Cynthia Rockwell

Cynthia Rockwell, MALS ’19, P’11

Former Virginia Governor Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, Remembered

Gerald Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, who had served as the 65th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, died Oct. 29, 2019. He was 79.

A government major at Wesleyan, he earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. After a stint in the Virginia attorney general’s office, he practiced law in Richmond, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1976, he became the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1981, and was, during his term, selected by his peers as Outstanding Attorney General of the United States.

Elected governor in 1985, he served in that capacity from 1986 through 1991. An obituary in the Richmond Times Post noted that as governor, “[h]e delivered on his promise to make transportation an economic building block, with new roads and improvements to the port and airports in Virginia. He saw education as the key to economic development, raising teachers’ salaries and fully funding school budgets. . . . His continuing leadership was recognized by the National Governors Association when he was elected as its chairman during his term.”

Startup Incubator Class Pitches Ideas to Middletown Community

start up

The members of Wesleyan’s Startup Incubator stand together on pitch night, held in downtown Middletown on the second floor of Main Street Market. From left to right, beginning with the front row: Tommy Doyle ’21 and Bobby Iwashima ’22. Along the wall: Itzel Valdez ’23, Daniel Banks ’22, Lucas Pabarcius ’22, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’11, Shane Chase, program director at reSET (an affiliated organization), Nigel Hayes ’23, Ona Hauert ’20, Will Huestis ’22, Zachary Zavalick ’20, and Nolan Collins ’23 (missing from photo: Beckett Azevedo ’21). (Photo by Dennis Hohne)

Eleven students from CSPL 239, Startup Incubator: The Art and Science of Launching Your Idea, took turns standing before an audience of their peers and members of Middletown’s Chamber of Commerce on the second floor of Main Street Market. Each offered a polished presentation detailing the need for their proposed startup, their mission, target market, and success indicators for the business, nonprofit, or community-based program they imagine. The evening was hosted through Collision-CT and the Middletown Entrepreneurs Workspace Plus (MEWS+). The course was made possible by CTNext and the Newman’s Own Foundation.

Taught this year by Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’11, the course was initially developed in 2018 by Makaela Kingsley ’98, director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, in collaboration with reSET, the Hartford-based social enterprise trust.

Shasha ’50, P’82, Founder of Human Concerns Seminar, Is Remembered

James Shasha, the businessman and benefactor who founded and endowed the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan, died Oct. 21. He was 91.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1929, he emigrated to the United States when he was 15 and later attended Wesleyan, graduating in 1950 with a major in economics. In 1955 he moved to Argentina, where he pursued his business interests in the wool and carpet industries, serving as the country’s delegate to the International Wool and Textile organization. Later, at 73, he decided to delve into the hotel business without previous experience in this industry. He acquired four hotels: three in Argentina and one in Uruguay.

Always interested in education and the qualities of citizenship, he told Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institution with which he was also affiliated: “After World War II there was a lot of idealism about how to build a better world and that was what made me understand and incorporate what a citizen’s responsibility should be: take responsibility for the environment, be it the community, the country, or culture in which it participates.”

He developed the Shasha Seminars first at the Hebrew University and then imported them to Wesleyan.

Krishnan Speaks on South Indian Cultural Forms at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore

On Dec. 3, Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance, presented a talk about his new book, Celluloid Classicism: Early Tamil Cinema and the Making of Modern Bharatanatyam, at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore. 

On Dec. 3, Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance, presented a talk about his new book, Celluloid Classicism: Early Tamil Cinema and the Making of Modern Bharatanatyam, at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore. 

Celluloid Classicism, published by Wesleyan University Press in August 2019, provides a detailed history of two important modern South Indian cultural forms: Tamil Cinema and Bharatanatyam dance. Krishnan addresses representations of dance in the cinema from an interdisciplinary, critical-historical perspective.

