Amy Meyerson ’04 teaches in the writing department at the University of Southern California, where she completed her graduate work in creative writing. While she has been published in numerous literary magazines, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is her first novel. The book has received coverage in both the Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
On May 26, a Wesleyan Argus 150th Anniversary Celebration was held at Russell House during Reunion & Commencement Weekend. Current students and alumni, who contributed to the Argus from the 1970s through the present day, shared memories, caught up with old friends, and discussed the state of journalism today. (Photos by Tom Dzimian and Olivia Drake.)
by Laurie Kenney •
In this Q&A, Margot Guralnick ’83, coauthor of Remodelista: The Organized Home, speaks about her new book. The website, The Organized Home, features daily tips and ideas on discovering the art of order.
Q: The current organizing philosophies are all about order over beauty. You believe order doesn’t have to be artless. Tell us about how you developed your philosophy.
A: This idea is part of the core philosophy at Remodelista. We’re a 10-year-old website that Julie Carlson, my coauthor, founded to demystify the home design process and celebrate pared-back living. So we, of course, took an interest in Marie Kondo and the whole decluttering movement. Noting that the focus was on clearing out with no mention of how to live well, we felt compelled to join the dialogue.
Q: Were you a collector as a child?
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
MGMT, a musical group formed in 2002 by Andrew VanWyngarden ’05 and Ben Goldwasser ’05, is back on the scene with their fourth album Little Dark Age, released in 2018. This recent release is their first in half a decade and it represents a fresh, but familiar, musical direction.
Unlike their last two albums, which veered towards the eccentric, Little Dark Age exhibits a clear pop influence and psychedelic retro synths with haunting, serious, and dark undertones.
In their eponymous song, “Little Dark Age,” for instance, they hint at a quotidian melancholy in the first verse:
“The ruins of the day/ Painted with a scar/ And the more I straighten out/ The less it wants to try/ The feelings start to rot/ One wink at a time.”
Then, in the chorus, VanWyngarden croons into the mic, “Oh I grieve in stereo/ The stereo sounds strange.”
Like many alumni musicians, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser got their start on campus. At Wes, they went by the name “The Management” and during their four years both dabbled in an eclectic mix of genres like blues, hip-hop, prog rock, and even classic country. The music of the ’80s had a particular influence on their performances during college; as The Management, the two actually performed a 45-minute cover of the “Ghostbusters” song at a campus event.
Watch MGMT’s “Little Dark Age” below:
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Alumni—especially those whose class years ended in 3 or 8—joined the families of graduating seniors of Wesleyan’s Class of 2018 for a campus-wide series of celebrations, WESeminars, thesis exhibitions, and festivities. Wesleyan’s Class of 1968, celebrating their 50th Reunion, began with a dinner on Thursday to gather the group and kick off the weekend. Other highlights included academic open houses, the annual parade of classes, the All-Campus Party featuring DJs Ben Resnick ’13 and Clément Guerner ’13, and Commencement speaker Anita Hill.
To see the Reunion photo gallery, click here.
To see the Commencement gallery, click here.
by Laurie Kenney •
Ready to step outside your comfort zone? We recently spoke to Jonah Sachs ’97, who explores what empowers some people to respond to change with creative breakthroughs while the rest of us spend our lives clinging to the safety of “the way it’s always been done,” in his new book, Unsafe Thinking: How to Be Nimble & Bold When You Need It Most (Da Capo Press, 2018). Filled with ideas and tips on everything from embracing risk and inspiring unsafe thinking in conservative business cultures to bouncing back from failure, as well as a mix of brainteasers, experiments, and puzzles, Unsafe Thinking is both inspirational and entertaining—and the perfect springboard to your next big idea. Sachs is the award-winning founder and a partner of Free Range Studios, a brand and innovation company that transforms companies through unsafe thinking.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
On May 9, a group of students, faculty, and Middletown friends joined Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 and Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 in a spiritual commemoration ceremony to honor a woman, Silva Storms, who died in 1820 and was buried in the cemetery on Vine Street, across from the Beman Triangle. Research indicates she had been born in Africa and was brought to Middletown as an enslaved person. The event was part of McDuffie-Thurmond’s research project for Black Middletown Lives, the service-learning course taught by Jesse Nasta ’07, visiting assistant professor of African American studies.
Nasta notes that McDuffie-Thurmond, who had been documenting the African American burials in the cemetery as part of his final project in the class, “completely took it upon himself to take that 10 steps beyond the assignment, to envision this ceremony. Jumoke is not just documenting the gravesites, but honoring the people who were enslaved here in Middletown.”
