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“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors: Otteson ’94, Stoberock ’92, Wickwire PhD ’83

In the sixth of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

book cover for ActivistKK Ottesen ’94, Activist: Portraits of Courage (Chronicle Books, Oct. 8, 2019)
Ranging in age from 12 to 94 years old, the activists photographed and recorded in Activist: Portraits of Courage will inspire you to “dissent, disrupt, and otherwise get in the way.” They are those who took action on the Senate floor, on art museum walls, and in leading marches throughout city centers. In short, they are people who made difficult choices, out of hope for and faith in a better future. In this beautifully assembled book of portraits and stories, KK Ottesen ‘94 highlights 40 of the most influential, admirable change-makers of our time, following their journeys from the beginning. While each featured activist stood out and stepped up in a way that was unique to their talents and character, they all did so with the shared vision of justice and equality. This book comes at a time where it has perhaps never felt so relevant; yet upon further consideration, it seems to have always been exactly the inspiration we needed. Striking in its images and moving in its stories of change, Activist is an homage to the people who practice courage as a way of life.

KK Otteson ’94 is an author and editor who is a regular contributor to the Washington Post magazine. A government major at Wesleyan who earned an MBA at Yale University, she is the author of Great Americans (Bloomsbury 2003), which explored what it meant to be an American through interviews with ordinary citizens who shared a name with national icons.

 

cover of the novel PIGSJohanna Stoberock ’92,  Pigs: A Novel (Red Hen Press, 2019)
On an island filled with reposited trash, four children live among pigs. In Pigs: A Novel—which has been compared to Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Orwell’s Animal Farm—Johanna Stoberock ’92 writes a tale that is disturbingly familiar in its outlandishness. The pigs on the island are insatiable and greedy, eating any filth or wreckage that comes to the island. But when a barrel washes up on the shore of the island with a boy inside, the carefully constructed dynamic between the children and the pigs is thrown into conflict. Though the premise is absurd, Stoberock grounds the novel in a multi-faceted emotional realness that permeates the narrative with tenderness and compassion. The reader may start to see themselves not only in the children who are just trying to get by, but also in the snouted characters, as the animality of the pigs is reminiscent of humans in late-capitalism at their worst, as well as at their most vulnerable. In a meditation on consumerism, community, and culpability, Pigs portrays some of the most frightening parts of being human today, while ultimately encouraging immersive empathy as a method of response.

Johanna Stoberock ’92, who majored in English and religion at Wesleyan, earned an MFA at the University of Washington. Her honors include the James W. Hall Prize for Fiction, as well as an Artist Trust GAP award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and the Best of the Net anthology and other venues. She teaches at Whitman College.

 

AT the Bridge coverWendy Wickwire PhD ’83, At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging (UBC Press, 2019)
From a base of Spences Bridge, British Columbia, little-known ethnographer James Teit created a new form of participatory anthropology which allowed him to work with and advocate for Indigenous peoples in the area from 1884 to 1922. Despite his unquestionable innovation in the field of anthropology and dedication to ethical storytelling, Teit had almost disappeared from the historical record before Wendy Wickwire wrote At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging. In this impressive cobbling together of history, Wickwire crafts a stunning biographical portrait that not only secures Teit as one of the most influential anthropologists of his time, but also continues in Teit’s tradition of representing stories in their full complexity. Traversing the narrative plains of Pacific Northwest political history, the field of anthropology, the concepts of indigenous knowledge, and the hidden corners of historical archives, At the Bridge makes a compelling case for the intentional preservation of stories, while bringing the story of a very notable storyteller out of lost history.

Wendy Wickwire PhD ’83 is a professor emerita in the Department of History at the University of Victoria. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Western Ontario and her doctorate at Wesleyan in ethnomusicology. 

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors: Abramowitz ’76, Hill ’93, Rotella ’86

In the fifth of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Jay Abramowitz ’76 and Tom Musca, Formerly Cool (Jerome Avenue Books, July 2019)

Warren Brace may want to write funny television, but it seems that his reality could be a sitcom in itself, with all the jokes at his expense. In this subversive take on Hollywood culture, Jay Abramowitz and Tom Musca team up to provide a witty and laugh-out-loud window into the absurdities of the television industry. As it takes on family relationships, celebrities, and the commodification of storytelling, Formerly Cool is sharply funny, with a humor that also delivers poignant insights into what it means to navigate human relationships in an irrational business. For people with and without experience in the film world, Warren Brace’s plunders and wins will keep you laughing with sympathy, and also with recognition.

Jay Abramowitz ’76, a psychology major at Wesleyan who earned his master’s at UCLA film school, wrote and produced a dozen situation comedies for television. He has conducted comedy-writing workshops at the American Film Institute and consulted on projects for Columbia/Tri-Star International Television. Al Jean, longtime executive producer of The Simpsons, calls this “a compelling darkly funny look inside the Hollywood of today; a Day of the Locust set in the world of sitcoms.”

