Laurie Kenney

Manaster ’01 Exposes the Messiness of Life in New Book

the-done-thing-book-jacketIn The Done Thing (Tyrus Books, 2016), author Tracy Manaster ’01 introduces us to Lida Stearl, a newly retired widow growing more obsessed each day with her ex-brother-in-law Clarence, on death row for the murder of her sister almost 20 years earlier. We watch as Lida strikes up a correspondence with Clarence while posing as a naïve twenty-something in need of a friend. We witness the rawness of Lida’s pain when she realizes that her niece Pamela, whom she raised as her own, has been in contact with the man she has despised for all these years. And we stand by helplessly as we observe Lida’s obsession, once kept in check by her marriage and her career, spiral out of control—setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the one thing that matters most: her relationship with Pamela. Library Journal, in a starred review, says, “Manaster has written a deeply human and morally saturated novel, with captivating language. Don’t miss this sympathetic examination of how a tragic incident can irrevocably change a life’s course.” While Publishers Weekly says, “In this engrossing story about the effects that vengeance can have on love, Manaster refuses to take the happy, easy way out, instead leaving her strikingly relatable characters with just enough room to breathe.”

In this Q&A, Manaster talks about the characters she brings to life in The Done Thing.

Q: Where did the idea for The Done Thing come from?

A: The Done Thing had its inception in the worst short story written in the 80-year history of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  In an attempt to settle a pretentious bar argument about whether or not a piece could have both a twist ending and emotional heft, I had a proto-Lida—I think her name was Joan—puttering about her house in a state of focused fury, knowing that miles away in Arizona a proto-Clarence was being executed for the death of her sister. The twist was that because Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, she misses the actual moment of his passing.

It was a terrible story. I lost the argument. The twist robbed the narrative of emotional resonance. But the premise was a good one, meaty enough to carry a book, and I began to hone in on Lida: her voice, the world she navigates, the impossible resolution she craves. It took nearly a decade—and everything I learned from writing, editing, and publishing my debut, You Could Be Home by Now—for me to become an adept enough writer to be equal to that voice.

Q: Was it always your intention to create a character like Lida, with whom we empathize, even when she’s at her worst? Was it a creative struggle to keep that balance in mind—the fine line between righteous anger and going too far—as you moved through the story?

A: After the initial “hey, wow, this could be an actual book” inspiration, Lida’s essential character gave me very little trouble.

Wesleyan Editors Call for New Books by Alumni, Faculty, Students, Staff

WES_0411Wesleyan is known for its top-notch writing programs and for the accomplishments of its community of award-winning alumni, faculty, students and staff book authors, editors and translators.

Members of the Wesleyan community—alumni, faculty, students and staff—are invited to submit their latest books, as well as information about forthcoming and recently signed titles, and other literary news, to Laurie Kenney, books editor for Wesleyan magazine. Books and information received will be considered for possible coverage in Wesleyan magazine, on the News @ Wes blog and through Wesleyan’s social media channels, as well as through possible in-store display and event opportunities at Wesleyan’s new bookstore—Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore—which will open on Main Street in Middletown later this spring.

Fill out our simple Author Questionnaire to submit your book information now.

While the editors can’t guarantee coverage for any book, due to the sheer number published each year, they hope that gathering and sharing information about these projects through various university channels will help to better serve and promote Wesleyan authors and their work.

Advance reading copies and finished review copies can be sent to: Laurie Kenney, Books Editor, Wesleyan University, Office of University Communications, 229 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

Belichick ’75 Leads Patriots to Super Bowl Win

Bill Belichick '75

Bill Belichick ’75

Bill Belichick ’75, head coach of the New England Patriots, led his team to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history on Feb. 5, beating the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-28 in OT—the first time an overtime period was ever needed in the 51-year history of the NFL’s annual championship game. The win made Belichick the winningest coach in Super Bowl history. All five of Belichick’s wins have come as head coach of the Patriots, a team he has coached since 2000.

Beginning his NFL career as an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts in 1975, Belichick moved to the Detroit Lions in 1976, remaining there for two seasons before spending a year in the Denver Broncos organization before moving on the the New York Giants in 1979. In 1991 he was named the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and also coached for the New York Jets before becoming head coach of the Patriots in 2000. He earned his 200th regular season victory as a head coach after the Patriots’ 30-7 win at Minnesota on Sept. 14, 2014. He became the sixth NFL head coach to reach that mark.

