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 Poetry Collection by Middletown Resident Allison ’85

Susan Allison

Susan Allison

Susan Allison ’85 has just published a poetry collection, Down by the Riverside Ways (Antrim Books).

Allison returned to Middletown a few years after graduating from Wesleyan and has lived here since.

Most of the poems in this collection have been written in Middletown over the last 20 years.

Allison comments: “I like the word concatenation, meaning: to link in a chain, to describe some of the poems. Many of the poems are concatenations of ideas based in experience. The book as a whole is a concatenation, and strives to make sense through random strings of devotion. I owe much to Rennie McQuilken who collaborated with me on the book.”

Poetry Collection by Susan Allison.

Poetry Collection by Susan Allison

A Tune for Harmonica
by Susan Allison
for Thomas Moses

Ladder ladder I descend
down where cocktail parties end.
Landscaped vistas, rarified air—
it’s too freezing cold up there.
Moribund hostesses make me shiver.
I am climbing a ladder down to the river.

Rippled current ocean-bound,
only here do I bow down,
sink my toes in fish-rank muck
soft and warm and full of suck.
My harp sings to the blessing giver.
I am climbing her ladder down by the river.

Connecticut Gallery Features Sculptures by Stern ’80

Recent sculptures by Melissa Stern ’80 will be shown with work by four other artists at the Bachelier Cardonsky Gallery Open House in Kent, Conn. from May 23 through July 5. The opening is from 4 to 6 p.m. on May 23.

Stern’s work reflects both non-Western and outsider art influences. Her drawings, collages, and figurative sculptures are characterized by their richly drawn and deeply layered surfaces. She uses a wide range of materials from encaustic to clay, pastel to steel.

“All of my pieces share a thematic thread,” Stern says. “Childlike and goofy my figures live in a dream world, cower in relationships or stand tall in the face of adversity. They are at once dark and funny, expressive of the absurd world around them. Gender, relationships and broader social dynamics are subtly intertwined. The personal is the political.”

Stern, of New York, N.Y., considers herself a handyman cobbling together drawings and sculptures from elements found, borrowed and imagined.

The Bachelier Cardonsky Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and by appointment. For more information call 860-927-3129. Its address is 10 North Main Street.

Kurtzman ’95 Re-Imagines Star Trek for a New Generation

From left, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as McCoy, John Cho as Sulu and Zoë Saldana as Uhura. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

From left, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as McCoy, John Cho as Sulu and Zoë Saldana as Uhura. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

Alex Kurtzman ’95 and Roberto Orci are the screenwriters for a new version of Star Trek, directed by J. J. Abrams, which premieres in the theaters May 8. The eagerly awaited movie has already received a large amount of advance publicity in the media, everywhere from Entertainment Weekly to the Wall Street Journal to sci-fi web sites, and advance word has been positive.

The New York Times devoted a feature by Dave Itzkoff on April 26 on the upcoming film. The new version delves into the series’ mythology and takes the viewer to the origins of James Kirk and Spock as young men and the beginning of the U. S. S. Enterprise.

According to the Times: “For the ‘Trek” faithful there are plenty of nods to past television episodes and movies, familiar catchphrases and Kirk’s notorious solution to a supposedly unwinnable mission simulation. But there is also a conscious effort to inscribe this “Trek” in the storytelling traditions popularized by Joseph Campbell, in which heroes must suffer loss and abandonment before they rise to the occasion.”

In a recent review in Variety, Todd McCarthy says that “the new and improved Star Trek will transport fans to sci-fi nirvana.” He adds that the film “rockets along like a beautifully engineered vehicle you can’t help but admire for its design and performance. It shifts gears often but always smoothly, and accelerates again and yet again when you suspect it might be tempted to ease up for good.”

Memorable Tales of a Mill Town by Winn ’75

Tracy Winn '75

Tracy Winn '75

Tracy Winn ’75 is the author of Mrs. Somebody Somebody (Southern Methodist University Press), a vibrant new collection of interwoven tales about the inhabitants of Lowell, Mass., a dying mill town.

