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Wesleyan University Press Authors Longlisted for PEN Awards

Wesleyan University Press authors Hafizah Geter, Rae Armantrout, and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers were recently longlisted for awards from PEN America.

Un-American book

Un-American, published by Wesleyan University Press, is longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award.

Hafizah Geter’s debut poetry collection, Un-American, is longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award. The PEN Open Book Award honors a work of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, or poetry written by an author of color. The award was created by PEN America’s Open Book Committee, a group committed to racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities.

Geter’s collection moves readers through the fraught internal and external landscapes—linguistic, cultural, racial, familial—of those whose lives are shaped and transformed by immigration. The daughter of a Nigerian Muslim woman and a former Southern Baptist Black man, Geter charts the history of a Black family of mixed citizenships through poems imbued by migration, racism, queerness, loss, and the heartbreak of trying to feel at home in a country that does not recognize you.

Rae Armantrout’s Conjure and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s The Age of Phillis are both longlisted for the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. The PEN/Voelcker Award honors a distinguished collection of poetry that represents a notable and accomplished literary presence.

Armantrout takes pleasure in uncertainties and conundrums, the tricky nuances of language and feeling. In Conjure that pleasure is matched by dread; fascination meets fear as the poet considers an increasingly toxic world.

The Age of Phillis, by award-winning writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, imagines the life and times of Phillis Wheatley: her childhood in the Gambia, West Africa, her life with her white American owners, her friendship with Obour Tanner, and her marriage to the enigmatic John Peters. Woven throughout are poems about Wheatley’s “age”—the era that encompassed political, philosophical, and religious upheaval, as well as the transatlantic slave trade.

According to PEN America’s press release, the 2021 Literary Awards Longlists span 11 book awards and encompass more than 125 writers and translators, representing the year’s most extraordinary literary talents. Over 80 judges have selected the longlists, which are made up of categories including the novel, short story collection, translation, poetry, science writing, essay, biography, and more. (Read the full release here.)

Finalists for PEN America Literary Awards will be announced in February 2021.

Wesleyan University Press publishes books of poetry, and scholarly books in dance, music, and literary studies. The Press has garnered national and international accolades for its work, including six Pulitzer Prizes, three National Book Awards, three Griffin Poetry Prizes, and an Anisfield-Wolf Award, among many others.

Students’ Essays on Infectious Disease Prevention, COVID-19 Published Nationwide

cohan

More than 25 students in Fred Cohan’s Global Change and Infectious Disease course have had op-eds published in media outlets nationwide. Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (pictured), assigns the op-ed writing as part of his course and offers students extra credit if they are able to get their work published.

As part of the BIO 173: Global Change and Infectious Disease course, Professor Fred Cohan assigns students to write an essay persuading others to prevent future and mitigate present infectious diseases. If students submit their essay to a news outlet—and it’s published—Cohan awards them with extra credit.

As a result of this assignment, more than 25 students have had their work published in newspapers across the United States. Many of these essays cite and applaud the University’s Keep Wes Safe campaign and its COVID-19 testing protocols.

Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (COE), began teaching the Global Change and Infectious Disease course in 2009, when the COE was established. “I wanted very much to contribute a course to what I saw as a real game-changer in Wesleyan’s interest in the environment. The course is about all the ways that human demands on the environment have brought us infectious diseases, over past millennia and in the present, and why our environmental disturbances will continue to bring us infections into the future.”

Over the years, Cohan learned that he can sustainably teach about 170 students every year without running out of interested students. This fall, he had 207. Although he didn’t change the overall structure of his course to accommodate COVID-19 topics, he did add material on the current pandemic to various sections of the course.

“I wouldn’t say that the population of the class increased tremendously as a result of COVID-19, but I think the enthusiasm of the students for the material has increased substantially,” he said.

To accommodate online learning, Cohan shaved off 15 minutes from his normal 80-minute lectures to allow for discussion sections, led by Cohan and teaching assistants. “While the lectures mostly dealt with biology, the discussions focused on how changes in behavior and policy can solve the infectious disease problems brought by human disturbance of the environment,” he said.

