility, my beauty.” All that anger and depression she’d experienced before somehow just evaporated.

Within a few weeks after arriving at Sarah Lawrence as a transfer student in 2013, Peone began working on her memoir and started a pocket literary anthology called the Cliffhanger, which is designated for “fragments” of literature and black-and-white art. “It’s where sentences go to die,” she jokes.

Peone’s interest in unfinished pieces of writing reflects her preference for the process of writing over the final product. Yet she still finds time to manage SLC’s Publications Space in Bates, write feature articles for The Phoenix, and serve as a nonfiction editor for The Sarah Lawrence Review.

Since coming out of the coma, Peone has recognized a number of eerie coincidences in her life. For example, although her television set melted, her diaries, which sat next to the TV, survived. As she rereads them, she continues to find abundant metaphors about fire. Still, she isn’t one to believe the saying that everything happens for a reason, and thinks that a lot of coincidences and the meaning we ascribe them are arbitrary. “But sometimes you don’t have a choice in the recognition of what’s meaningful,” she says. “Often, the story is already there.”