Celluloid Classicism, published by Wesleyan University Press in August 2019, provides a detailed history of two important modern South Indian cultural forms: Tamil cinema and Bharatanatyam dance. Speaking at the event, he observed that Wesleyan is “a primary site of the reinvention of the dance in the 20th century” with noted Bharatanatyam dancer T. Balasaraswati serving as the first artist in residence at Wesleyan University in the 1960s. Additionally, her brothers, T. Viswanathan and T. Ranganathan, taught in the Music Department for several decades. “So this art form is very much embedded into pedagogy into the DNA at Wesleyan,” he said, noting the responsibility he felt in continuing this tradition at Wesleyan, adding “I’m not interested in relegating Bharatanatyam as some kind of museum historical dance style. I’m interested in giving the form a kind of postmodern currency and how the form can live and breathe, mutate, transform in a variety of ways.”

Krishnan is an expert on queer subjectivities in South Asian and global dance performance, colonialism, post-colonialism and Indian dance, and the history of devadasi (courtesan) dance traditions in South India. He's also the artistic director of Toronto-based dance company inDANCE.

Reading from the introduction, he explained, “Much of this project is concerned with intersections—historical, aesthetic, political and social—between new cultural forms as they were circulated the early 20th century in South India.” Krishnan is an expert on queer subjectivities in South Asian and global dance performance, colonialism, post-colonialism and Indian dance, and the history of devadasi (courtesan) dance traditions in South India. He’s also the artistic director of Toronto-based dance company inDANCE. (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

Greenhouse ’73, P’08 Lectures on the Past and Future of American Labor

Greenhouse lectures in the COL library

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08 discussed his book, Beaten Down, Worked Up, in the College of Letters Library. (Photo by Simon Duan ’23)

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, spoke in the College of Letters Library  on October 29 to a group that included Professor of History Ron Schatz’s class on American Labor History on Oct. 29, in the College Of Letters Library. His topic was “White Collar, Blue Collar and Gig Workers: What is the Future of American Labor?” The lecture was sponsored by the History Department and the College of Letters.

Greenhouse is a former New York Times labor reporter, and a review by Zephyr Teachout of Greenhouse’s book appeared in the paper on Oct. 3. Teachout called Greenhouse’s book an “engrossing, character-driven, panoramic new book on the past and present of worker organizing.” Teachout wrote: “There’s an enormous upheaval in the American workplace right now, and those who tell you they know how the next decade will pan out—for good or ill—don’t know their history. That’s one of the main lessons of Beaten Down, Worked Up … ”

Speaking to those gathered in the COL library, Greenhouse provided some of that history, drawing parallels between a piecework laborer in New York City’s garment district in the late 1800s to 20-something freelance workers putting in long hours hunched over their computers at home in today’s gig economy. He notes that some Uber drivers used to make more money per hour until upper management halved their pay rate, making it nearly impossible to support one’s family, even working 60 hours a week. He observed that Kickstarter, supposedly a labor-friendly organization, fired three out of eight people who were on a unionization committee. He further noted that Amazon now employs often inexperienced independent contractors as delivery drivers who have been involved in a number of serious auto accidents.

Parker ’48, First Theater Major, Mentor to Hamilton Creators, Dies at 92

Gilbert Parker ’48, a retired literary agent who represented many of the country’s most influential playwrights over the span of nearly half a century, died Oct. 29, 2019. He was 92 and had served in the US Navy during World War II.

The first theater major at Wesleyan, he earned his degree with honors and distinction. Beginning his career at Liebling-Wood, Inc., as the assistant to Audrey Wood, the renowned agent who represented Tennessee Williams and other significant playwrights, Parker later joined the William Morris Agency, retiring in 2000.

Parker was noted as an adviser and mentor to many young and aspiring Wesleyan theater majors, and in his honor, Thomas Kail ’99 and Claire Labine (a former client of Parker’s and creator/head writer of Ryan’s Hope) created a Wesleyan scholarship in Parker’s name in 2012. In a note to those gathered in New York City to celebrate the Gilbert Parker Endowed Scholarship, President Michael S. Roth ’78 had observed, “During your sparkling 50-year career as an agent, the Wesleyan community took pride in your reflected glory. You made this relationship with our alma mater deeper and more personal, then and following your retirement, by closely mentoring Wesleyan graduates in the theater world like Thomas Kail ’99, Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, John Buffalo Mailer ’00, and Bill Sherman ’02, among others. It’s wonderful that a group of your friends and protégés initiated this scholarship fund (and typical of your generosity, Gilbert, that you have contributed to it).”