Based on student responses to an introspective exam question, Cohan learned that many students enjoyed a new hope that we could each contribute to fighting infectious disease. “They discovered that the solution to infectious disease is not entirely a waiting game for the right technologies to come along,” he said. “Many enjoyed learning about fighting infectious disease from a moral and social perspective. And especially, the students enjoyed learning about the ‘socialism of the microbe,’ how preventing and curing others’ infections will prevent others’ infections from becoming our own. The students enjoyed seeing how this idea can drive both domestic and international health policies.”

A sampling of the published student essays are below:

Alexander Giummo ’22 and Mike Dunderdale’s ’23 op-ed titled “A National Testing Proposal: Let’s Fight Back Against COVID-19” was published in the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

They wrote: “With an expansive and increased testing plan for U.S. citizens, those who are COVID-positive could limit the number of contacts they have, and this would also help to enable more effective contact tracing. Testing could also allow for the return of some ‘normal’ events, such as small social gatherings, sports, and in-person class and work schedules.

“We propose a national testing strategy in line with the one that has kept Wesleyan students safe this year. The plan would require a strong push by the federal government to fund the initiative, but it is vital to successful containment of the virus.

“Twice a week, all people living in the U.S. should report to a local testing site staffed with professionals where the anterior nasal swab Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, used by Wesleyan and supported by the Broad Institute, would be implemented.”

Kalyani Mohan ’22 and Kalli Jackson ’22 penned an essay titled “Where Public Health Meets Politics: COVID-19 in the United States,” which was published in Wesleyan’s Arcadia Political Review.

They wrote: “While the U.S. would certainly benefit from a strengthened pandemic response team and structural changes to public health systems, that alone isn’t enough, as American society is immensely stratified, socially and culturally. The politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that individualism, libertarianism and capitalism are deeply ingrained in American culture, to the extent that Americans often blind to the fact community welfare can be equivalent to personal welfare. Pandemics are multifaceted, and preventing them requires not just a cultural shift but an emotional one amongst the American people, one guided by empathy—towards other people, different communities and the planet. Politics should be a tool, not a weapon against its people.”

Sydnee Goyer ’21 and Marcel Thompson’s ’22 essay “This Flu Season Will Be Decisive in the Fight Against COVID-19” also was published in Arcadia Political Review.

“With winter approaching all around the Northern Hemisphere, people are preparing for what has already been named a “twindemic,” meaning the joint threat of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu,” they wrote. “While it is known that seasonal vaccinations reduce the risk of getting the flu by up to 60% and also reduce the severity of the illness after the contamination, additional research has been conducted in order to know whether or not flu shots could reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19. In addition to the flu shot, it is essential that people remain vigilant in maintaining proper social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly, and continuing to wear masks in public spaces.”

Matesan’s New Book Explores Political Violence, Islamist Mobilization in Egypt and Indonesia

The Violence PendulumIoana Emy Matesan, assistant professor of government, is the author of The Violence Pendulum: Tactical Change in Islamist Groups in Egypt and Indonesia, published by Oxford University Press, September 2020.

The Violence Pendulum challenges the notion that democracy can reduce violence, or that there is anything exceptional about violent Islamist mobilization in the Middle East. It also addresses an ongoing puzzle in the study of political violence, and shows why repression can sometimes encourage violence, and other times discourage it. Matesan also investigates escalation and de-escalation in an inter-generational and cross-regional study of Islamist mobilization in Egypt and in Indonesia.

The Violence Pendulum is currently featured in Oxford University Press’s collection on Peace Studies.

Ellis Neyra Pens New Book on Latinx, Caribbean Poetics

Book by NeyraRen Ellis Neyra, associate professor of English, is the author of The Cry of the Senses: Listening to Latinx and Caribbean Poetics, published by Duke University Press, 2020.

Weaving together the Black radical tradition with Caribbean and Latinx performance, cinema, music, and literature, Ellis Neyra highlights the ways in which Latinx and Caribbean sonic practices challenge anti-Black, colonial, post-Enlightenment, and humanist epistemologies.

Krishnan’s Book Receives Special Citation from the Dance Studies Association

DSA awardA book written by Hari Krishnan, professor and chair of dance, received a special citation by the awards committee of the Dance Studies Association.

