Andrew Logan ’18

‘Because When God is Too Busy’: Ulysse’s Newest Book with Wesleyan Press

9780819577351Wesleyan Professor of Anthropology and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Gina Athena Ulysse’s newest publication, Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, Me, & The World, (Wesleyan University Press, April 2017), is a coIlection of poems, performance texts, and photographs that explores longing for a sacred and ancestral past—now entangled by Western and postcolonial inheritances. Both a lyrical and meditative work, the publisher calls it “a poetic journey through silence, rebellious rage, love, and the sacred.” In it, Ulysse blurs the lines between genre and medium, as well as the personal and geopolitical.

The work has already garnered attention. Edwidge Danticat, a former MacArthur Fellow and National Book Critics Circle Award recipient, lauds Ulysse as “a force of nature…Fierce, fearless, and passionate, she delights us, shakes us up, educates us, and after reading her poignant and powerful book, she becomes indispensable to us as her amazing work.”

Diana Taylor, Professor of Performance Studies and Spanish at NYU’s Tisch School, writes that “this beautiful set of reflections on being Haitian…goes beyond the disciplinary divides…[to] help us remember our ancestral stories and practices,” and calls the book, “a brave and necessary exploration.”

Ulysse, an artist-anthropologist-activist originally from Pétion-Ville, Haïti, is a frequent blogger, a poet, and author of numerous essays and books, including, most recently, Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle (Wesleyan University Press, 2015). In 2008 she published Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica with the University of Chicago Press.

Ulysse’s artistic and academic practice also incorporates spokenword, performance art, and installation pieces. Her performance VooDooDoll Or What if Haïti were a Woman: On ti Travay sou 21 Pwen or An Alter(ed)native in Something Other than Fiction debuted at Encuentro in Montreal in 2014.

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

Poet Reece ‘85 and Honduran Orphans Are Subject of James Franco Documentary

Episcopalian priest and poet Spencer Reece ’85 taught poetry to the children of Little Roses, an orphanage in Guatelmala, the "murder capital of the world."

Episcopalian priest Spencer Reece ’85 and his poetry students, the children of an orphanage in Honduras, were the subject of a documentary executive produced by actor James Franco.

The film, Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World, documents the experiences of poet, priest, and teacher Spencer Reece ’85 in the year he spent teaching poetry at Our Little Roses, a home for abused and abandoned girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Executive produced by Hollywood actor James Franco and directed by Brad Coley, the film had its world premier at the Miami Film Festival in March. Sherri Linden, in the Hollywood Reportercalled it “eloquent,” adding that “[i]t captures an inspiring connection between Reece and his students, whether they’re discussing love and loss or exploring meter through Auden and salsa dancing. It’s the connection between language and life.”

Reese, whose debut collection, The Clerk’s Tale, (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) was chosen for the Bakeless Poetry Prize, had been ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2011, and first visited Our Little Roses as a three-month-long Spanish language immersion program to help him serve his community. He told Joan Crissos of the Washington Post (The Priest Who Healed Orphans with Poetry) that over the course of these months he was struggling to learn Spanish and did not spend much time with the girls. But the night before he returned to America, he noticed one of the girls outside his room. Speaking in a language he was just beginning to understand, she told him, “Don’t forget us.”

And he didn’t. Back in the States, he applied for a Fulbright to return to teach poetry to the girls, “using the lines of meters and verse to help them excavate the layers of emotional scars left behind after their parents abandoned them.” The Fulbright, he admitted to Crissos, might have seemed an unlikely stretch: “’The whole thing didn’t look very good on paper…. I hadn’t taught before, I wasn’t a priest that long, and I hardly spoke Spanish.’

“‘But poetry was what I knew…. It gave me a place where I could find solace, feel that I was loved.'”

With the grant—and a film crew to help tell his story—Reece returned in 2013. His curriculum included a variety of English language poets such as Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, and Langston Hughes, and he encouraged the girls to write their own poetry, which they would translate from Spanish into English. He had planned to publish these poems, and the book, Counting Time Like People Count Stars (Tia Chucha Press), will be published in time for Christmas, he notes on the Little Roses Facebook page.

 

Kolcio Leads Somatic Exercises for the Ukrainian National Guard

Professor of Dance and Environmental Studies Katja Kolcio leading a somatic workshop with Ukrainian National Guardsmen. What I’ve learned is most radical about being invited by the National Guard – The have instituted counseling and mind-body programming in an effort to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of war. There is a great concern about the long term effects that this invasion political conflict with Russia will have in Ukraine on the present and future generations.

