David Low

David Low '76 writes about arts and culture for the Wesleyan magazine and Wesleyan Connection. He is associate director of publications in the Office of University Communications. He is also a published fiction writer. E-mail: dlow@wesleyan.edu

New Novel by Parkhurst ’92 Tells a Gripping Family Tale

Carolyn Parkhurst '92 (Photo by Nina Subin)

Carolyn Parkhurst ’92. (Photo by Nina Subin)

Carolyn Parkhurst (Rosser) ’92 is the author of the new novel Harmony (Pamela Dorman Books, Viking), in which a mother does everything she can to save her family. The Hammond family’s seemingly normal life is disrupted when oldest daughter Tilly shows signs of abnormal development. Her social behavior is considered undiagnosable and she is asked to leave the last school in Washington, D.C. that will have her.

To help Tilly, the Hammonds move to Camp Harmony in the New Hampshire woods, seeking the guidance of a child behavior expert Scott Bean and testing the bonds of the family. Parkhurst expertly tells her suspenseful story from the points of view of Alexandra, the mother, and younger daughter Iris, who may have the clearest perspective of what is happening to her family.

In her review in The Washington Post, novelist Amy McKinnon writes: “…in Parkhurst’s deft treatment, Harmony becomes a story of our time, a compassionate treatise on how society judges parents, how parents judge themselves and how desperation sometimes causes otherwise rational people to choose irrational lives.”

Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst '92

Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst ’92

For the A. V. Club, reviewer Caitlin Penzey Moog says: “The rare alchemy of achingly powerful words that also induce fevered page riffling is in abundance in Harmony, Carolyn Parkhurst’s sumptuously written, eminently compelling novel about a family and its desperation. Readers will be torn between a desire to pause to admire a golden paragraph and the compulsion to hasten on to find out what happens next.”

Parkhurst is the author of three other novels, The New York Times best seller The Dogs of Babel, Lost and Found and The Nobodies Album. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children. Harmony was edited by Pamela Dorman ’79.

Mozart in the Jungle, Co-Created by Weitz ’88, Wins 2 Golden Globe Awards

Gael Garcia Bernal in Mozart in the Jungle (Photo: Amazon)

Gael Garcia Bernal in Mozart in the Jungle. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

At the Golden Globe Awards ceremony televised on NBC on Jan. 10, honoring film and television achievements, the Amazon Studios TV series Mozart in the Jungle received two awards, Best Television Series – Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy Series (Gael Garcia Bernal).

The series deals with off-screen adventures and love life of a symphony conductor and is co-created, directed and executive produced by Paul Weitz ’88, who also recently directed and wrote the hit film Grandma with Lily Tomlin. Season 2 was just released on Amazon Prime at the end of December.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the comedy series’ win was a bit of a surprise because of its strong competition, which included such popular and acclaimed shows as Transparent, Orange Is the New Black, HBO’s Silicon Valley and Veep, and the new Hulu series Casual.

In a recent interview in Indiewire about the season 2 of the series, Weitz says: “The show is about the great passion of art and it’s a great way to manifest that, with music. I don’t think this one particular show could exist without it being that, because it needs to be contemporary. People devoting themselves to something that’s been going on for hundreds of years. … What’s the role of creativity in one’s life? What’s the role of passion, and how much does that overwhelm everything else?

For those unfamiliar with the show, New York magazine/Vulture recently published “What Is Golden Globe Winner Mozart in the Jungle All About?”

Bay ’86 Directs New Film about 2012 Benghazi Events

David Denman, John Krasinski and Pablo Schreiber in 13 Hours. (Photo: Dion Beebe/Paramount Pictures)

David Denman, John Krasinski and Pablo Schreiber in 13 Hours. (Photo courtesy of Dion Beebe/Paramount Pictures)

Michael Bay ’86 has directed a new film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (Paramount), which opened in U.S. theaters on Jan. 15. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, the movie traces what happened Sept. 11–12, 2012, when terrorists attacked two Central Intelligence Agency compounds in Benghazi, Libya.

The film tracks six security operatives, most of them former military, who defended the diplomatic compound and nearby CIA annex. The cast includes James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Toby Stephens, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa and Demetrius Grosse.

In his review in Slate, film critic David Ehlich writes: “Bay has stated that his intentions were simply to honor the heroism of the guys on the ground, and 13 Hours bears that out. The result … is one of the most politically astute films about America’s foreign politics in years ….”

In National Review, critic Stephen Miller also praises the film: “Audience members familiar with the director’s style will still appreciate all the hallmarks of a Michael Bay film present in 13 Hours. Witness the gritty close ups, muted slow motion, earth-rattling explosions, and long tracking shots of bombs and bullets that will draw direct comparisons to his previous work on The Rock and Bad Boys. … this is Bay’s most serious film to date. He does a good job of laying out exactly how and when the attacks took place at the consulate and later at the annex building. We never feel lost in the firefights.”

