Stars Shining Brightly

By Mark Eyerly, February 6, 2024
2011 graduate named one of the top new novelists in United Kingdom and Ireland.

Andres and Wendy

Andrés N. Ordorica ’11 met with students in professor Wendy Dann's Theatre Studies capstone course and spoke about his time as a student at Ithaca College and his new novel, "How We Named the Stars," which draws upon that time. (Photo by Mark Eyerly)

Wendy Dann '93, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre Studies at Ithaca College, hears often from former students. But it’s rare that a communication from an alum sends her leaping from her office chair exclaiming in excitement.

Then again, it’s not every day she receives an email from Andrés N. Ordorica ’11, a resident of Scotland who was recently named one of 2024’s Top 10 debut novelists in the United Kingdom and Ireland for his book, “How We Named the Stars.”

His novel takes place at fictional Cayuga University and draws heavily from his time as a student. Downtown Ithaca plays a prominent role and locals undoubtedly will recognize the inspiration for many settings in the book, which the New York Times praised as “a touching story about a transformative queer romance” and The Washington Post called “a tender coming-of-age novel styled as a heart-rendering letter written after a first love ends in tragedy.” Andrés gave a reading from his novel while on campus as part of a stateside book tour.

The renowned poet, playwright, essayist, and now novelist also visited Dann’s Theatre Studies capstone course at the start of February to share his journey with current students and answer their questions.

“Andrés is an alum who got the most he possibly could out of Ithaca College,” Dann told the students.

A native of Northern California, Ordorica first learned about Ithaca College during a college fair at his high school in Okinawa, Japan, where his father was stationed in the Air Force. Captivated by the campus’ beauty in the marketing brochures and by the ability to double-major in English and Theatre – and buoyed by a generous scholarship package – he made his inaugural campus visit as an incoming first-year student, attending orientation with fellow international students.

 I was very fortunate that, when I had moments of seeming a bit wobbly, my professors knew when to check in. They gave me the grace and a bit of tough love to say life is more important than studies.”

Andrés N. Ordorica ’11

“The campus was almost cinematic,” he recalled. “It matched my childhood imagination of what an American, small-town college would look like. It was continuously beautiful, bucolic.”

But “it was challenging in terms of finding my footing,” he added. “Coming here as a Latinx, queer, first-generation scholarship student from a minority background, it was not always easy. I was very fortunate that, when I had moments of seeming a bit wobbly, my professors knew when to check in. They gave me the grace and a bit of tough love to say life is more important than studies. That it’s better to be doing well rather than drowning in the anxieties of trying to get everything done.”

One of those professors was Claire Gleitman, who is now dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences.

“I am enormously impressed by who he has become,” she said. “This is a person who has grown into a full sense of himself as an accomplished writer, but also as a person who continues to care about others as fame begins to find him.”

That caring was evident in his answers to current students, who asked him questions on everything from the growing role of AI — he urged aspiring playwrights to work with AI as collaborators — to what things were like for him as a student here.

“I was a very shy student with a deep hunger for literature,” he said. “The professors nurtured my curiosity and gave me the agency to dig in.”

With more than a decade of experience, he reassured the students that believing in themselves is critical. “Don’t be so fearful of your instincts,” he said. "You have a good compass within you.”