The Ukranian National Guard invited Wesleyan Professor of Dance and Environmental Studies Katja Kolcio to their country to lead somatic workshops for Guard personnel. The request from a reserve military force, says Kolcio, was unprecedented, and it illustrates that country’s radically new understanding of conflict. “They have instituted counseling and mind-body programming in an effort to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of war,” Kolcio says. “There is a great concern about the longterm effects that this political conflict with Russia will have in Ukraine on the present and future generations.”

Wesleyan Professor of Dance and Environmental Studies Katja Kolcio traveled again to Ukraine in April, this time to work with soldiers and psychologists in the National Guard. It was her third trip to the region to teach somatic practices to those undergoing the stress of political conflict, displacement, and combat.

Somatics are “mind-body practices that combine physical activity and motion with deep reflection,” she explained in “Somatics and Political Change: Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity,” (Contact Quarterly, summer/fall 2016), detailing her first trip to the region after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. In June 2015 she had been invited to lead somatic workshops for the volunteers working with refugee families and injured soldiers and offered her first set of classes in Ukraine then.

“One goal of somatics is to become more aware of subtle physical indications of dis-ease before they become acute or chronic issues,” she wrote. “Somatics is also a practice of “sense-making’—of integrating internal experiences with the external environment in order to become more conscious in the present moment.”

Kolcio considers this crucial work for her Wesleyan students, including first-year students “who are away from home for the first time, encountering world-shifting ideas.” Working with the breath and experiencing the body in the environment—its weight, the stress it holds—helps to orient the practitioner in the present moment—and envision new possibilities, make sense of the world in a different way.”

This work of integrating experiences is particularly important for those in regions undergoing crises, Kolcio believes—and it is what she can offer this country where she has familial roots. At the invitation of the National Guard of Ukraine this time, Kolcio returned to implement a somatics program to alleviate the injuries that soldiers sustain in combat.

Offering two-day workshops, Kolcio taught the creative and contemplative physical practices of somatics, as well as the cognitive approaches to build psychological flexibility and stress resistance among soldiers. Some of the techniques included the history of the body, self-awareness, breathing, body weight, muscle tension and movement.

“Various events leave a mark not only in memory but also in the body,” says Kolcio. “Thus, when helping patients recover from traumatic events, it is important to consider not only the memory in a classic sense, but the memory within the body.”

A political science major as an undergraduate, Kolcio places her body work in the context of that country’s history. The peaceful protest of the Revolution of Dignity has helped that country envision “another kind of orientation, one that seemed intent on superseding ethnic, national, and religious definitions,” she wrote in Contact Quarterly.

”What if we treated social-political orientation in the way we approach awareness in a somatic workshop?” she asks in her article. “I believe this is why my somatic workshops are being embraced here. People are seeking new ways of making sense in the world…. Somatics is an individual practice; I also see it as a social movement.” dlya_oficeriv-psyhologiv_provely_trening_za_uchasti_zakordonnyh_ekspertiv_2

 

Juhasz, Brewer ‘13 Co-Author Article in Psycholinguistic Research Journal

Associate Professor Barbara Juhasz is interested in how words are processed during reading

Associate Professor Barbara Juhasz is interested in how words are processed during reading.

Wesleyan Associate Professor of Psychology Barbara Juhasz and alumna Jennifer Brewer ’13 recently coauthored an article titled “An Investigation into the Processing of Lexicalized English Blend Words: Evidence from Lexical Decisions and Eye Movements During Reading” in the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.

Their work examines the process of blending, through which a new word or concept develops from the synthesis of two source words. Some examples of common blended words include “smog,” “brunch” and “infomercial.” Though previous research on blending has inspected the structure of blends, Juhasz and Brewer examined how common-blended words are recognized compared to other kinds of words.

Pairing blend words with non-blend control words of similar familiarity, length and frequency, the study asked participants to complete tasks involving lexical decisions and sentence reading. The results found that participants processed blend words differently from non-blend words according to task demands. In the lexical decision task participants recognized blend words more slowly but received shorter fixation durations when read within sentences.

Draper ’12, Celestin ’13, Khandros ’13 Create Film Festival on Greek Island

The Syros International Film Festival was founded in 2013 by a team of four—including Nathaniel Draper ’12, Casandra Celestin ’13, and Aaron Kahndros ’13—and will run this year for five days in July.

The Syros International Film Festival was founded in 2013 by a team of four—including Nathaniel Draper ’12, Casandra Celestin ’13 and Aaron Kahndros ’13—and will run this year for five days in July.