For featurettes and a trailer for 13 Hours, go to the director’s website.

Basinger Praised as Iconic Film Professor in The Hollywood Reporter

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies (Photo credit: Smallz + Raskind)

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, was recently featured in a Hollywood Reporter article “The Professor of Hollywood,” by film historian and best-selling author Sam Wasson ’03, who studied with Basinger at Wesleyan. The magazine brought together 33 of her former pupils who work prominently in the film industry for “an A-list class reunion” photo—and several of them talk about how Basinger inspired them, encouraging their self-expression while also sharing with them her love for the medium.

In the article, Basinger discusses how and why she came to devote her life to the study of film and how working as an usher in a movie theater, watching the same film over and over, helped her to understand the filmmaking process—and gave her the foundation for her future as a film scholar at a time when there were no film schools. In 1960 she began work in the advertising department at a scholastic publisher on the Wesleyan campus, but within a decade, she began teaching at the University some of first film study classes in America.

Koeppel ’79 Tells History Behind New York City Grid

Gerard Koeppel '79 - Photo: Diane Connal Koeppel

Gerard Koeppel ’79 (Photo by Diane Connal Koeppel)

Readers who are fans of urban history and planning or have a particular interest in New York should find City on a Grid: How New York Became New York (Da Capo) by Gerard Koeppel ’79 a fascinating read. Koeppel shares the story behind the Manhattan street grid, created in 1811 by a three-man commission featuring headstrong Founding Father Gouverneur Morris; the plan called for a dozen parallel avenues crossing at right angles with many dozens of parallel streets in an unbroken grid.

When the grid plan was announced, New York was just under 200 years old, an overgrown town and a jumble of streets at Manhattan’s southern edge. The street planning commission decided to bring order beyond the chaos with a monolithic grid for the rest of the island. Mannahatta—the native “island of hills”—became a place of rectangles, in thousands of blocks on the flattened landscape, and numerous right-angled buildings rising vertically.

Book by Gerard Koppel '79

Book by Gerard Koppel ’79

“The grid made New York an orderly place, especially in contrast with the jumbled, unplanned streets of the Dutch, English, and early American period,” Koeppel said. “The grid today makes Manhattan easily comprehensible, for people navigating the city by foot or surface transportation, up to developers siting and constructing buildings. These same benefits are also detriments. New York is not a city to happily ‘get lost’ in like Paris, nor does it possess the beauty of varied building forms and public spaces of less rigidly planned cities.”

In his recent review of the book in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wrote: “Koeppel argues, convincingly, that the show of hardheaded rationality here is merely a show. There was no good commercial reason to make a thrifty city of intersections at right angles. London, the model of an imperial commercial city, had its ovals and organic oddities and still prospered. Philadelphia had lovely squares interrupting its own version of the grid. Straight-sided and right-angled houses can be built in circles as well as on street corners. The details of New York’s grid turn out to be surprisingly haphazard and improvisational in their origins. As Koeppel points out, no one has ever provided a good explanation for why the wide two-way streets were chosen to fall where they do—at 14th, 23rd, 24th. In general, he persuades us, the impulse behind the grid was less the rationalizing impulses of the Enlightenment than the eternal desire of a bureaucratic commission to finish its report, accented, later, by the eternal real-estate developers’ urge to have regularized lots to develop.”

Koeppel also is the author of Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire and Water for Gotham: A History.

Kaplan ’73 Writes Second Volume on Sinatra’s Life

James Kaplan '73 - Photo: Erinn Hartmann

James Kaplan ’73 (Photo by Erinn Hartmann)

In 2010, James Kaplan ’73 had a national bestseller with Frank: The Voice, an acclaimed biography which told the story of singer Frank Sinatra’s meteoric rise to fame, subsequent failures, and reinvention as a star of live performances and screen. In his new book, Sinatra: The Chairman (Doubleday), Kaplan continues the singer’s story, starting with the day after Sinatra claimed his Academy Award for From Here to Eternity in 1954 and had reestablished himself as a top recording artist. After winning the Oscar, he was extremely busy with recording albums and singles, shooting several movies a year, and appearing on TV shows and nightclubs. He started his own record label, Reprise, and was involved in movie production, the restaurant business, and prizefighter management. His notorious social activities and commitments also made the news.

In a piece he recently wrote for The Wall Street Journal about his latest book, Kaplan comments: “I’ve studied and written about Frank Sinatra for 10 years, and though I’ve sometimes disliked him, I’ve never been bored with him. His best singing—of which there is a very great deal—still gives me goosebumps, every time. I believe that we will still be celebrating Sinatra, and listening to him, next year, and the year after that, and (as the title of another of his numbers has it) a hundred years from today.”