A memorial service is planned for Parker on Feb. 3, 2020, in New York City. Those who would like more information, or would like to make a gift to the Gilbert Parker Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wesleyan University in celebration of his life, please contact Marcy Herlihy at mherlihy@wesleyan.edu; 860/685-2523; Wesleyan University Office of Advancement, 291 Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457.

Tucker Authors 2 Chapters, Writes Paper

Photo of Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is the author of recently published work in a journal and in edited volumes. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history, is the author of two chapters in recently published texts. Additionally, a paper she wrote on early responses to chemical pollution was published in the journal International Labor and Working-Class History. With academic affiliations in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, environmental studies, and Science in Society, Tucker’s work highlights her wide-ranging scholarly interests. She is also the co-editor of A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment published by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

Tucker’s chapter, “James Forbes (1749–1819): A View of the Ocean, Between the Tropics (1765–1800),” appears in Britain in the World: Highlights from the Yale Center for British Art (Yale University Press, 2019). In this chapter, Tucker explores not only the qualities of Forbes’s watercolor (which appeared in volume nine of his 13-folio set), but also the appeal that the ocean’s inhabitants had for the British in the late-18th century. Noting that Britain was a naval power, Tucker reminds her readers that drawing would have been a way that passengers could while away their time aboard a ship. It was also an opportunity to categorize the variety of animals living in the ocean, and Tucker points out that Forbes’s work explores the ecological aspects of the interactions between species. “Although not a trained natural­ist, Forbes’s artworks express the wider fascination of the time in both the sheer abundance of oceanic life and the specificity of individual physical descriptions and nomenclature,” she writes.

In another book, Anton Pannekoek (1873–1960): Ways of Viewing Science and Society (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019), Tucker’s chapter, “Popularizing the Cosmos: Pedagogies of Science and Society in Anton Pannekoek’s Life and Work,” explores Pannekoek’s efforts to encourage both public and political engagement with astronomy, presenting it as a field that offered opportunities to visualize grand-scale societal progress. “Anton Pannekoek straddled both science and social criticism,” wrote Tucker. “[A]s a scientist, he was concerned with how we can learn about galaxies beyond our capacity to observe; as a socialist, he wondered how we can imagine and bring into being a better future society.”

In Tucker’s paper, “Dangerous Exposures: Work and Waste in the Victorian Chemical Trade,” published in the spring issue of International Labor and Working-Class History (95), she examines the towns in Britain where the first chemical factories were located in the 1800s in light of the early responses to pollution and its effect on society. Using archival sources, Tucker explores the use of visual imagery in making the connection between workers in the industry, waste disposal, and community health concerns. She writes: “[A]s the figure of the alkali worker entered public discourses in the mid-1890s in the writings and images of middle class reformers, it was waste—material, as well as human—that caught the eyes of reformers by the 1890s. As imagined in powerful words and images, the chemical worker’s body was transformed into an appendage of the industrial apparatus whereby their mental and physical health ‘wasted away’ with the chemical residue.”

Roellke ’87 Elected President of Stetson University

portrait of Christopher Roellke

Christopher Roellke ’87 is the new president of Stetson University. (Photo courtesy Stetson University)

Christopher F. Roellke ’87, PhD, has been named president of Stetson University, effective July 1, 2020. Currently dean of the college emeritus and professor of education at Vassar College, Roellke will be the 10th person to hold this position, succeeding Wendy B. Libby, PhD, who has served as Stetson’s president since July 2009 and had announced her retirement last February.

Roellke is also past president for the Association of Education Finance and Policy, a 2014 Fulbright Scholar, and the founder and fundraiser of Vassar College’s Urban Education Initiative.