Her affecting and unsentimental stories, set from the 1940s to the present, cover a range of fascinating characters, including mill workers, a doctor, a hairdresser, a bookie, a restless wife, and several insightful children.

In his review of the book in the Boston Globe, Steve Almond ’88 praises Winn’s book as “a testament to the power of the short form.” He adds that her stories “carefully expose the universal desires for love and security that live within all of us — and the ways in which well-meaning but damaged people thwart these desires.”

Winn chose Lowell as her setting because it reminded her of Holyoke, the town where husband grew up. In a recent interview in the Republican (Mass.), Winn said: “You can’t protect your characters from bad things. That was hard for me to learn.”

Tower ’96 Makes Remarkable Fiction Debut

Wells Tower '96

Wells Tower '96 (Photo by Suzanne Bennett)

Author Wells Tower ’96 recently garnered rave reviews across the country for his first short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Farrar Straus Giroux) which was published in March. The book received two fine reviews in the same week in The New York Times and was the cover review for The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

For the Sunday Times, acclaimed writer Edmund White wrote: “Every one of the stories .., is polished and distinctive. Though he’s intrigued by the painful experiences of men much older than he is, Tower can write with equal power about young women and boys; about hell-­raising, skull-bashing ancient Vikings and an observant housebound old man of the 21st century … His range is wide and his language impeccable.”

Book by Wells Tower '96

Book by Wells Tower '96

In her weekday review for the Times, Michiko Kakutani, one of the paper’s toughest literary critics, praised Tower’s “masterly conjuring of his people’s daily existence, his understanding of their emotional dilemmas, his controlled but dazzling language and his effortless ability to turn snapshots of misfits and malcontents into a panoramic cavalcade of American life.”

Tower majored in anthropology and sociology at Wesleyan. He received an MFA from Columbia University, and two stories he wrote there were published by The Paris Review. Tower has also written nonfiction articles for the past five years for The Washington Post and Harper’s. Besides following his dream of working as a writer, he also played in a punk band for six years.

In a recent interview in The New York Observer, Tower said: “I think what people really want is fiction that in some tiny way makes their life more meaningful and makes the world seem like a richer place. The world is awfully short on joy and richness, and I think to some extent it’s the fiction writer’s job to salvage some of that and to give it to us in ways that we can believe in.”

Link to the New York Times Sunday Book Review article:


Link to weekday New York Times review:


New York Observer interview:



Jazz Artists Bynum ’98 and Halvorson ’02 on the Rise

Taylor Ho Bynum

Recording by Taylor Ho Bynum '98

A recent March article by Nate Chinen in The New York Times focused on Firehouse 12, a New Haven state-of-the-art recording studio and home to a jazz record label of the same name. Firehouse 12 Records is co-owned by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum ’98 and Nick Lloyd, who owns the recording studio.

The Times article pointed out that the Firehouse 12 studio in a renovated 1905 firehouse in New Haven’s Ninth Square Neighborhood has also become a venue for performances by some of today’s most talented young avant-garde jazz artists. At the same time, Firehouse 12 records has already released several well-reviewed recordings by a number of up-and-coming musicians, including drummer Tyshawn Sorey, trumpeter Peter Evans, and guitarist Mary Halvorson ’02. Halvorson’s Dragon Head album went into a second printing.

Bynum, who was interviewed by the Times, studied with Wesleyan music professor and jazz legend Anthony Braxton. He mentions in the article that Firehouse 12 had an initial success with their first release of a boxed set of Braxton recordings, priced at $100.

Recording by Mary Halvorson '02

Recording by Mary Halvorson '02

Bynum and Halvorson also were singled out with two of their musician friends in April in The Wall Street Journal as “among the most exciting new jazz musicians to emerge on the New York scene.” The WSJ article called Bynum’s sextet recording Asphalt Flowers/Forking Paths (Hat Hut) “one of the best recordings of the past year. It’s a broad, sprawling disc brimming with unique harmonies and pithy solos.” The article noted that Halvorson’s Firehouse 12 album Dragon Head was named the finest debut recording in the Village Voice’s annual jazz critics’ poll.