Biography by James Kaplan '73

Biography by James Kaplan ’73

In his review of the book in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik says: “Kaplan’s book turns out to be … hugely readable, vastly entertaining, a page-turner, and all the rest. But it’s also interesting as a fine instance of a strikingly newish kind of thing: the serious and even scholarly biography of a much gossiped-over pop figure, where the old Kitty Kelley-style scandal-sheet bio is turned into a properly documented and footnoted study that nonetheless trades on, or at least doesn’t exclude, the sensational bits.”

Wesleyan magazine interview with James Kaplan about Frank: The Voice.

Kaplan is a novelist and nonfiction writer whose essays, reviews, and profiles have appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and New York magazine. He co-authored John McEnroe’s autobiography, You Cannot Be Serious, a number-one New York Times bestseller, and coauthored the bestselling Dean & Me with Jerry Lewis. He lives in Westchester, New York, with his wife and three sons.

Carpignano ’06 Awarded for His Debut Film

Jonas Carpignano '06 - Photo courtesy of the filmmaker

Jonas Carpignano ’06 (courtesy photo)

In his recently released debut film Mediterranea (IFC Films), director and writer Jonas Carpignano ’06 focuses on two friends from West Africa’s Burkina Faso (played by non-professional actors Koudous Seihon and Alassane Sy) who take a hazardous journey to Calabria, Italy, across the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to better their economic fortunes.

Carpignano recently received two awards for his work: the Independent Film Project’s Gotham Award for Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director and the Best Directorial Debut Award from the National Board of Review.

In his New York Times review of the film, Stephen Holden writes that Carpignano “has adopted a low-key neorealist style, using hand-held cameras that intensify its ground-level perspective. The character-driven film focuses on the day-to-day experiences of people struggling to find a foothold in a hostile land that throws up nearly insurmountable barriers to assimilation. … Mediterranea is impressive for the degree to which it lends its characters complex human dimensions and gives equal weight to everyone’s joys and frustrations.”

Carpignano was recently profiled in Interview magazine. His hometown is the East Bronx, N.Y. but he currently lives in Gioia Tauro, Calabria, Italy, where his feature film takes place.

“My knowledge of film as an art always came from Italy; it came from my grandfather,” he said. “I grew up on neorealism and the giallos—the Italian horror films. To me, that was the difference between film just being escapism and something being seen as an art. My grandfather instilled that in me.”

Basinger Interviewed in Ingrid Bergman Documentary

Jeanine Basinger

Jeanine Basinger

Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, appears in an interview about internationally renowned film actress Ingrid Bergman in the new documentary Ingrid Bergman—In Her Own Words, directed by Stig Bjorkman, which recounts the life of the cinema luminary through the subject’s home movies, photographs, diary entries and letters to family and friends.

The director had access to these materials from the Ingrid Bergman Collection at the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, making ample use of them in the film. The documentary also features interviews with Bergman’s daughter, actress and filmmaker Isabella Rossellini, as well as other relatives and actresses Liv Ullmann and Sigourney Weaver, who worked with Bergman.

In her New York Times review of the film, which recently opened theatrically in New York City, Manolha Dargis writes: “Bergman’s voluminous personal archives have been a valuable resource for assorted popular biographies and academic studies, enriching the historical record of her films, family and loves.”

Professor Basinger comments: “We are all very proud of this documentary that is showing both in theaters and on television. We’re very excited to see the Wesleyan campus and the cinema archives building suddenly appear on screen. I enjoyed doing the interview because Isabella Rossellini was there with me and because the film crew was so totally committed to making an accurate documentary on Bergman’s life.”

An interview with the director, which mentions the Ingrid Bergman Archives is in this indiewire.com article.


Fins ’82 Discusses the Treatment of Brain Injury Patients and His New Book

Former Wesleyan Trustee Dr. Joseph Fins, M.D. ’82 returned to campus Nov. 5 to speak on “Giving Voice to Consciousness: Neuroscience, Neuroethics and the Law" as part of the Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. Several students and faculty attended the talk.

Wesleyan Trustee Emeritus Dr. Joseph Fins, M.D. ’82 returned to campus Nov. 5 to speak on “Giving Voice to Consciousness: Neuroscience, Neuroethics and the Law” as part of the Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. The talk was open to members of the Wesleyan community.

eve_Joe fins_hcf_2015-1105213525

Fins, the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer at Wesleyan, discussed his most recent book, Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness, published by Cambridge University Press in August 2015. The book traces the evolution of the medical classification of severe brain injury and recognizes what he calls “a deeply marginalized class” of society. Prior to writing the book, Fins interviewed more than 50 families of people with brain injuries who are identified as in a minimally conscious state and reveals that patients are often incorrectly categorized as in a vegetative state, or having an absence of responsiveness or awareness.