“The Board of Trustees has unanimously elected Dr. Roellke to lead Stetson into the future as our university’s 10th president,” said Joe Cooper, the Stetson Board of Trustees Chair, in a press release. “The board’s presidential search framework and process brought forth many highly qualified candidates, and we thank them all. Dr. Roellke is bringing an outstanding record of energetic leadership in higher education and a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities Stetson University faces. The board is thrilled to welcome him as president-elect.”

Roellke called the appointment “the greatest honor and privilege of my professional life,” noting Stetson’s “deep commitment to the traditions of liberal learning and globally engaged citizenship.”

A government major at Wesleyan, Roellke earned his doctorate at Cornell. As dean of the college at Vassar, he was one of three tenured faculty members on the president’s senior leadership team and oversaw the dean of studies, dean of students, campus life and diversity, and career development, as well other administrative and academic areas.

Tölölyan Honored as Preeminent Scholar of Diaspora Studies

Khachig Tölölyan

Khachig Tölölyan was named a preeminent scholar of diaspora studies. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)

Khachig Tölölyan, professor of letters, professor of English, was honored as the preeminent scholar of diaspora studies in general, and the Armenian Diaspora in particular, at the International Conference for the Society of Armenian Studies held at the University California, Los Angeles, on Oct. 12–13.

The conference, titled “Diaspora and ‘Stateless Power’: Social Discipline and Identity Formation Across the Armenian Diaspora During the Long Twentieth Century” marked the association’s 45th anniversary, and drew scholars from Italy, Mexico, France, Armenia, England, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, and around the United States. They came to present new papers and to hear Tölölyan’s keynote address, “From the Study of Diasporas to Diaspora Studies.”

Introducing Tölölyan before his keynote, UCLA Associate Professor Sebouh Aslanian, who holds the Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History said, ”Khachig’s enduring legacy should not be limited to his scholarly contributions and accomplishments . . . . More than publishing journals and influencing an entire field of scholarly inquiry known as diaspora studies, Khachig has also been a remarkable mentor to scholars whose essays he has remolded and published. . . .  I can say unequivocally that I know of no other Armenian scholar who is as well-read and nimble in his thinking and who has helped me become the scholar I am today.’

Also presented at the conference were the results of pilot research of the Armenian Diaspora Survey (ADS) in 2018; Tölölyan was a member of the ADS Advisory Committee.

Director of the ADS, Hratch Tchilingirian, associate of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University, thanked Tölölyan for his service on the project, noting  In addition to his brilliant scholarship and numerous academic accolades, Khachig Tölölyan is a wonderful human being. He shares his enormous, accumulated wisdom with intellectual humility; engages with everyone with grace and empathy; and empowers others with generous and sincere acknowledgment and encouragement.”

Additionally, more than 130 people attended the society’s 45th-anniversary banquet, where Bedross Der Matossian, president of the Society for Armenian Studies and associate professor and vice chair of the department of history at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, presented Tölölyan with a lifetime achievement award.

Tölölyan is the founding editor of Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, an award-winning publication that he has been editing since 1991.

At Wesleyan, Tölölyan teaches a range of courses in literature and critical and cultural theory. Both his research and his teaching ask (as he puts it) “how the increasing level of migration and dispersion brings new populations to the West, how these dispersions assimilate or become ethnic, diasporic, and transnational, and how these, in turn, reshape the literature, culture, and politics of the nations/states that host them.”

1960s Football Celebrated at Homecoming

1960s Alumni Athletes and Athletic Director stand on the field

Athletic Director Mike Whalen ’83, far right, welcomes the 1960s alumni onto Andrus Field at Homecoming halftime on Nov. 2. (Photo: Steve McLaughlin)

This football season marked the 50th anniversary of Wesleyan’s undefeated football season of 1969. It was a year that garnered a number of individual and team honors. The team was named the UPI New England College Division Champions and they shared the Lambert Cup with the University of Delaware as the East’s top-achieving college division team. Individually, the late Dave Revenaugh ’72, MALS ’98 was ranked sixth in New England for scoring, and the late Peter Panciera ’71 was ranked ninth in New England for passing.