For his part, McDuffie-Thurmond remembers the first time Nasta took the class to the cemetery as a significant experience. “I’d never been to the section of the graveyard that was designated for Black Middletown residents, and Silva Storms’s gravesite—her tombstone stood almost alone in an open space—resonated with me. Professor Nasta told us it was the oldest tombstone in the African American section. I sat down there and listened to what was around me, what I felt, and I thought, I have to do something that tends to the spirit. We have a legacy of slavery in this land that constantly informs the space we live in—and it is unresolved. I wanted to do something that would resonate with those of us who live here now. It was a very intuitive decision.”
by Laurie Kenney •
Did you ever wonder how we arrived in a post-truth era, where “alternative facts” are substituted for actual facts and feelings are given more weight than evidence? In Post-Truth (MIT Press, 2018), Lee McIntyre ’84—a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an instructor in ethics at Harvard Extension School—explores the long history of the phenomenon . . . and what’s different this time around.
Q: Many people think that post-truth is a new idea, borne of Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but in your book, you explore the history behind the concept. Historically speaking, when did the idea first arise?
A: The word “post-truth” first started to be used in the 1990s, in a political story in a magazine. But the real interest here is that in 2016 the Oxford Dictionaries named post-truth their word of the year. This was due to a 2,000% increase in usage from 2015! So the word post-truth is of fairly recent origin. But the roots behind it, as I explore in my book, go back to science denial in the 1950s and cognitive bias that has been with us since the dawn of human civilization.
Q: As you note, the idea of a single objective truth has never been free from controversy. If this is true, can it be argued that post-truth is really just an alternative view of the truth? Can there be such a thing, in your opinion?
A: An alternative view of truth—or the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth—is the bread and butter of epistemology. Philosophers debate the meaning of truth all the time: what is the appropriate concept of it, what its relationship is to knowledge, belief, certainty, etc. In the political context, though, things are different. Post-truth arose not from some philosophical quarrel, but from politicians who wanted to impose their reality on others. Here I draw a distinction with something like “spin doctoring” where everyone really knows that the person is lying and shading the truth, e.g., “my candidate obviously won the debate last night,” versus claiming that obviously false things are true, e.g., “the murder rate went up in the USA last year.” I see post-truth as the first step toward authoritarian rule.
Q: You argue that when we set forth a statement as fact with the intent to manipulate someone into believing something that we know is untrue, we have crossed the line from interpretation to deliberate falsification. Is this, for you, where post-truth begins?
A: Like lying, post-truth is intentional. It is a strategy. There are many different tactics that one might use in post-truth (lying, propaganda, selective exposure to information, etc.), but the intent is what matters. The analogy with lying is telling: A lie has to be made on purpose. One cannot accidentally lie. Similarly, post-truth is the deliberate attempt to see information through a political lens before it is shared with the public. That is when post-truth begins. When political expediency is more important than telling the truth about reality, we have crossed over into post-truth.
Q: We talk about political spin and how its intent is to influence others. But you see post-truth in its purest form to be when one thinks the audience’s reaction to the lie told actually changes the lie to truth. Can you give an example, from both sides of the political aisle, of this phenomenon of a lie “becoming” truth?
by Cynthia Rockwell •
“This is the history of right here,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07, speaking of his work with Black Middletown Lives, his service-learning class. “We venture deep, but no farther than two blocks.” He and his class of 13 students are doing firsthand archival research on individual projects, documenting the lives of those African Americans who lived in the area now called “The Beman Triangle,” after the most prominent black property owner in that five-acre patch of land bordered on one side by Knowles Avenue to the corner where Neon Deli now stands at Cross and Vine.
On Tuesday, April 17, Nasta spoke about this work at the Center for African American Studies, noting that almost a dozen years ago, he was standing in the same spot, presenting his honors thesis, “Their Own Guardians and Protectors: African American Community in Middletown, Connecticut, 1822–1860.” Nasta, a Middletown native, is delighted to return to Wesleyan and pursue this project that captured his scholarly interests at a young age.
In his talk, he provided historical context for the development of this area, recounted brief biographies of some of the residents of the area, and discussed the work of the class in light of the Beman Triangle today.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Recent Wesleyan News
Wesleyan is highlighted as one of the best schools to study film. An exceptional group of filmmakers, including Joss Whedon ’87 and Michael Bay ’86, have cited Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, as a major influence on their understanding of film.
2. Hartford Courant: “New Bike Share at Wesleyan Offers Speedy Transport for Students”
Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleindienst discusses Wesleyan’s new partnership with San Francisco–based start-up Spin to provide bicycles on campus for quick and low-cost rental by students and other community members.
3. WNPR: “Where We Live”
Katja Kolcio, associate professor and chair of dance, and Anna Fox ’19 discuss Wesleyan’s partnership with a university in Kiev, Ukraine, their recent visit to the country, and what they have learned from activists involved in the country’s revolution in 2014. Kolcio is also associate professor of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies and associate professor of environmental studies. (Kolcio and Fox come in around 26 minutes).