Link to New York Times article on Firehouse 12:


Link to Wall Street Journal article:


Tyrnauer ’91, Leff ’90, Burden ’89 Create Valentino Documentary

Matt Tyrnauer '91, left, talks with Valentino.

Matt Tyrnauer '91, left, talks with Valentino.

Matt Tyrnauer ’91, special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine, has produced and directed an engaging new documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, which was released nationwide in March. (The film opened in Manhattan on March 18 at the Film Forum.)

Co-produced by Adam Leff ’90 with Carter Burden ’89 as executive producer, the film celebrates the colorful career of the renowned Italian fashion designer Valentino, covering the period between his 70th birthday and his final couture show. It tells the story of his extraordinary life, examines the fashion business today, and deals with the designer’s relationship with fame.

The Last Emperor</em>.

Valentino, center, in Valentino: The Last Emperor.

At the center of the documentary is the unique relationship between Valentino and his business partner and companion of 50 years, Giancarlo Giammetti. Tyrnauer and his crew had exclusive, unprecedented access to Valentino and his entourage. In production from June 2005 to July 2007, the filmmakers shot more than 250 hours of footage.

In March, Valentino and Giammetti were guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the film was also featured on The Charlie Rose Show and The View. The documentary has been received favorably in the press. Lisa Berman of Entertainment Weekly says: “I really enjoyed Matt’s film. He did an amazing job, and the access was phenomenal. I found it fascinating how it … became a business story.”

Tyrnauer comments: “The movie, in certain ways—thanks almost entirely to its stars—plays more like a feature film than a documentary. What started as a journalistic inquiry, in the end, revealed a unique love story with the world of fashion as a backdrop.”

Tynnauer was recently interviewed by several publications, including Women’s Wear Daily and IndieWire.

Film website:

Lobel ’90 Studies 1960s Pop Artist James Rosenquist

Book by Michael Lobel '90.

Michael Lobel ’90 is the author of James Rosenquist: Pop Art, Politics, and History in the 1960s (University of California Press, 2009), the first full-length scholarly volume devoted to the artist.

Rosenquist’s paintings, notable for their billboard-sized images of commercial subjects, are emblematic of 1960s Pop Art. The artist’s startling and provocative imagery deals with some of the major political and historical events of that turbulent decade, from the Kennedy assassination to the war in Vietnam.

Lobel combines close visual analysis with extensive archival research, He provides social and historical contexts in which these paintings were produced and suggests new readings of a body of work that helped redefine art in the 1960s within the burgeoning consumer culture of postwar America.

Michael Lobel is associate professor of art history and director of the MA program in modern and contemporary art, criticism, and theory at Purchase College, State University of New York. His previous books include Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art and Fugitive Artist: The Early Work of Richard Prince 1974–77.

Lerer ’76 Receives National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Book by Seth Lerer '76.

Book by Seth Lerer '76.

On March 12, Seth Lerer ’76 was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism for his scholarly work Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

On the website Critical Mass, NBCC board member Carlin Romano commented: “Lerer brought to his subject both the critical acuity and unlimited openness it deserved. He insisted on placing a complex literature within the history of childhood, a story both contested and blessedly clear. He took into account the cavalcade of publishing history, without permitting it to trample the imaginative ‘transformations’ wrought by the books.”

In his book, Lerer studies iconic ancient and contemporary children’s books that have encouraged a lifelong love of literature in young readers during their formative years. The author examines the changing environments of family life and human growth, schooling and scholarship, and publishing and politics in which children were changed by the books they read. This unique, single-volume work captures the rich and diverse history of children’s literature, considering such writers as J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Robert McCloskey, Shel Silverstein, and many others.