Krishnan’s Celluloid Classicism: Early Tamil Cinema and the Making of Modern Bharatanatyam (Wesleyan University Press, 2019) was honored with the 2020 de la Torre Bueno® First Book Special Citation for being an “invaluable addition to scholarship on Bharatanatyam in the crucial period between the 1930s and 1950s, offering an impeccably researched and well-argued revision of the common recounting of this phase of the dance’s history.”

Krishnan’s archival work “is impeccable,” the citation reads, “combining interviews with readings of key films and reconstructions of lost works using songbooks. Throughout, he is deeply attuned to gender, class, and caste, especially in charting devadasi genealogies in early cinematic works. He includes invaluable reflections on the complexity of working artists’ lives in these crucial periods, and argues persuasively that specific dimensions of some lives undergird the cinematic invention of ‘classical’ Bharatanatyam as a middle-class form.”

Dollinger ’22: Pandemic Year in College Brings Pride, Purpose

Dollinger

An essay on campus life during the pandemic, written by Shayna Dollinger ’22, was recently published by J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

When religion major Shayna Dollinger ’22 imagined her college experience, it never involved mandatory quarantining, weekly virus testing, attending concerts—solo—in a 6-by-6-foot square space, and wearing masks at a socially distanced tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. But this was the true reality of her junior year at Wesleyan.

“But weirdly enough, I don’t miss what could have been. I am proud and grateful every day for the lengths my university has gone to keep its students safe and engaged during these turbulent times,” Dollinger wrote in an essay titled “My Pandemic Year in College Has Brought Pride and Purpose.” The essay, which was an assignment in her BIO 107: Global Change and Infectious Disease course, was later published in the Dec. 3 edition of J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

“There is a culture of mutual respect for the health of our peers,” Dollinger described. “We wear masks at all times, except when in our own residences, and we try to hold as many events outdoors as possible. We genuinely want to be here and stay here, and the only way that is possible is if we all agree to keep our campus safe and healthy. We are young people who care not only about our own health, but the health of our peers, the older members of our community, and the health of our country and world.”

Dollinger wonders what the outcome would be if the entire country were able to implement Wesleyan’s “Keep Wes Safe” strategy on a larger scale, as well as create a culture of joint responsibility. Perhaps, she writes, “this pandemic would ease its course and we might be able to prevent the next.”

“Until then, I will rock my Wesleyan University mask and find joy in my very own college experience.”

Read the full essay online at jweekly.com.

15 Seniors Elected to Phi Beta Kappa

phi beta kappa

Fifteen seniors were inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society on Dec. 2. Phi Beta Kappa means “love of learning is the guide of life.”

During a virtual ceremony on Dec. 2, 15 members of the Class of 2021 were inducted early decision into the Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The oldest scholastic honor society in the nation, Phi Beta Kappa at Wesleyan is limited to 12% of the graduating class each year.

Fall-semester election is based on grades through the end of a student’s junior year and fulfillment of the General Education expectations. The minimum grade point average for the fall election is 93, and students are nominated by their major departments.

“Your families, teachers, fellow students, and others at Wesleyan couldn’t be prouder,” Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 said during the initiation ceremony. “We’re delighted to recognize your achievements, even in this world of Zoom, and acknowledge your good work and your strong character. I am honored to be among those who honor you today. Thank you for your many contributions to Wesleyan, and congratulations on this extraordinary achievement.”

The students and their major(s) are below:

Jacob Barabas, College of Social Studies, economics
Kian Caplan, neuroscience and behavior, science in society
Julia Gyourko, history

Employees Recognized for Years of Service to Wesleyan

Joyce Topshe

Associate Vice President for Facilities Joyce Topshe is celebrating her 20th year working at Wesleyan. She credits her love for the job to a “lifelong passion” for design and construction. LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, and Etch A Sketch were among her favorite childhood toys. “I am so lucky to be getting paid to do the things I love and with people that I care about,” she said.

For 19 years, Joyce Topshe took on the role of managing Wesleyan’s construction services, environmental services, rental properties, and Physical Plant-Facilities.

