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

Temple ’88, Yankelevich ’95 Discuss the E-Book Revolution

In his recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, Matthew Shaer talked to two graduates working at small presses, Johnny Temple ’88, publisher of Akashic Books in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Matvei Yankelvich ’95, a founding editor at Ugly Duckling Presse. Shaer reported that while conventional books sales are sinking in the current economy, e-book sales have been soaring. He pointed out, however, that it’s not the larger publishing houses who are moving quickly toward mass digitization but the small presses of the independent publishing world.

Temple plans to have e-book content from his company available soon and recognizes both its economic and environmental benefits. Yankelvich says that “many followers of independent publishers have an emotional attachment to the printed word” and isn’t certain poetry readers would buy poetry collections in e-book form. Still, Ugly Duckling Presse has already issued several popular online projects.

McKnight Nichols ’00 Edits Essay Collection on Prophesies of Godlessness

Christopher McKnight Nichols ’00 is co-author and co-editor of Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America’s Imminent Secularization from the Puritans to the Present.

Christopher McKnight Nichols ’00 has co-edited and co-authored (with Charles Mathewes) a challenging essay collection, Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America’s Imminent Secularization from the Puritans to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2008). The book considers the similar expectations of religious and moral change voiced by major American thinkers from the time of the Puritans to today. Generations of Americans, from colonial times to the post-modern present, have witnessed or predicted the coming of “godlessness” of American society.

The essay collection examines the history of these prophesies, and each chapter explores a certain era, a particular individual, a community of thought, and changing conceptions of secularization. Among the subjects addressed are: Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of history and the future of American Christianity; Abraham Lincoln, William T. Sherman, and evangelical Protestantism during the Civil War; World War 1 and after—godlessness and the Scopes Trial; and secularization and prophesies of freedom during the Sixties.

Nichols is currently a postdoctoral fellow in U.S. history at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Hoffman’s ’89 Biography Illuminates the Life of Palestinian Poet

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Adina Hoffman '89 is the author of My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness.

In her new biography, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century (Yale University Press, 2009) Adina Hoffman ’89 tells the story of an exceptional man, Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, and the culture from which he emerged. Born in 1931 in the Galilee village of Saffuriyya, he had to flee his homeland during the war in 1948. He traveled on foot to Lebanon and returned a year later to find his village destroyed. An autodidact, he has since run a souvenir shop in Nazareth, but his written work is highly respected by many of the world’s best writers.

Hoffman situates Muhammad Ali’s life in the context of the lives of his predecessors and peers, and provides an expansive perspective on an era full of dramatic events. As she reconstructs carefully the world of the poet’s lost childhood village, she provides a rich, empathetic view of the people and culture of the Middle East.

Hoffman had to piece together different pieces of the story she was telling from various accounts in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. She connected what she found in archives with the memories of people she interviewed, including peasants, poets, and military commanders. She offers fascinating portraits of a whole range of poets and novelists, many of whom who are unknown to much of the world.

Adina Hoffman also is the author of House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood. Her essays and criticism have appeared in The Nation, The Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement and on the BBC. One of the founders and editors of Ibis Editions, she lives in Jerusalem.

Witkin ’00, Weiner ’87, Berman ’84 Involved in Arts and Culture

Andrew Witkin '00.

Andrew Witkin '00

Artist Andrew Witkin ’00 Wins Foster Prize
Andrew Witkin ’00 was recently awarded the prestigious Institute of Contemporary Art’s 2008 James and Audrey Foster Prize of $25,000. He was one of four finalists whose work went on show at the ICA in Boston in November (the exhibition ends March 1). His art work on display, Untitled, 1990, is an installation of carefully arranged personal effects and impersonal furniture.

According to the Boston Globe, the “arrangement reflects aspects of the artist’s own life, which is both fervently social (he works at the Barbara Krakow Gallery on Newbury Street and has a wide circle of friends) and highly controlled. The overall effect is strangely haunting, at once crowded with memory and desire and devastatingly empty.”

A resident of Jamaica Plain, Witkin also has another installation, Others Among Others, on exhibit at LaMontagne Gallery in South Boston (through Feb. 14). The show, which includes three racks of 144 cotton T-shirts, each stamped with text, was favorably reviewed in the Boston Globe.