Edwin Hill ’93, The Missing Ones (Kensington Books, August 2019)

In this spooky month of October, what could be better than a fast-paced, page-turner mystery? As a follow-up to Hill’s first novel Little Comfort, The Missing Ones features Hester Thursby, the Harvard librarian and sleuth, as she uses her sharp research skills to make connections and uncover crimes. When Thursby is summoned to an island off the coast of Maine by a cryptic text, she is led into a web of deception and long-held grudges, which she must untangle in order to solve a case of disappearing children. From there, she confronts ethical binds that challenge her moral convictions and force her to reconsider all that she had previously perceived to be simple. Weaving a narrative full of suspense and twists, Edwin Hill expertly crafts a mystery that will keep you guessing—not only at the core of the mystery, but also at what constitutes the right choice in ethically grey areas.

Edwin Hill ’93, whose first novel was nominated for an Agatha Award for best debut, is already at work on the third mystery in the Hester Thursby series. At Wesleyan, he majored in American studies. Joanna Schaffhausen, author of The Vanishing Season and No Mercy, called this book “a chilling mix of envy, deceit, and murder. Everyone is lying about something in this tense, stylish novel.”

Carlo Rotella ’86, The World is Always Coming to an End: Pulling Together and Apart in a Chicago Neighborhood (The University of Chicago Press, April 2019)

While writing The World is Always Coming to an End, Carlo Rotella would take a daily stroll between two houses in Chicago’s South Shore, one on the 7100 block of Oglesby and the other on the 6900 block of Euclid. “They’re not quite a mile apart . . . but to go from one to the other is to pass through distinct worlds,” Rotella writes in his introduction. In his examination of how this came to be, Rotella explores the interplay between these worlds with the care of meticulous reportage mixed with a personal perspective to the story. Informed by interviews with locals and archival research, The World is Always Coming to an End not only delves into the dynamics of one neighborhood; it also questions and investigates the very meaning of a neighborhood universally, as well as what it means to form community across divisions.

Carlo Rotella ’86,  a professor of English, American studies, and journalism at Boston College, is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine. An American studies major at Wesleyan, he earned his doctorate at Yale and is the author of Playing in Time: Essays, Profiles, and Other True Stories (2012), and others. Author Oma M. McRoberts calls this “a rich, incisive portrait of social change in Chicago’s iconic South Shore neighborhood.”

“You Just Have Read This…” 3 Books by Wesleyan Authors

In the fourth of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers this selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

cover of Kaplan's book shows a black and white photo of the composer, Irving Berlin

James Kaplan ’73: Irving Berlin: New York Genius (Jewish Lives Series) (Yale University Press, Nov. 5, 2019)

Venerated biographer James Kaplan first encountered the music of Irving Berlin in a New York record store in the ’70s. The tune: “Oh, How That German Could Love,” a song Berlin composed at 21 years old. Kaplan was entranced, playing on repeat the song that he writes “pierced the thick veil of time.” One could say Kaplan accomplishes the same feat, as Irving Berlin: New York Genius portrays the Jewish immigrant and incomparable composer with stunning depth, integrity, and intimacy. In his portrait of Berlin, Kaplan explores the musician’s highs and lows, from his astonishing versatility to his struggles with mental illness. Along with the portrait of the musician, Kaplan also captures the dynamic life of the city that made and was made by Berlin: New York City with its glittering, fast-paced energy. In the same manner that Berlin was able to create the essences of songs, Kaplan captures the essence of a life, guiding his readers effortlessly through the nuances of Berlin’s character. As a bright spotlight on the nine-decade career of a man who changed American music forever, Kaplan’s biography is an homage to extraordinary grit and talent that any music-lover—from ragtime to rock—will appreciate.

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors

In the third of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers this selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

the cover for An American Summer: A boy stands with his back to us with his shirt off.Alex Kotlowitz ’77: An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago (Penguin Random House, 2019)

“Let me tell you what this book is,” Alex Kotlowitz ’77 writes. “It’s not a policy map or a critique. It’s not about what works or doesn’t work.” But it is about the stories and it is about the numbers. Over the past 20 years, 14,033 people have been killed and another 60,000 wounded by gunfire. In this vivid collection of profiles in Chicago’s most turbulent neighborhoods, acclaimed journalist and filmmaker Kotlowitz writes portraits that reflect the daily violence faced by too many Americans.

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago disrupts the categories of criminals and victims to explore violence through empathic and unyielding reportage on the ones left standing. While this book is not a policy map, it is a must-read to understand the amount and impact of violence that does not regularly make national headlines but is nonetheless tragic. Kotlowitz approaches this tragedy with an emphasis on the humanity of his subjects, amplifying the positions of the people who, if not on either side of the gun, are witnesses to something that has become unforgivably American.

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors

In the second of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers this selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Sarah C. Townsend ’90 writes with an urgency that comes not from the saltwater of her tears, but directly from her pen. In Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Psychosis, which was released from The Lettered Street Press earlier this month, Townsend guides her readers through a raw and visceral recollection of her experience with postpartum psychosis. Townsend, who majored in the College of Letters at Wesleyan before receiving both an MFA in creative writing and an MA in counseling psychology, explores the fragmentation of memory through pulsating vignettes that parse nuances of loss, grief, motherhood, and sanity. 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.