The Athletics Department hosted a dinner to honor the team on the Friday evening of Homecoming weekend.

Also invited to the dinner was the 1960s All-Decade Team, a group nominated and elected by their peers. This year, 26 alumni who played during that decade were selected, with Coach Don Russell as the All-Decade 1960s coach.

Williams and Wesleyan face off for the coin toss, with alumnus Jeff Diamond ’70 at center, doing the toss.

Captain of Wesleyan’s 1969 undefeated team Jeff Diamond ’70 tosses the coin to begin the 2019 Homecoming game between Wesleyan and Williams. The game ended in a Little Three victory for Wesleyan in overtime. (Photo: Steve McLaughlin)

The Undefeated Team of 1969 and the 1960s honorees were invited onto Andrus Field at halftime and introduced to the large Homecoming crowd.

The gentlemen of 1969's undefeated football team, 50 years later.

The men of Wesleyan’s 1969 undefeated team were honored at a dinner during Homecoming Weekend. (Photo: Wes Stover, Plotline Video Productions, LLC)

The 1969 Undefeated Team included: Bob Allen ’70; Blake Allison ’71, P’06; Bob Bastress ’71, P’01; Lex Burton ’72, P’04; Gary Burnett ’72; Jeff Diamond ’70; Greg Forbes ’71; George Glassanos ’70; John Glendon ’72; Don Graham ’71; Brian Hersey ’72; Charlie Holbrook ’70; Mike Kishbauch ’72, P’07; Jim Lynch ’71, P’13; Mike Mastergeorge ’70; Bob Medwid ’72, P’00; Jack Meier ’69; Alex Tucci ’71; Gary Walford ’71; and Frank Waters ’70.

The football players at the 2019 Homecoming game, selected from the 1960s teams.

The alumni football players elected to Wesleyan’s 1960s All-Decade Team were also honored during Homecoming Weekend. (Photo: Wes Stover, Plotline Video Productions, LLC)

The 1960s All-Decade Team, which was nominated and voted on by their peers, honored Coach Don Russell, as well as Stu Blackburn ’69; Dick Crockett ’63; Jeff Diamond ’70; Bill Dibble ’67; Dirk Dominick ’67, MA ’68; Jim Dooney ’63; Kevin Dwyer ’68; Pat Dwyer ’67; Al “Red” Erda ’63, P’91; Walt Filkins ’70; George Glassanos ’70; Thomas Gulick ’66; George “Jeff” Hicks ’67; Charlie Holbrook ’70; Jeff Hopkins ’66; Rick Ketterer ’69; Darcy LeClair ’69; Mike Mastergeorge ’70; Steve Pfeiffer ’69, Hon.’99, P’99, ’05, ’08, ’13;  Phil Rockwell ’65, MALS ’73, P’11; Dom Squatrito ’61; Paul Stowe ’67; Warren Thomas ’65; Frank Waters ’70; Gary Witten ’65; John “Viv” Zywna ’66.

Similar celebrations of all-decade teams are planned for future Homecoming Weekends.

 

 

Gift of Beckett Letters by Levy ’60 Inspires Homage Symposium

A symposium, "Homage to Samuel Beckett," highlighted letters and memorabilia gifted by noted AIDS researcher Jay Levy ’60, Hon ’96, and his wife, Sharon, from their decades-long friendship with the playwright, which began when Jay was living in Paris after his graduation from Wesleyan. 

A symposium, “Homage to Samuel Beckett,” highlighted books, letters, and memorabilia gifted by noted AIDS researcher Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, and his wife, Sharon, from their decades-long friendship with the playwright, which began when Jay was living in Paris after his graduation from Wesleyan.

Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives is now home to a robust collection of novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett’s letters and books.

The memorabilia was donated to Wesleyan by Beckett’s longtime friend Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, and his wife, Sharon.

On Oct. 24, Levy joined Samuel Beckett scholar Lois More Overbeck; President Michael Roth ’78; Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian at Wesleyan Andrew White; Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins; and Assistant Professor of French Michael Meere for a symposium titled “Homage to Samuel Beckett.” The event, held in Olin Library’s Smith Reading Room and attended by students, faculty, friends, and scholars honored Levy’s recent gift to the library: his personal correspondence with Samuel Beckett over nearly 30 years.