Now in her 20th year of working at Wesleyan, the associate vice president for facilities is powering through “the most challenging year of my career,” she said. “As we approach the end of the fall semester during a raging pandemic, I am feeling like we almost won the World Series. My entire team has worked exhaustively to make our campus safe during the pandemic, and I am so grateful to every member of my team for staying the course despite the challenges and concerns that the pandemic brought.”

Topshe, a member of Wesleyan’s Pandemic Planning Committee and the Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT), helped oversee the COVID-19 testing operation on campus and was heavily involved with the University’s reopening plans last fall.

Despite the pandemic, Topshe “continues to love coming to work every day because I enjoy the people that I work with,” she said. “Many of us have been working together for the entire time and we have this incredible sense of ownership and loyalty to our Wesleyan community, to each other, and even more so to the students that we serve. I enjoy working as a team and I am grateful for my talented colleagues who have contributed to the wonderful accomplishments that our team has achieved. I can’t believe that it has been 20 years since I joined Wesleyan. It is true that time flies when you are having fun.”

Scholars Explore the Theme of “Dirt” Through Center for the Humanities Series

During the Center for the Humanities Lecture Series, nine scholars explored the theme of “Dirt” throughout the fall 2020 semester. The theme explored the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of filth, waste, toxicity, and contamination alongside ideas of purity, hygiene, and cleanliness to address and reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural urgencies.

Through various topics, the scholars discussed uses and abuses of dirt and its various political, religious, sexual, ethnic, racial, and ecological significations.

The topics and speakers included:

Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave” by Paula Matthusen, associate professor of music; “Getting Our Hands Dirty: Manual Labor Schools, Abolition, and the Empire of Benevolence” by Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies; “Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures” by Yu-ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies; “Anthropogenic Forms in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being” by Amy Tang, Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of English and American Studies; “Lust Area” by Greg Goldberg, associate professor and chair of sociology; and “Queer Erotic Archives in Franco’s Spain (1954-1979)” by Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.

Other speakers included “Detention Operations” by Angela Naimou of Clemson University; “Soil, The Black Archives” by Marisa Solomon of Barnard College and Columbia University; and “Histories of Dirt in Lagos” by Stephanie Newell of Yale University.

The series was hosted by Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities.

The spring 2021 Center for the Humanities theme is ephemera.

Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities, explained how the theme "examines the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of soil, filth, waste, and contamination to reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural issues bearing on bodies and borders.” Korda also acknowledged that the land on which Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities stands once belonged to the indigenous Wangunk Indian tribe.

Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities, explained how the theme “examines the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of soil, filth, waste, and contamination to reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural issues bearing on bodies and borders.” Korda also acknowledged that the land on which Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities stands once belonged to the indigenous Wangunk Indian tribe.

Amy Tang

On Oct. 19, Amy Tang, Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of English and American Studies, presented a talk titled “Anthropogenic Forms in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.” “[The novel] vibrantly juxtaposes multiple timescales specifically working between the scale of the human and the scale of the planet. Moreover, Ozeki’s novel highlights the narrative’s own temporal plurality as a way of locating ourselves within the geological epochs of the Anthropocene.”

On Oct. 26, Yu-Ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies, presented a talk titled "Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures."

On Oct. 26, Yu-ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies, presented a talk titled “Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures.”

Johnson noted that in the 1800s, liberal arts colleges and Protestant theological seminaries across the United States had integrated manual labor into their educational programs. At Andover Seminary in Massachusetts, students labored together 30-45 minutes before meals, and at Oneida Institute in New York, students were required to labor three hours a day.

On Nov. 9, Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies, spoke about “Getting Our Hands Dirty: Manual Labor Schools, Abolition, and the Empire of Benevolence.” Johnson noted that in the 1800s, liberal arts colleges and Protestant theological seminaries across the United States had integrated manual labor into their educational programs. At Andover Seminary in Massachusetts, students labored together 15 minutes before meals, and at Oneida Institute in New York (pictured at left), students were required to labor three hours per day. “Initially, requiring students to labor in farms or workshops served purely practical purposes. Manual labor provided physical exercise that improved general health and well-being, and in contributing labor toward the maintenance of institutions, growing foodstuffs, or producing commodities, students got to offset the cost of their tuition.”