Read more about the discussion in this Wesleyan Argus article and more about his book in this Q&A, below:

Fins also is currently the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of ethics at Weill Cornell Medical Center, as well as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of more than 250 books and articles.

Fins also is currently the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of ethics at Weill Cornell Medical Center, as well as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of more than 250 books and articles.

Q: What motivated you to write the book?

A: I wrote it to give voice to patients and families touched by severe brain injury and chose this genre because it was a complex interdisciplinary problem that needed a broader frame than that afforded by the typical truncated article in a medical journal. Rights Come to Mind is a story that straddles the sciences and the humanities and fundamentally is a question of how scientific advance compels us to change our views about ethics and moral obligation. I have been working with these patients and families for more than 15 years and have seen how new knowledge about the brain and consciousness made the status quo of neglect increasingly untenable and wrong. We now know that patients we thought were permanently unconscious are sometimes, in fact, conscious, albeit minimally conscious. They are often misdiagnosed and undertreated, leaving conscious individuals in the lurch. How this scientific progress informed our ethics and what it means for these patients and families is the subject of this book.

Q: How have a large number of patients with severe brain injuries been misdiagnosed?

A: That is a complex question which I explain at length in the book, but there are three key reasons for the diagnostic challenge.

New Short Story by Scibona Published in Harper’s

Salvatore Scibona, the Frank B. Weeks Visiting Assistant Professor of English, is the author of a new short story published in the September 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Titled, “Tremendous Machine,” the story follows Fjóla Neergaard, a failed fashion model, lacking direction, and living in seclusion at her wealthy parents’ vacant Polish country house. She sets out to purchase a sofa for the house, which contains almost no other furniture, and finds herself in an odd store full of pianos. She purchases a piano and signs up for lessons with an elderly, once famous pianist.

Scibona shared some thoughts about the inspiration of his new story from the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., where he was a fellow this summer.

“A few years ago, never having played an instrument before, I bought a piano and started taking lessons. This became an obsession to an unhealthy degree. I got tendonitis and had to stop playing for a while. Then I started again with a new teacher who became an inspiration. When I first started teaching at Wesleyan, I plotted my movements on campus to hit the practice studios in the basement of the CFA between classes.

“Around the same time, I took a trip to Poland, principally to the former Jewish Quarter of Krakow, a place that now has become a tourist destination, but that in the early ’90s when the story takes place bore little public acknowledgment of its history.

“The story is about a young Danish woman who has failed as a fashion model and is living in spartan desperation at a Polish estate her wealthy parents have purchased as an investment, with no intention that anyone should ever live there. In the ruins of her hopes, she happens on a piano warehouse and has one of those grace-bitten moments in life when something that feels like your true calling clubs you in the back of the head.

“The central mystery of the story, to my understanding, is that once Fjóla (that’s her name) starts playing she discovers a stamina, a talent, and a will that seems to come from nowhere at all. But nothing comes from nothing. And the story wants to know where this came from, this hidden gift.

She has superpowers. She discovers them by accident, and they save her. But where did they come from?”

Scibona, who in entering his third year teaching at Wesleyan, spent about a year working on the story. He wrote most of it in his apartment at Lawn Avenue and Brainerd Road. A recent Wesleyan graduate inspired the first name for the protagonist’s father in the story.

Scibona teaches fiction writing (Techniques, Intermediate, Advanced) and a First Year Seminar called Three Big Novels, an occasion for frosh to cut their teeth on some grand good novels. This year they will be reading Moby Dick, Anna Karenina and A House for Mr. Biswas.

Scibona’s other stories include “The Hidden Person,” which appeared in Harper’s, and “The Kid,” which was published in The New Yorker. His novel The End was a finalist for the National Book Award.

In New Book, Caldwell Investigates Roman Girlhood and the Fashioning of Femininity

Lauren Caldwell, assistant professor of classical studies, is the author of a new book titled Roman Girlhood and the Fashioning of Femininity, published by Cambridge University Press in December 2014.

Elite women in the Roman world were often educated, socially prominent, and even relatively independent. Yet the social regime that ushered these same women into marriage and childbearing at an early age was remarkably restrictive. In the first book-length study of girlhood in the early Roman Empire, Caldwell investigates the reasons for this paradox. Through an examination of literary, legal, medical and epigraphic sources, she identifies the social pressures that tended to overwhelm concerns about girls’ individual health and well-being. In demonstrating how early marriage was driven by a variety of concerns, including the value placed on premarital virginity and paternal authority, this book enhances an understanding of the position of girls as they made the transition from childhood to womanhood.

A. O. Scott Moderates Talk on Arts Criticism


Four arts writers participated in a panel conversation titled “Criticism Now! A Conversation on the State of the Art” Nov. 11 at the Goldsmith Family Cinema, Center for Film Studies. A. O. Scott, Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism at Wesleyan and a chief film critic at The New York Times, moderated the event.