How does one convert a shipyard into a cinema? “With a lot of gumption and very little sleep,” reports Nathaniel Draper ’12, the technical director of the Syros International Film Festival (SIFF).

For five days in July, Draper and his colleagues Cassandra Celestin ’13, Aaron Khandros ’13 and Jacob Moe will transform the small Greek island of Syros into a multifaceted cinema space.

Projectors hauled over three hours by boat from Athens will be erected on Syros’s docks, beaches and quarries to screen a variety of films, from art house to Hollywood. Musicians and filmmakers will gather for all-night multimedia performances and, with the help of participants, will construct musical instruments and perform. These are just a few of the unconventional features of the Syros International Film Festival.

Initiated in 2013 by Celestin and Khandros, the festival began as a DIY project financed out of pocket. But it has grown rapidly. Today, their sponsors—the Onassis Foundation, the US Embassy of Athens, Institut Français and Huffington Post Greece, among others—cover much of the expenses.

This year, the festival roster will explore the comedic and psychotic implications of its thematic idiom, “Cracking Up.” As such, it will feature a mix of cinema and expanded cinema that will, according to Draper, break open “the traditional confines of the projection experience.” One of the selections is a 1926 silent film by Japanese director Teinosuke Kinugasais A Page of Madness, which depicts the lives of patients in a insane asylum through an expressionistic style.

These alternative cinematic performances inspired Draper and his team to engage with the shadow puppetry of Indonesian gamelan performance, which Draper was first introduced to through Wesleyan’s world music program. They hope to feature the experimental musician Mike Cooper, performing alongside Gods of Bali, a film that documents Gamelan music and dance. With the assistance of an expert from nearby Cyprus, volunteers and participants will also learn to perform in a Gamelan ensemble built from from items gathered on Syros.

Quite literally a product of its environment, the SIFF has also had to contend with the Greek economic crisis–ironically, the opening night of the 2015 festival coincided with Greece’s vote for austerity.

The SIFF is not Draper’s first experience curating film: As an undergrad, he helped create the “Cinema Sorcery Front,” a club that ran independent film screenings for students. A film major, he fondly remembers Associate Professor of Film Studies Steve Collins ’96, who supported his work and pushed the boundaries of his classroom education.

Smoklin Contributes to “Year of Russia” at KSU

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin

Participating in Kennesaw State University’s “Year of Russia” program, Assistant Professor of History Victoria Smoklin presented on the current state of US-Russia relations. KSU’s “Year of Russia” invites academics, artists and dignitaries “to promote a deeper appreciation for and understanding of Russia and its people.”

During her presentation Smoklin discussed ideological struggle over national identity in contemporary Russia. She noted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in this struggle. His strategic engagement with his country’s history he has led to an unprecedented gain approval ratings. In particular, she cited Putin’s construction of a 54 foot tall statue of the 10th century Slavic leader and proponent of Orthodox Christianity, Vladimir the Great.

Commenting on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Smoklin argued that Russia’s actions suggest not merely a desire to seize control of the area but rather to assert its claims. This increasing expansion is part of Putin’s desire to create “a spiritual geographic entity” that will replace the “narrative of liberal democracy” that inadequately supported Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

You can learn more about “Year of Russia” online here.

Faculty, Students, Alumni Attend the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Avi Stein ‘17.

A group of Wesleyan faculty, students and alumni attended the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodland, Texas March 20-24. The annual conference unites 2,000 international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology and astronomy to present their latest research in planetary science over the course of several days.

Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology Martha Gilmore coordinated Wesleyan’s group. While at the event, she presented her work on the oldest rocks on Venus and Mars gully analogues on Earth.

McKeeby MA ’17 and Tarnas ’16 (Photo by Martha Gilmore)

McKeeby MA ’17 and Tarnas ’16.

A number of her current graduate and undergraduate students attended and several also presented their work. Ben McKeeby MA ’17 discussed his work on Mars-analogue volcanic sites on Earth; Shaun Mahmood MA ’17 discussed his work on lunar water; and Avi Stein ’17 discussed his work on Venus sediments. All three of these students were supported by the NASA Connecticut Space Grant. Earth and Environmental Sciences graduate student Jordyn-Marie Dudley MA ’18 also attended the conference.

Professor Martha Gilmore and Golder MA ’13 (Photo by Martha Gilmore)

Professor Martha Gilmore and Golder MA ’13.

Numerous alumni made contributions at the conference including astronomy majors Bob Nelson MA ’69 and Jesse Tarnas ’16; earth and environmental sciences majors Tanya Harrison MA ’08, Nina Lanza MA ’06, Keenan Golder MA ’13 and James Dottin ’13.