goldberg

On Oct. 5, Greg Goldberg, associate professor and chair of sociology, presented a talk titled “Lust Area,” which focused on progressive support for all-gender public bathrooms in contrast to progressive silence surrounding the surveillance and policing of men who have sex with men in public bathrooms (also called “cruising”). Goldberg argued: “some of the contemporary support for all-gender bathrooms on the Left is motivated, probably unconsciously, by a discomfort with the homoerotics of the bathroom, and more specifically with the possibility of cruising. All-gender bathrooms can alleviate this discomfort insofar as they foreclose opportunities for cruising, whether through designs that eliminate opportunities for discrete exposure and contact, or by the installation or conversion of single-user bathrooms.”

Paula Matthusen presented "Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave" on Nov. 23 as part of the Fall 2020 Center for the Humanities Lecture Series.

On Nov. 23, Paula Matthusen, associate professor of music, presented “Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave.” With Projected Resonances, Matthusen explored the acoustic space in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and its intertwined histories of musical performance and tourism.

On Sept. 14, Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow. "Queer Erotic Archives in Franco's Spain (1954-1979)"

On Sept. 14, Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, presented “Queer Erotic Archives in Franco’s Spain (1954–1979).” Galeano explained that under Francisco Franco’s regime (1939–1975) in Spain, the authorities incinerated heterosexual pornography while they preserved, curated, and restored queer pornography. The study of the confiscated materials “suggests that queer and trans communities embodied in their photographs a reading of their own desires that differed from the authorities’ views,” he said.

Books by Meyer, Smolkin Translated and Distributed in Russia

meyer book

Two books written by Wesleyan faculty have recently been translated to Russian, where they are now being distributed.

Nabokov and Indeterminacy: The Case of the Real Life of Sebastian Knight was originally written by Priscilla Meyer, professor emerita of Russian language and literature, and published by Northwestern University Press in 2018. Renowned translator and Nabokov expert Vera Polishchuk translated Meyer’s book, which is now available in Russian by Academic Studies Press.

Nabokov and Indeterminacy shows how Vladimir Nabokov’s early novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight illuminates his later work. Meyer explores how Nabokov associates his characters in Sebastian Knight with systems of subtextual references to Russian, British, and American literary and philosophical works. She then turns to Lolita and Pale Fire, applying these insights to show that these later novels clearly differentiate the characters through subtextual references. Meyer argues that the dialogue Nabokov constructs among subtexts explores his central concern: the continued existence of the spirit beyond bodily death. She suggests that because Nabokov’s art was a quest for an unattainable knowledge of the otherworldly, knowledge which can never be conclusive, Nabokov’s novels are never closed in plot, theme, or resolution.

sacred space

A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism was written by Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history, and published by Princeton University Press in 2018. Olga Leontieva translated the book, which is now available by New Literary Observer.

A Sacred Space Is Never Empty presents the first history of Soviet atheism from the 1917 revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Smolkin argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. She shows how atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology with its own set of positive beliefs, practices, and spiritual commitments. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev—in a stunning and unexpected reversal—abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

The translation was already featured in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, in the media project STOL, in The Journal Republic, and the media platform polit.ru.

Behind the Beard: Cooper ’79 Captures Images, Stories of Professional Santa Clauses

santa book

Ron Cooper ’79 is the author and photographer of We Are Santa.

A couple years ago, Ron Cooper ’79, a retired corporate executive-turned-travel, documentary, and portrait photographer, was in New Mexico to photograph cowboys, Civil War re-enactors, gunslingers, and snake-handlers. After completing the shoot, one of the subjects asked if he could show Cooper a very different character that he also portrayed.

“I agreed and he went to change. He came back as Santa Claus in a terrific Western-style Santa suit, complete with bolo tie. As it turns out, he had a side gig during the holiday season as Santa Claus at a shopping mall in Albuquerque,” Cooper recalled. “Not long after that, I saw a news story about the Charles W. Howard Santa School, a venerable institution that’s been around since 1937 and has trained hundreds of professional Santas. Then I learned that Santa Claus is the most photographed character in the world. I’ve always been interested in meeting and photographing people who follow their passions, especially when those passions take them outside of, or beyond, the realm of their daily lives.”