Matthew Weiner '87

Matthew Weiner '87

Matthew Weiner ’87 Seals a Two-Year Deal with Lionsgate TV; Wins Producers Guild Award for Mad Men
Matthew Weiner, the creator, co-producer, and writer of the award-winning AMC series, Mad Men, received a two-year deal in January with Lionsgate TV, which will have him overseeing the series for two more seasons. The agreement also covers TV development and the prospect of developing a feature film for Lionsgate.
In January Weiner won the Producers Guild of America award for his work on Mad Men. The same month, the series also received the Best Ensemble in a Television Drama from the Screen Actors Guild of America. More here.

Pianist Donald Berman ’84 Has Two New CDs

Donald Berman
Donald Berman ’84 (Photo by Iannis Delatolas)

Pianist Donald Berman plays on two new recordings, Americans in Rome: Music by Fellows of the American Academy in Rome (Bridge Records), for which he served as artistic director, and The Light That Is Felt: Songs of Charles Ives (New World Records). These two recordings were chosen separately as “North American Disc of the Month” in the January and February issues of BBC Music Magazine.

Americans in Rome consists of four CDs featuring music by Rome Prize-winning composers from 1920 to 2000 and provides a compelling glimpse of the history of American music, with American masters side by side with younger innovators. In its review of the recording, BBC Music Magazine commented that Berman “shows great stylistic flexibility, both between pieces and within Tamar Diesendruck’s multifarious Sound Reasoning in the Tower of Babel.”

On The Light That Is Felt: Songs of Charles Ives, Berman collaborates with soprano Susan Narucki. The CD contains 27 songs by Charles Ives, offering a wide range of his compositions. Each song evokes memory through stories and characters drawn from Ives’ life.

In a January review of the Ives recording, Vivien Schweitzer in The New York Times said: “The painterly details of Ives’s songs are vividly conveyed by the bright-voiced Susan Narucki and the pianist Donald Berman on a new disc whose 27 diverse selections … highlight Ives’s multiple influences. Those included European Romanticism and religious and secular American tunes, which he meshed with his own inventive, radical harmonies. Like Bartok, Ives used both simple folk melodies and dissonance, sometimes blending them.”

Vocalist Sutton ’86 Makes Mark on Jazz Scene

Tierney Sutton '86 (Photo by Pamela Springsteen).

Tierney Sutton '86 (Photo by Pamela Springsteen).

Owen McNally in the Hartford Courant recently profiled jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton ’86, who performed in West Hartford in January for a benefit concert. In the article, McNally describes Sutton as “one of the hottest, hippest singers on today’s jazz scene.” He adds that she is “a bold, inventive improviser with true grit, has an expressive range that can leap from up tempo fervor to lyrical warmth. She makes evergreens sound greener, flag-wavers leaner and blues meaner.”

McNally reveals that Sutton came to Wesleyan to master Russian and Russian literature but when she arrived on campus, she discovered the power and glory of jazz, impressed by concerts that showcased the talents of jazz greats such as Betty Carter and Jimmy Heath. Sutton soon developed a deep appreciation for the work of Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. She was encouraged in her singing career by jazz saxophonist/composer Bill Barron who was the head of Wesleyan’s music department when she was a student.

Mark ’71 Produces 2009 Oscar Telecast

Laurence Mark '71 (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The New York Times’ Michael Cieply recently interviewed Laurence Mark ’71, the producer, and Bill Condon, the executive producer, of the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, scheduled to be telecast on ABC on Feb. 22, 2009.

Mark said he hoped to bring back “a little bit of the party flavor” of past ceremonies and also would welcome “a few shocks and shivers, intended or otherwise.” Both producers expect to make the ceremony more popular with viewers by featuring 2008 films that moved audiences, including films that did not receive nominations.

Mark is currently preparing for the release later this year of a film he produced, Julie & Julia, written and directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The film deals with a young woman’s obsession with cooking star Julia Child.

Sharp ’85, Miranda ’02, Weiner ’03 Involved in Arts and Culture

Book by Carolyn Sharp '85.

Sharp ’85 Finds Irony in Hebrew Scriptures
In her fascinating new study, Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible (Indiana University Press), Carolyn J. Sharp ’85, associate professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Yale Divinity School, suggests that many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures may be ironically intended. By interweaving literary theory and exegesis, she examines the power of the unspoken in a wide variety of texts from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings. Her book considers such themes as foreign rulers and the fear of God, the prostitute as icon of the ironic gaze, indeterminacy and dramatic irony in prophetic performance, and irony in ancient Israel’s wisdom traditions.