4. Poets & Quants for Undergrads: “The Case for ‘Test Optional’ College Admissions”
A new study, which analyzed data from Wesleyan and many other schools that don’t require the SAT or ACT in admission, finds that “test optional” institutions tend to enroll a higher proportion of low-income, first-generation students on average, and students from more diverse backgrounds. The study also found that high school GPA was a better predictor of success in college than standardized test scores for these students.
5. Gizmodo: “What Shapes Are Things in Outer Space?”
Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, assistant professor of integrative sciences, paints a picture of the planet formation process, and explains why planetary systems tend to be flat.
Recent Alumni News
- Tech Crunch: “With Loans of Just $10, This Startup Has Built a Financial Services Powerhouse in Emerging Markets”
Shivani Siroya ’04 is founder and chief executive officer of Tala, a Santa Monica–based financial services start-up. The Tech Crunch article offers examples of lives that have been changed in places such as India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Tanzania with help from Tala. Additionally, author Jonathan Shieber reports that Steve Case’s Revolution Growth fund recently provided $65 million in new financing for Tala: “’We see Tala as a company building the future of finance. They have quickly become one of the leading mobile-first lenders in emerging markets where well over 3 billion consumers do not have access to traditional banks,’ says Case.”
“Alexander Chee is best known as a novelist, and after the operatic plot of his Queen of the Night, readers may be surprised at the quiet intimacy of his first essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” writes reviewer Crystal Hana Kim. “By offering the reader such advice in the form of personal revelation, we are asked to journey with him, to learn how to write alongside him. In the ensuing essays, Chee reflects on his professional trajectory. In some, like ‘The Writing Life,’ which chronicles Chee’s class with Annie Dillard at Wesleyan University, he discusses craft explicitly. In others, like ‘The Rosary,’ he only alludes to his writerly life….”
Nataly Kogan, who arrived with her parents in the United States as Russian refugees when she was only 13, is the founder of Happier, a learning and technology platform. In this op-ed she writes about the pressure she put herself under to succeed in America, but through work with a life coach, she learned important lessons about self-compassion. She is the author of Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Sounds True; May 1, 2018).
Terry Nardin, professor of political science and director of Common Curriculum at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, offers an explanation of a liberal arts education that challenges the cultural expectation that “the purpose of tertiary education is to equip students with technical or other specialised skills that qualify them for a specific job and stable employment.” As an example of a liberal arts graduate who has met with success he offers: “Luke Wood [’91] graduated in 1991 from Wesleyan University, an American liberal arts college, where he had majored in American studies. Wood was able to turn his passion for music into an internship at Geffen Records, after which he signed artists for DreamWorks and Interscope.” Nardin traces Wood’s path further, concluding that “Wood’s success is another good reminder that ‘useless knowledge’ can not only turn out to be useful after all, but also that usefulness is in the eye of the beholder.”
Ostin Fam ’17 (Dung Quoc Pham ’17) was selected as one of eight filmmakers for “the second edition of the Bloom/Spiegel Partnership, an alliance between New York’s IFP Marcie Bloom Fellowship in Film and Jerusalem’s prestigious Sam Spiegel Film School.” The article includes this background on the Wesleyan alumnus: “Born in Vietnam and based in New York, Fam graduated from Wesleyan University and received the Steven J. Ross Prize for his senior film thesis. Fam is currently finishing the screenplay of his first feature, Small Wars. Taking place in a rural village in Vietnam, the story is about a family of three.”
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Laura & Emma, the debut novel by Kate Greathead ’05, was reviewed by Wesleyan magazine books editor Laurie Kenney, who wrote: “Nine-time Moth StorySLAM champion Greathead’s debut novel offers an insightful and witty exploration of class, family, and privilege in New York blue-blood society in the 1980s and early ’90s, as told through the eyes of Laura, an Upper East Side single mother born into wealth, and her daughter, Emma, conceived during a one-night stand. Filled with an eclectic cast of supporting characters and told in vignettes that span more than a decade, Laura & Emma offers a fresh take on the mother-daughter bond and the struggles of trying to find oneself. Booklist says, ‘Greathead’s smart and original take on the mother-daughter novel impresses and charms.'”
In a follow-up conversation with the Connection, Greathead reflected on the writing process, including her work with Wesleyan mentors, and offered advice for those still working toward publication.
Q: How did your work at Wesleyan influence this book? Any great writing advice you received?
A: I wasn’t a confident person when I arrived at Wesleyan. I had some very kind and generous professors—Anne Greene, Phyllis Rose, Roxana Robinson—who helped me develop confidence in my writing, which made me take myself more seriously as a student and a person. One of my most valuable writing experiences was writing my senior thesis, a collection of personal essays, under the guidance of Elizabeth Bobrick [then a visiting professor in English]. Every two weeks we’d meet and discuss my work. The craft of writing can be taught, but of equal importance, the substance of what you write, can’t unless the teacher tries to get to know you. The best teachers find gentle ways to push you towards your most fertile material. Elizabeth took the time to do that and I benefited greatly.