At Wesleyan, Belichick was a football, squash and lacrosse letterwinner, serving as a team captain for the 1975 lacrosse squad, He majored in economics.

Returning to Middletown for Commencement in May, 2002,Belichick received Wesleyan’s Raymond E. Baldwin Medal, the highest honor awarded by the alumni body for extraordinary service to the University and to the public interest. He also spoke to a group of prospective students and their parents during WesFest in April, 2004 and stayed to watch his daughter Amanda ’07 play in a women’s lacrosse game. During Wesleyan’s 2005 Commencement, Belichick received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater and in May, 2008, he became one of the inaugural members of Wesleyan’s newly established Athletics Hall of Fame.

New Book by Arndt ’92 Explores How the American Right Created Trump

The Right's Road to Serfdom, by Chris ArndtIn The Right’s Road to Serfdom: The Danger of Conservatism Unbound: From Hayek to Trump (Bulkington Press, 2016), Christopher F. Arndt ‘92 argues that conservatism is not what it pretends to be and that the American Right created Donald Trump. “There’s a destructive logic that has led the so-called ‘Party of Liberty’ to nominate an authoritarian like Donald Trump as its leader,” says Arndt, a former Wall Street executive and portfolio manager, in the press materials for the book. “I wrote the book to explain how this happened—to offer a readable, yet substantive account of recent political developments and do so in the context of the principles of political freedom that are common to us all.”

Below, News @ Wes talks with Arndt about the book, the subsequent election of Donald Trump, and the future.

What prompted you to write The Right’s Road to Serfdom?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding recent political developments, and in particular political developments on the American Right.  I wrote the book to clarify recent events, to offer a warning, and also to serve as a timely reminder of the American ideal of Liberty. That’s a pretty general answer so let me provide an example:

In early September of 2016, the Dallas Morning News—a famously conservative newspaper—wrote an editorial urging its readership to reject Trump’s bid for the presidency. In doing so, the editorial writers of the paper noted that “Trump is—or has been—at odds with nearly every GOP

Richardson ’60 Publishes Bio of Urban Development Pioneer Shepherd

Alexander Robey Shepherd, by John P. RichardsonAlexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital, by John P. Richardson ’60 (Ohio University Press, 2016), tells the story of urban development pioneer and public works leader Alexander Robey Shepherd, who was instrumental in building the infrastructure of the nation’s capital when it was knee-deep in mud and disrepair after the Civil War. In fact it was Shepherd’s leadership, says Richardson, that made it possible for the city to finally realize the vision of French architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant, some 80-plus years after George Washington appointed L’Enfant to plan what was then known as the new “Federal City.”

“Shepherd did not build the buildings, but he built the infrastructure that made it possible to develop the city we see,” says Richardson, a retired intelligence officer and Middle East specialist who spent more than 30 years researching Shepherd before writing his book. “Much of Shepherd’s work is below the ground but critical to a modern city.”

Alexander Robey Shepherd was born in Washington in 1835. After his father’s early death, Shepherd left school at the age of 13 and worked his way up from apprentice to owner of a plumbing company. After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, he started a second career—in politics.

Sweren-Becker ’06 Creates a Brave New World in New Book

Daniel Sweren-Becker ’06

Book by Daniel Sweren-Becker ’06.

In The Ones, Daniel Sweren-Becker ’06 creates a vision of a not-so-distant future world in which a random group of babies is chosen each year to be the smartest, best looking, most athletic members of society. “The Ones,” as they are called, short for the chosen ones, enjoy the privilege of membership in this exclusive group during the genetic engineering program’s 20-year history until a society-wide backlash marginalizes their status and threatens to even outlaw their existence. Sweren-Becker’s fast-paced YA novel follows two of The Ones (or are they?): 17-year-old Cody and her boyfriend, James, who are forced to decide whether to stand up for their rights…and how far they’re willing to go to do so.

The Ones (Imprint, 2016) is Sweren-Becker’s literary debut. A television writer and playwright in Los Angeles, he originally conceived the book as a television series. “When I decided to switch gears into a series of books [the second is due in September], it felt natural to pick YA [Young Adult] because the main characters were teenagers,” he says. “I think this genre is read so widely because we’ve reached a point where these books are fun and accessible but also deal with really sophisticated issues that attract a more mature audience.”

Middle School Misfits Inhabit New Wilder ’88 Novel

Robert Wilder ’88

Book by Robert Wilder ’88.