Sharp pays special attention to how irony can challenge the dominant ways in which the Bible is read today, especially when it touches on questions of conflict, gender, and the other.

Sharp’s research continues to explore the composition, redaction, and rhetoric of Hebrew Scripture texts. She is also the author of Prophecy and Ideology in Jeremiah: Struggles for Authority in the Deutero-Jeremianic Prose; and Old Testament Prophets for Today.

Album with Score by Miranda ’02 Receives Grammy Nomination

Lin-Manuel Miranda '02 wrote the music and lyrics for In the Heights.

In the Heights, the Tony Award winner for Best Musical 2008, is one of five recordings nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Musical Show Album category. Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 wrote the music and lyrics for the show. The other Grammy-nominees include the soundtracks for Gypsy, The Little Mermaid, South Pacific and Young Frankenstein.

The nominees for the In the Heights album, released by Razor & Tie Entertainment/Ghostlight Records, include Kurt Deutsch, Alex Lacamoire, Andrés Levin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Joel Moss and Bill Sherman ’02, producers, as well as Miranda as composer/lyricist.

The nominations for the 51st annual Grammy Awards were announced on Dec. 3. CBS will telecast the awards event on Feb. 8, 2009.

Richards ’69 Producing Two New Broadway Shows

Jeffrey Richards ’69, along with Jerry Frankel and Steve Traxler, will produce two new Broadway plays in the coming months. First up is a revival of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, scheduled to begin performances at the Shubert Theater in New York City on Feb. 26, 2009.

Blithe Spirit is a comedy about Charles Condomine, who with his second wife, Ruth, invites a local medium, Madame Arcati, to his house to do some research into the spirit world for his new book. But trouble arises when Arcati conjures up the ghost of Charles’s first wife, Elvira.

The new production has a stellar cast including four-time Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury, two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole, film star Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding), who will be making his Broadway debut, and theater veterans Simon Jones and Jayne Atkinson. Tony Award-winning Michael Blakemore will direct.

Richards’ next production will be Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty, an MCC Theater production that was a recent hit off-Broadway. This comic drama explores America’s obsession with physical beauty. The play is scheduled to begin previews at Broadway’s Lyceum Theater on March 6, 2009.

Richards is also one of the producers of three recent successful Broadway productions: August: Osage County (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play), Spring Awakening (winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical) and Speed-the-Plow.

Spy Book by Andrew Meier ’85 Featured in NY Times

A book by Andrew Meier '85 was featured in The New York Times.

The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service (W. W. Norton, 2008) by Andrew Meier ’85 was the subject of an article in the New York Times on Nov. 8.

A former Moscow correspondent for Time magazine, Meier spent seven years for his new book researching the fascinating tale of Isaiah “Cy” Oggins, an American radical and Columbia University graduate who served in the highest circles of Stalin’s intelligence agency, the NKVD. From the late 1920s through the 1930s, Oggins traveled to Berlin, Paris, and Manchuria on his missions. In 1947, he was poisoned by lethal injection under Stalin’s direct orders. The spy’s story remained hidden in secret files of the KGB and the FBI until 1992. To tell the entire story of Oggins’ career for the first time, Meier conducted interviews with more than 300 people on three continents and studied KGB and FBI papers as well as archives in Japan, China, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland.

The author also met Oggins’ only child, his son Robin, who had last seen his father at age seven in 1938. Meier’s book is both a vivid biography and an exciting cold war espionage story that uncovers a secret world of dramatic intrigue and tragic events. The New York Times article mentions how Meier’s book has prompted Robin Oggins to seek more information about his father from Russian officials.

Alumni Involved in Arts and Culture

Books
William Evans Jr. ’40 Is a Figure in World War II Book
A new book by Robert Mrazek, A Dawn Like Thunder (Little Brown, 2008), tells a little known story of 35 men in the almost forgotten U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron Eight that helped change the course of history at the epic World War II battles of Midway and Guadalcanal.

These men displayed acts of courage, loyalty, and sacrifice and went on to become the most highly decorated American naval air squadron of the war. Williams Evans Jr. ’40 was one of the heroes in the squadron, and his story is one of many covered in Mrazek’s stirring narrative. The book notes that Evans kept a personal journal and shares some of his thoughts about entering the Navy.

Joshua F. Moore ’94 is the author of the book What’s in a Picture?: Uncovering the Hidden Stories in Vintage Maine Photographs, published in 2008.