Q: Any significant discoveries you made as you wrote about mother/daughter relationships?
A: I can’t speak for all mother/daughter relationships but I suspect in most there’s a volatility that’s just as intense as a romantic one, an undercurrent of jealousy, resentment, hurt, contempt, and neediness complicating the love. It might rarely erupt, but it’s there, simmering beneath the surface.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.
Recent Wesleyan News
- Hartford Courant: “Connecticut Natives at Wesleyan Organize TEDx Conference”
Wesleyan hosted its inaugural TEDx conference on April 7, featuring talks by many distinguished alumni, local officials, and others. Two of the student organizers, Eunes Harun ’20 and Leo Marturi ’20, are interviewed about the event.
A new analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project finds that Donald Trump has been the top target of political attack ads this year, with Nancy Pelosi the second favorite target, as both parties seek to drive their political bases to the polls. “Although presidents and presidential candidates are the most common targets in congressional campaign ads, it is noteworthy that Pelosi has consistently been singled out more than any other congressional leader since 2010 despite her minority party status for the bulk of that time,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government and WMP co-director.
3. Faith Middleton Food Schmooze: “Funeral Food with a Twist, a Seductive Rosé and Amy Bloom”
In connection with her new book, White Houses, Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing Amy Bloom talks about food in the Franklin Roosevelt White House. Bloom comes in around 21 minutes.
4. Naturally Speaking: “Extending Evolution, an Interview with Prof. Sonia Sultan”
On this podcast, Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, discusses her research on phenotypic plasticity and transgenerational effect in plants, and shares her thoughts on one of most controversial ideas currently circulating in mainstream evolutionary biology: the so-called “extended evolutionary synthesis.” Sultan was honored at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine’s annual Darwin Day lecture.
5. Inside Higher Ed: “The Data Should Make You Happy!”
President Michael Roth ’78 reviews Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Roth writes: “We don’t need cheerleading psychologists telling us we should be happier than we are.”
6. Squash Magazine: “Teaching the Game: Women and Squash”
Shona Kerr, Wesleyan’s head coach of men’s and women’s squash, is interviewed for a story about gender bias in the world of squash coaching. Kerr is one of only three women in the country who coaches a men’s collegiate squash team.
Recent Alumni News
- NDTV Profit: “Wipro Director, Harvard Alumnus Rishad Premji [’99] Appointed Chairman Of Nasscom” Rishad Premji, who was an economics major at Wesleyan and holds an MBA from Harvard, was appointed chairman of IT industry body Nasscom (National Association of Software and Service Companies) for 2018–19. Previously, he was chief strategy officer and board member of Wipro Ltd, which he joined in 2007. In 2014 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. [See the site for a video message from Premji, on accepting this new position.]
In this review of Halvorson’s new double album, Code Girl, Nate Chinen, director of editorial comment at NPR Music, calls Halvorson’s style “staunchly unplaceable in style—art-rock? avant-prog?—and mysterious in several other respects.” The article also refers to John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, Emeritus, Anthony Braxton as her “august mentor.” Code Girl is out on the Firehouse 12 label.
3. Harvard Medical School News: “Why the Fly? Geneticist Stephanie Mohr [’93] Delves into Science’s Favorite Winged Model Organism”
“[S]elf-described ‘fly person’ Stephanie Mohr,” a lecturer on genetics at Harvard Medical School and author of the book First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery (Harvard University Press, 2018), explains her fascination with the insect and its importance in genetics research.
4. New York Times: “Even With Scholarships, Students Often Need Extra Financial Help“
This article by Janet Morrissey profiles a number of programs at prestigious universities that are designed to assist low-income scholarship students with living expenses. Richard Locke ’81, provost at Brown University, is mentioned as “help[ing] prepare Brown’s E-Gap (Emergency, Curricular and Co-curricular Gap) Funds, and its FLi (First Generation Low-Income) Center in late 2015 after hearing stories from students who were struggling financially.”
WBAL NewsRadio 1090’s Tyler Waldman reported Towson University President Kim Schatzel said: “We are honored to welcome Beverly Daniel Tatum to campus as our commencement speaker. Not only is she a thought leader in the higher education community, her expertise in diversity, inclusion and race relations supports Towson University’s relentless pursuits in these areas.” Tatum will speak at Towson’s College of Liberal Arts commencement on May 23, 2018, and will receive an honorary doctorate. A former Wesleyan trustee, Tatum was awarded an honorary doctorate from Wesleyan in 2015.