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors

In the first of a continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers this selection for those in search of insight and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

In 2004, Susan Lanzoni ’85 read an O Magazine interview of then U.S. Senator Barack Obama, in which he said that, more than America’s budget or trade deficit, he was concerned about an “empathy deficit” in our country. The use of the word “empathy” has only increased over the past 15 years, and many would say for good reason. In Empathy: A History (Yale University Press, 2018), Lanzoni explores empathy as a tool, a technique, a practice, and an aspiration, involving the body, the mind, and the imagination. She tracks the word from its early conception as a translation of the German word Einfühlung (“in-feeling”)—a psychological term used to describe how spectators projected their own feelings into objects of art and nature—to its current usage, which more closely resembles the opposite of projection. In addition to her discussion of the etymology of empathy, Lanzoni investigates the limits and possibilities of empathy in art, science, psychology, popular culture, and politics to present an all-encompassing look at the evolution of how we understand what it means to place ourselves in the world around us.

Arevalo Mateus PhD ’13 Named Lead Scholar for NY State Archives Documentation Plan

Jorge Arévalo Mateus

Jorge Arévalo Mateus earned a PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan in 2013.

Jorge Arévalo Mateus PhD ’13 is a lead scholar on a developing plan for The New York State Archives. The plan will focus on the collection and preservation of, as well as accessibility to, records involving under-documented topics and communities.

Arévalo Mateus will guide the research process of the project, which will include surveys on collections and communities and regional meetings across the state. The project is one of the Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York (DHPSNY), a statewide program that supports a network of library and archival repositories that contain New York’s historical records and is in conversation with other collecting institutions in the state.

Connecticut Magazine Names Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18 in “40 Under 40”

Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18, a leader and community activist in her hometown of New Britain, was named one of Connecticut Magazine‘s “40 under 40.” (Photo courtesy of Alicia Strong)

Connecticut Magazine included Alicia Hernandez Strong ’18 in its 2019 list of “40 Under 40,” recognizing her leadership in community activism. “With her firm convictions, Strong lives up to her name,” the magazine wrote.

“I am honored to be included in Connecticut’s ’40 Under 40′ Class of 2019. It is truly a testament to my hard work and dedication,” Strong said.

At 21 years old, Strong became the youngest person nationally to be given the title of executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), where she worked for less than a year before leaving to pursue goals outside of educating the general public about Islam. After leaving the council, Strong started a social media marketing firm in New Britain to help small businesses.

Strong will soon begin graduate school at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.

Audible Bacillus Exhibit Explores the Fluidity of the Human Biome

The exhibit, Audible Bacillus, opened at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery on Jan. 29.

Audible Bacillus opened at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery on Jan. 29.

The opening reception included opening remarks by Curator Benjamin Chaffee, associate director of visual arts.

The opening reception included opening remarks by curator Benjamin Chaffee, associate director of visual arts.

Chaffee set out to answer questions such as, "What does it mean for our world concept, language, ethics, and knowledge if we accept that human bodies co-evolved with their microbiomes?"

With the exhibit, Chaffee set out to answer questions such as, “What does it mean for our world concept, language, ethics, and knowledge if we accept that human bodies coevolved with their microbiomes?”

The works are presented not as practical scientific rhetoric but rather as investigations in their own right into a variety of themes including alternative epistemologies, the nature and source of volition, a breakdown of the boundary between self/other, the limits of our language(s), and into the radical care we need to sustain a future.

The works are presented as investigations into a variety of themes including alternative epistemologies, the nature and source of volition, a breakdown of the boundary between self/other, the limits of our language(s), and the radical care we need to sustain a future.

Stromatolites, the fossilized remains of ancient cyanobacteria, the dominant species on the Earth billions of years ago, will also be included in the exhibition.

Stromatolites, the fossilized remains of ancient cyanobacteria that were the dominant species on the Earth billions of years ago, are included in the exhibition.

The exhibit presents pieces of audio and video to create an experience of movement for visitors, mirroring Chaffee’s efforts to understand the fluidity of the human biome.

The exhibit incorporates multi-media pieces, including artist Ed Atkin's video short titled "Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths."

The exhibit also incorporates multimedia pieces, including artist Ed Atkin’s video short titled “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths.”

Listen to a conversation between Benjamin Chaffee and Curator of the Davison Art Center Miya Tokumitsu about this exhibition on the Center for the Arts Radio Hour.

A conversation between Chaffee and Curator of the Davison Art Center Miya Tokumitsu about this exhibition can be heard on the Center for the Arts Radio Hour.

Gallery Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 12-5 p.m.; Thursday, 12-7 p.m. (NEW Extended Hours); Friday through Sunday, 12-5pm.

The Zilkha Gallery is open Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 5 p.m.; Thursday, noon to 7 p.m.; and Friday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Audible Bacillus will be on display through Sunday, March 3, 2019. (Photos by Sara McCrea ’21)