Moore ’94 Writes About Vintage Maine Photographs
Over the years, Joshua F. Moore ’94, deputy editor of Down East magazine, has written that publication’s popular feature “What’s in a Picture?” for which he has traveled the length and breadth of Maine to find intriguing historic photographs that capture unique people, places, and situations within the state. Moore is now the author and editor of What’s in a Picture?: Uncovering the Hidden Stories in Vintage Maine Photographs (Down East Enterprise, 2008), a collection of 50 historic and sometimes hilarious photographs. Through his interviews and in-depth research, Moore shares the fascinating stories behind the photographs, which cover a range of unusual events, oddball occupations, ingenious machinery, and creative pastimes.

Music
Opera by Cuomo ’80 Inspired by North Indian Music
The first full staging of Arjuna’s Dilemma, an unconventional new opera by Douglas Cuomo ’80, was presented at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy Music in November. The opera is based on the renowned sacred text of Asia, the Bhagavad-Gita, and deals with a crisis faced by a young warrior prince in ancient India during a civil war. Cuomo has written music for theater, classical ensembles, and film and television (including the theme song for Sex and the City). For his new work, he draws upon North Indian music as well as elements of classical Western music and jazz. National Public Radio featured the opera.

In his enthusiastic review of Arjuna’s Dilemma in the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini describes Cuomo’s score as “appealing and unabashedly eclectic.” He comments: “Arjuna’s vocal lines, a stylistic blend of Indian chant and Western lyricism, are enriched by a chorus of five women, singing in English. … I liked the score best when Mr. Cuomo pushed the complexity to extremes, piling up Arjuna’s solos, choral counterpoint and instrumental textures to create haunting, astringent, multilayered music, with cluster chords in the electric keyboard and spiraling flights in the strings and winds.”

A recording titled Dragon's Head by bandleader Mary Halvorson '02 and the Mary Halvorson Trio was released in November 2008.

New Album Features Guitarist/Composer Halvorson ’02
The talents of acclaimed Brooklyn-based guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson ’02 are showcased on her debut recording as a bandleader, titled Dragon’s Head, which was released on the Firehouse 12 label in November. The album features ten new original compositions written specifically for her working trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith. The recording allowed Halvorson the opportunity to experiment with different compositional forms, as well as varying harmonic, melodic and rhythmic components. She has previously composed music for recordings with her chamber music duo with violist Jessica Pavone and the avant-rock duo, People, with drummer Kevin Shea. At Wesleyan, Halvorson took classes with Professor of Music Anthony Braxton, the celebrated musician and composer, and has also performed with his music ensembles.

In a profile of Halvorson and her music in the New York Times in November, Nate Chinen discussed the new recording. He noted: “More than an auspicious debut, it is among this year’s standout jazz albums and one of the more original recent statements by any jazz guitarist, let alone a female jazz guitarist.” She was also featured in All About Jazz.com.


Theater

Nikolchev ’08 Presents Solo Show in Chicago
Actor and writer Anthony Nikolchev ’08 presents the Chicago premiere of his solo show, Look, What I Don’t Understand, as part of Thirteen Pocket’s first season devoted to original works. This one-man drama draws upon historical narratives experienced by Nikolchev’s family during their 1960s escape from the totalitarian hostility of communist Bulgaria to detainment in America, challenging himself and audiences to comprehend the experience of past generations through the perspective of present generations. Told through the words of a middle-aged Bulgarian immigrant at the gates of the U.S. border, the show integrates documentary theater with fictional narrative while it challenges the audience’s ability to process the alleged objectivity of history.

Several directors were employed to bring as many different perspectives to one story as possible to reflect the myriad of ways one historical event can be interpreted. These included Jane Kaufman, a dance choreographer; Joe Stankus, a film director; writer Lily Wahrman; and Justin Denis, a political activist and a recent field organizer for Obama during his presidential campaign. Yuriy Kordonskiy, assistant professor of theater at Wesleyan, was the supervising director for the show. Nikolchev and Kordonskiy are recipients of a Wesleyan University Project Grant.

Post-show discussions with Nikolchev and guests will be held following the Sunday matinees on Jan. 11, 18 and 25, and Feb. 1, 2009 (free with paid ticket).

The show runs from Jan. 8, 2009–Feb. 1, 2009 at the Athenaeum Theatre Studio 1, 2936 N. Southport Avenue. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. For tickets, call 312-902-1500 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets are $15 for all regular performances; $10 for students and seniors with ID, and for each in groups of 10 or more; $10 for industry members on Sunday shows.