According to Levy, his decades-long friendship with Beckett was sparked by a conversation he had as an undergraduate awaiting the arrival of his date at Bradley Airport for Spring Weekend in 1959.

“The arrival board and announcements kept reporting delays, but assurances that the plane would arrive,” Levy recalled. “After some hours a Wes student near me said, ‘This is like waiting for Godot.’ I was curious enough (lucky for me!) to inquire, ‘What is Waiting for Godot?’ and was informed that it was a play by an Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, living in France. More detail indicated that it had been performed in French six years before and fit into the Theater of the Absurd.” Coincidentally Levy had just begun a French literature course on just that topic.

A few days later, Levy spoke with French professor Alex Szogyi, about Waiting for Godot, and subsequently wrote a paper on the play for the course. While Szogyi didn’t agree with Levy’s thesis—which noted religious references suggesting that “Godot” was meant to be God—he “apparently considered it sufficiently noteworthy to suggest my sharing it with Professor Mayoux at the Sorbonne (who knew Beckett) when I went to Paris to conduct biological research after graduation,” Levy said.

Jay levy

Jay Levy, Samuel Beckett, and Stuart Levy gathered in Paris.

Levy did, in fact, share his paper with Mayoux, who then passed it along to Beckett. The playwright invited the young American scholar to his apartment. A friendship was formed, which grew to include Levy’s twin brother, the late Stuart Levy Hon. ’98.

“It is really a delight and an honor to give my correspondence, books, and gifts from Samuel Beckett and a variety of letters and articles about him to Wesleyan,” concluded Levy. ”After all, my introduction to Samuel Beckett began with that fateful day at Bradley Airport in 1959, when I was a junior in college. Now look at what an incredible adventure this school gave me through its education and through its excellent teachers—a reputation I’m pleased to say still remains.”

Matthew Winn ’92, vice chair of the Alumni Association and a cousin of Levy, concurred: “This event is the very essence of Wesleyan. Jay found a passion for something outside his field and pursued it with the same energy he approached his career. It was also touching to see his friends and classmates. The fact that they came is a testament to the deep and enduring relationships the University fosters.”

In her talk, Overbeck recalled Beckett’s gentle charge to “go round” to meet the people with whom he corresponded, which made “all the difference,” she said, adding an additional depth to her research. “Letters are a two-dimensional trace of relationships, written in very specific time and place, to a very specific audience,” she said. “Letters are written in an attempt to bridge time and distance, or to mediate a disjunction of feeling…. As such, each one constitutes a living moment.”

Photos of the symposium and accompanying exhibit are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake and Cynthia Rockwell)

Director of Special Collections Suzy Taraba ’77 MALS ’10 addresses those in Smith Reading Room from the podium

Director of Special Collections and Archives Suzy Taraba ’77, MALS ’10 welcomed the attendees to the Beckett Symposium, noting her pleasure at the gift and its value to the University’s students and other scholars. Matthew Winn ’92, who attended the event, said that he found Taraba and University Librarian Andrew White’s interest in primary sources to be noteworthy. “The University’s emphasis on primary research and object-based learning stands out in an increasingly digital world and reminds us that nothing replaces hard work and source materials,” Winn remarked.

Alumnus Jay Leve at the podium addresses the audience

Dr. Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, thanked Taraba, who worked closely with him on his gift to Wesleyan. Levy also noted the importance of the University’s dedication to wide-ranging scholarship. A biology major as an undergraduate and at that time already preparing for a career in medicine, he notes: “My enjoyment of the arts, my enjoyment of the humanities is typical of Wesleyan’s commitment to liberal arts.”

A screen next to Levy (at the podium) shows an archival photo (circa 1961) of the young Levy in Paris, as well as his twin brother Stuart, flanking Samuel Beckett.