Robert Wilder ’88 draws on his 25 years of teaching experience to paint a complex, funny, poignant picture of life in middle school in Nickel (Leaf Storm Press, 2016). The novel tells the story of two middle school misfits who bond over a mutual love for 1980s pop culture: Coy, whose mother is in rehab and whose stepfather is trying, but not always succeeding, to hold things together in her absence; and Monroe, his just-as-quirky female best friend whose braces have given her a rash that becomes a life-threatening illness. Booklist, in a starred review, says, “Wilder powers his classic coming-of-age narrative with a ferocious storytelling voice . . . A humorous, poignant, and formidable debut.”

The idea of Nickel stemmed from Wilder’s love of the quiet, quirky kids he’s taught over the years, as well as his teenage son, London. “I love teenagers, and I ask them questions daily,” says Wilder. “I take notes on their obsessions, dreams, fashion choices and language, and I learn something new from them every day without fail. I have to be subtler with my own children. They think it’s weird when I ask them a question that has to do with a character I’m working on. They want me to make them enchiladas and give them money.”

Wilder used the elements of storytelling he learned from studying fiction for his first two books—collections of comedic essays based on his own personal experiences as a teacher and a father. In writing Nickel, Wilder found some similarities but also one notable difference. “With nonfiction, you already have the world created for you. If something happened in my kitchen, I can refer to it anytime I need to,” he says. “When writing fiction, you need to create an entire world from the ground up.”

Robert Wilder ’88

Robert Wilder ’88

For Wilder, the process of writing Nickel began with the voice of the book’s main character, Coy. “I started with Coy’s voice and let it lead me,” he says. “Many of the kids I was thinking about when I developed that voice spoke in code and sound effects, so my early drafts were an attempt to try and emulate that shorthand manner of speech. When I sent the manuscript to my friend Christopher, he said, ‘This is great but totally unreadable.’ So I had to try to keep the core elements of Coy’s voice but allow the casual reader access to him and his world.”

Wilder drew on his own high school memories and experiences, as well as his experience as a teacher, to flesh out the book’s relatable, realistic characters and setting. “For the character of Coy, I tried to recall what it was like when I was his age and how hard it was being a relatively sensitive teenager who suffers loss, especially in a large school. When I created the school that Coy and Monroe attend, I drew on all the telling details I’ve gathered in my 25 years of teaching. Schools are such a rich environment and culture; it was a lot of fun trying to capture what it’s like being in that world day after day. I also allowed myself to see the challenges and absurdities of school life the way Coy and Monroe would.”

Wilder, an English major and soccer player during his years at Wesleyan, recently finished another novel, which he hopes to publish soon. He is also working on a television pilot loosely based on his two essay collections, Daddy Needs a Drink: An Irreverent Look at Parenting from a Dad Who Truly Loves His Kids—Even When They’re Driving Him Nuts, which the Los Angeles Times called “consistently hilarious,” and Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge: What I Learned in School the Second Time Around—One Man’s Irreverent Look at Being a Teacher Today, which Publishers Weekly called “honest and funny.”

“There is no doubt that I have far more empathy for the teenage species after writing Nickel,” says Wilder. “How couldn’t I? Writing is an act of empathy, after all.”

Smith ’82 Explores How Fear Distorts Reality in First Novel

Book by Patricia Smith ’82.

Book by Patricia Smith ’82.

“At seven thirty, with SJ still asleep, Deirdre Murphy left the house for school. She walked side streets shaded by trees in their glory—pale autumn reds, yellows the color of honey. She scuffed through piles of leaves, each whoosh a reminder of every other autumn and every other beginning of the school year, the only way Deirdre knew how to mark time. She kept track of events based on the girls she taught: the drama queens, the freaks, the year they were all brilliant. This year, Deirdre could already tell after a week of classes, was the year of the needy girls.”

So begins The Year of Needy Girls, the debut novel from Patricia Smith ’82. The book is published by Kaylie Jones (’81) Books, an imprint of Akashic Books, headed by publisher and editor-in-chief Johnny Temple ’88.

The Year of Needy Girls tells the story of Deirdre, a dedicated private school teacher from a working class background, and her partner, Sara Jane (SJ), who live in a tolerant New England town, divided by a river and by class, until the murder of a 10-year-old boy changes the way the townspeople look at themselves…and at others. Publishers Weekly says, “Smith’s crisp prose and dedication to moralistic ambiguity make for a provoking read,” while Library Journal notes, “Smith’s first novel successfully builds tension and a sense of dread among the picture-perfect New England fall.”