Lerer was recently interviewed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, in which he revealed that the book is a kind of “intellectual autobiography” that draws upon his “youthful passion for reading and his experience as a parent.”

After nearly two decades teaching in Stanford University’s English Department, Lerer recently became a Distinguished Professor of Literature and dean of the arts and humanities at the La Jolla campus of the University of California, San Diego. Lerer also is the author of Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language. His next project is an annotated edition of The Wind in the Willows.

Carter ’88 on HBO, Sundance Channel

Majora Carter '88.

Majora Carter '88.

Majora Carter ’88 was featured in February on HBO’s The Black List: Volume 2, which focuses on the achievements of a variety of African Americans.

Carter discussed her work as an environmental activist. As founder and executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, she rallied an economically challenged community to create Hunt’s Point Riverside Park and began a program to train people in green jobs.

Carter now heads the Majora Carter Group, a green-economic development consulting film. She also hosts the NPR radio series The Promised Land and is a host for the Sundance Channel’s The Green, the network’s weekly prime-time destination devoted to environmental programming. The Green includes the series Eco Heroes, and Season 2 begins on April 21. Each of the 13 episodes in the series features an interview between Carter and an innovator who is fueling the Green Movement and has been an inspiration to Carter in both her life and work.

Carter speaks regularly around the country and in other parts of the world about environmental issues and creating green jobs. The New York Times recently noted her as a keynote speaker at February’s Power Shift 2009 in Washington, D.C., where activists gathered to push for federal action on global warming.

In early March, her first speaking engagement in Toronto at the University of Toronto was sold out. In an interview in Toronto’s Eye Weekly, Carter said: “What I want to do is create more opportunities for people to get less poor. That’s why we’re so focused on green jobs, why we’re so focused on the development of a healthy horticultural infrastructure that’s supported by the development of more green jobs and making sure that we’re getting those jobs to the people that need the work the most.”

New York Daily News article on HBO’s The Black List: Volume 2:

Sundance Channel’s The Green:

Toronto Star article about Carter’s recent speaking engagement:

Interview in Eye Weekly:

White ’92 Contestant on The Amazing Race

Mel White and Mike White '92 are contestants on The Amazing Race. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Mel White and Mike White '92 are contestants on The Amazing Race. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Film director and screenwriter Mike White ’92 (Chuck & Buck, School of Rock, Year of the Dog) has teamed up with his 60-year-old father Mel as a team on the popular Emmy-winning reality competition, The Amazing Race. Mel White is a prize-winning documentary producer, a gay-rights Christian activist, and a best-selling author who ghostwrote books for Billy Graham and Pat Robertson.

White and his father have been interviewed for their appearance on the show in such publications as Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, and Mel White’s hometown newspaper, The Lynchburg News and Advance in Virginia.

In various interviews, Mike White admits that he has long been a big fan of the show and decided to apply as a contestant during the last year’s screenwriters’ strike. He originally applied with another screenwriter who decided to drop out, and the producer of the show suggested that Mike team up with his dad.

On recent shows, the team dodged giant cheese wheels, and Mel White braved paragliding down a 6,000-foot drop in Germany.

Kail ’99 to Direct “The Wiz” in New York City

Thomas Kail '99

Thomas Kail '99

Thomas Kail ’99 who received a Tony Award nomination for his direction for the musical hit “In the Heights” (2008 Tony Award for best musical) on Broadway will stage the Encores! Summer Stars production of “The Wiz” this summer at City Center in New York City for a three-week run, June 12 to July 3. Kail will re-team with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler who won a Tony for his work on “In the Heights.”

“The Wiz,” a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz with an African-American cast, won seven Tony Awards, including best musical, in 1975. The show has not been revived on Broadway recently, though sometimes productions at Encores! transfer to a Broadway theater (the long-running Broadway revival of “Chicago” began at Encores! as did the recent Broadway revival of “Gypsy”).

Kail directed the play “Broke-ology” last summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival which was well-reviewed.