“During our last meeting in Paris in 1986, I spoke to Sam . . . and expressed the optimism I drew from his experiences—particularly the problem faced in publishing Waiting for Godot,” noted Levy, speaking next to a projection of an early photo of himself and twin brother Stuart with Beckett. “I often share this story with my students and scientific colleagues who have grants, letters, articles, or books rejected. Samuel Beckett . . . sent Waiting for Godot to many editors and theater directors. Finally Roger Blinn, after four years, recognized its merit and staged the play that has since had such a great influence on the theater, literature, and other fields.”

Details of a few letters; Levy's are typewritten, Becketts are scrawled.

Included in the display cases outside Special Collections and Archives are a number of letters from Beckett to Levy, and from Levy to Beckett. During his talk, Levy shared moments of connection and conversation with the playwright, adding “This little capsule of my interactions with this really wonderful genuine man, whom I first met when I was 22, opened up incredible vistas in my life—meeting wonderful Beckettophiles like Lois Overbeck and her colleagues at Emory….” Levy noted that one of his letters was included in Overbeck’s four-volume collection of Beckett’s correspondence.

Townsend ’90 Discusses New Memoir at Bookstore with McCrea ’21

bookstore

Professor of Letters, Emeritus, Paul Schwaber joined College of Letters alumna and author Sarah Townsend ’90, P’21, and current COL major Sara McCrea ’21 for a discussion of Townsend’s book at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.

On Sept. 19, Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore hosted a Q&A with College of Letters (COL) alumna Sarah C. Townsend ’90, P’21, author of Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Psychosis, (Lettered Streets Press, 2019) in conversation with current COL major Sara McCrea ’21.

McCrea, who reviews alumni books for the Wesleyan Connection, had selected Townsend’s book for inclusion in the second of her recent-publications series last spring. Encouraging others to read Townsend’s work, she had written: “Bursts of sharp and vulnerable detail presented in lyrical prose display Townsend’s fearlessness as she evaluates the ways in which her own body and others’ bodies handle and inform emotion. Through its discussion of losing and finding wholeness, Townsend’s succinct and striking writing implores readers to reckon with the power and limitation of physical reflections in representing mental illness.”

This semester, at the bookstore event, she told those gathered, “I was in complete awe of this book’s riveting honesty and its masterful structure.”

An audience that boasted many of McCrea’s COL peers, along with University Professor of Letters Kari Weil, were seated to face Townsend and McCrea. Additionally, Professor of Letters Emeritus, Paul Schwaber, who had been director of the College of Letters as well as one of Townsend’s advisors while she was an undergraduate, was also in attendance, contributing his observations and a question to the discussion that followed the Townsend/McCrea dialogue.

Townsend began by reading from the book, tracing her experience as a new mother with a nursing infant, quickly moving into psychosis, undergoing hospitalization, and finally returning to a healthy sense of self. Yet, “this isn’t a really heavy book,” Townsend explained. “It’s joyful, actually—a love story.”

Prompted by McCrea’s questions, Townsend explored the meaning of the title: She had become fascinated by Phillipe Petit, the man who walked on a wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center. He had talked about the importance of properly “setting the wire”—a through line—before beginning to cross. Like Petit’s high wire, she noted, her baby’s umbilical cord had been attached off-center, in what is called a compromised attachment.

“I think our minds are natural pattern-makers, and we have that in our favor,” Townsend noted, commenting on the associations these items had brought to her consciousness. The two also discussed Townsend’s use of sound, as well as the book’s narrative shape, noting that it is unlike that of a male hero’s journey; instead, it traced out a spiral structure. The two also explored Townsend’s writing process, as well as the ways that her career as a psychotherapist had informed the work.

“I guess one of the great things about writing is that there aren’t any rules and you can just take from anywhere and see what you might do with it,” Townsend concluded, ending the formal part of the program to greet students personally and sign books.

Townsend’s debut book, Setting the Wire, is an account of postpartum psychosis and a meditation on what holds us together. Her style mixes memoir with film, music, visual art, and psychology.

The conversation touched on Townsend’s experience of fragmentation when she was a new mother.