Earth and environmental sciences and chemistry double major Peter Martin ’14 and physics major Ian Garrick-Bethell ’02 also contributed.

White ‘93, Greenidge ‘04 Win Whiting Awards for Writing

Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 (Photo by Syreeta McFadden)

Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 (Photo by Syreeta McFadden)

This month, two Wesleyan alumnae writers, Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 and Simone White ’93 received the prestigious Whiting Award. Given annually to only 10 emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry, the award provides recipients with a $50,000 grant and is the largest of its kind. Previous winners have gone on to receive the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships. Some Whiting Award winners include Jeffery Eugenides, Colson Whitehead, Tracy Smith and David Foster Wallace.

Greenidge’s 2016 novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman is her most recent work and was published by Algonquin Books. The unconventional story chronicles a family of color fluent in sign language that travel to western Massachusetts to participate in a research experiment. There, they live with a chimpanzee named Charlie and attempt to teach it sign language.

The Whiting Award committee wrote that Greenridge “is at work on a broader underlying story: our inability to find a common language for a discussion of race in America. The sense you get is that she’s nowhere near her full powers yet, and the prospect is thrilling.”

Simone White ‘93 (Photo by Pat Cassidy Mollach)

Simone White ‘93 (Photo by Pat Cassidy Mollach)

White, program director at The Poetry Project and visiting assistant professor of literary studies at The New School, Eugene Lang College, has published several collections of poetry. Her most recent collection, Of Being Dispersed, was printed in 2016 by Futurepoem Books.

The Whiting Award selection committee praises White for “[deconstructing] our ideas of Americanness and the failure of language to be the transparent scrim we sometimes mistake it to be.” Dear Angel of Death, a book of criticism and poems also by White, is forthcoming with Ugly Duckling Press.

Otake, Johnston ‘Fukushima’ Project Culminating Events in NYC on March 11

remembering fukushima e-vite 3.6 copy

Eiko Otake stands on the top of a breakwater in a dark gray kimono. To her right, the ocean crashes into piles of concrete cubes–their shapes, stacked together, seem almost too clean, like abstractions of stone. She clutches a large but frayed scarlet cloth that catches the wind and encircles her, hovering just inches from her skin. Following the breakwater into the distance, a large cubic structure is visible along the water’s edge. It is the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Plant, 12 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. She is standing at the midpoint between the infamous two, in the area where the tsunami wave reached 68 feet and the level of radiation remains very high.

Tableaux like this constitute A Body in Fukushima (2016), a series of photographs by Otake, visiting artist in dance and the College of East Asian Studies, and her collaborator William Johnston, professor of history, East Asian studies, science in society and environmental studies. The series shows her, a lone body in the landscape of Fukushima, Japan, in the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. This collaborative photo exhibition had been on Wesleyan’s campus from February through May 2015.

Currently in New York City as part of The Christa Project: Manifesting Diving Bodies, at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the exhibit will culminate in Remembering Fukushima: Art and Conversations at the Cathedral on March 11, the sixth anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns that followed.

Sustainability Conference March 31

sustainabilityOn March 31, the Connecticut Alliance for Campus Sustainability will run its fourth annual Connecticut Campus Sustainability Conference on campus from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The theme for this year’s conference is “Engagement and Empowerment around Climate Change: Fostering Inspiration and Action at the Local Level.”

Discussions will center on sustainable citizenship in Connecticut and how to take action at multiple levels, including the role of universities, state policy makers, students, municipalities and individuals.

The conference encourages the involvement of attendees and invites them to share their work on campus sustainability as break-out session speakers.

Register online.

Men’s Squash Wins Conroy Cup after 25 Years

jucouaya7egql9n6After a 25 year wait, the Wesleyan men’s squash team has once again won the Conroy Cup at the College Squash Association (CSA) National Team Championships. The Conroy Cup features teams ranked between 25th and 32nd in the men’s National Team Championships. Wesleyan’s 26th rated team edged out 25th rated Hobart College in a 5-4 to win to take the cup Feb. 19 at Harvard University. This adds a third Conroy Cup to their trophy case.

The win featured excellent showings by the Cardinals. David Sneed ’17 and Zach Roach ’17 fought their way to No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Sneed won all three of his sets to take the match while Roach made a brilliant recovery to claim a 3-2 win over Hobart’s Terrance Rose.

Now that their team season has concluded, the Cardinals look forward to hearing the CSA National Individual Championship announcement that will determine who will compete in the three-day tournament in March.

Read more on the Wesleyan Athletics website.