Sienkiewicz ’03 Authors Book on U.S. Efforts to Reshape Middle Eastern Media

Matt Sienkiewicz ’03

Book by Matt Sienkiewicz ’03.

The U.S. has poured millions of dollars into local television and radio programming in the Muslim World in an effort to win the hearts and minds of that region’s citizens. But according to communications scholar Matt Sienkiewicz ’03, the Middle Eastern media producers who rely on these funds are hardly puppets on an American string.

In The Other Air Force: U.S. Efforts to Reshape Middle Eastern Media Since 9/11 (Rutgers University Press, 2016), Sienkiewicz explores America’s efforts to employ “soft-psy” media—a combination of “soft” methods, such as encouraging programs modeled on U.S. entertainment and reality programs, with more militaristic approaches to information control—to generate pro-American sentiment in the Middle East. Drawing on years of field research and interviews, Sienkiewicz gives readers an inside look at radio and television production in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories to show how Middle Eastern media producers are working to forge viable broadcasting businesses without straying outside the American-set boundaries for acceptable content.

“Although much of the U.S. power apparatus desires Middle Eastern media that will parrot American perspectives, this is no longer the sole, or even dominant, strategy in the region,” says Sienkiewicz in his introduction. “Instead, the encouragement of certain media forms serves as the organizing principle for a wide range of American projects.  More so than asking local agents to transfer specific, American-vetted messages to viewers, U.S.-funded projects have instead tended to demand that Afghans, Palestinians and others create programming the embraces the industrial and aesthetic conventions of for-profit, American-style commercial television and radio, while being constrained mainly by a basic set of ‘red lines’—words and ideas that are off-limits.”

Sienkiewicz is an assistant professor of communication and international studies at Boston College. In addition to authoring The Other Air Force, he is the coeditor of Saturday Night Live and American TV (Indiana University Press, 2013) and has produced several documentaries, including Live from Bethlehem (2009), which chronicled the shaping of the Ma’an News Network, the only major independent news source in the Palestinian Territories.

Breakfast with Brian

Breakfast at O'Rourke's (Wesleyan University Press)

Breakfast at O’Rourke’s, published by Wesleyan University Press.

A Wesleyan alumnus from Chicago. A faculty film aficionado. A martial arts teacher and that teacher’s teacher, a tenth-degree black belt visiting from Germany. Four elementary school students, here as a reward for good deeds, along with their principal and school nurse.

This is breakfast at O’Rourke’s, and the scene this morning is a lot like owner Brian O’Rourke’s namesake everything-and-the-kitchen-sink breakfast: an eclectic mix of ingredients combined in ways you would never expect. You never know what you’re going to get, but it always works, and it’s always delicious.

Poswolsky ’05 Pens The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

Quarter-Life Breakthrough by Adam Smiley PoswolskyAuthor Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky ’05 talks to News @ Wes about his new book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters (TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House, 2016). Learn more about Poswolsky’s work at smileyposwolsky.com.

What did you major in at Wesleyan and how did that influence your career path out of college? Did you always know (or at least think you knew!) what you wanted to do with your life? If so, were you surprised when that belief was challenged by your actual experience?
I majored in film studies at Wesleyan, so after graduation I moved to New York City and worked in film production for two years as a location scout and production assistant. I thought filmmaking was my calling, so I was surprised to find out that I actually wasn’t that inspired by film production. The hectic film sets, the massive trucks, the brutal hours and long nights, the stressful months of pre-production, the crew members chain-smoking on set; it seemed out of sync with why I loved studying film at Wes, which was my interest in film as a medium for social change. The film major at Wes teaches you how to make movies, but more importantly, it teaches you how to craft a compelling narrative; it teaches you about perspective and persuasion. Those are the lessons that continue to inform my work today as a writer and public speaker—it’s not the fact that I was a film major, it’s that I learned how to share my story.

Wesleyan Announces All-Star Hamilton Prize Selection Committee

Hamilton Prize Committee

Wesleyan University has announced the distinguished members of its inaugural Hamilton Prize Selection Committee. The all-star committee, made up of Wesleyan alumni, will choose the first-ever recipient of the university’s newly established Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity—a four-year full-tuition scholarship that will be awarded to the incoming Wesleyan student of the Class of 2021 whose creative written work is judged to best reflect the originality, artistry and dynamism embodied in Hamilton: An American Musical.