Alumni

Alumni news.

Films Created by 9 Alumni Screened at 2021 Sundance Film Festival

brusier

A film titled Bruiser was presented at the Sundance Film Festival 2021. Eight recent Wesleyan graduates created the film.

A film featuring the works of eight Wesleyan alumni was presented at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Titled Bruiser, the film focuses on a boy named Darious who begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood after his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley. Bruiser was presented in Sundance’s Short Films category.

The film was directed by Miles Warren ’19; assistant directed by Eliza McKenna ’20; written by Warren and Ben Medina ’19; produced by Gustavo René ’19, Albert Tholen ’15, and Lauren Goetzman ’19; and designed by Emma Cantor ’19. Costumes were designed by Regina Melady ’18.

Former classmates René and Warren began collaborating on projects during their freshman year at Wesleyan. “We switch off producing each other’s work,” René said.

During their sophomore year, René and Warren wrote a film called Huntress, which René produced and Warren directed. And during their senior year, Warren produced René’s senior thesis film, which ended up winning the Steven J. Ross Prize for best undergraduate film. Bruiser is their latest collaboration.

In addition, Richie Starzec ’14 worked as the assistant to director Edgar Wright, of the film The Sparks Brothers, which also screened at Sundance. The film illuminates Ron and Russell Sparks’ music journey that has so far spawned 25 studio albums.

The Sundance Film Festival, founded in 1978, is the largest independent film festival in the United States. It includes competitive categories, featuring documentary and dramatic films, both feature-length and short films, and out-of-competition categories for showcasing new films.

Trans in Trumpland by Zosherafatain ’10 to Stream Feb. 25 on Major Networks

Zosherafatain filmA four-part documentary film series directed by Tony Zosherafatain ’10 will stream on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Topic starting Feb. 25.

Titled Trans in Trumpland, the series investigates the impact of anti-trans policies on the lives of four transgender Americans during the Trump administration era. The series was featured in VarietyNBC NewsDeadline, and The Daily Beast.

“We’re at a crucial moment in our country, and Trans in Trumpland encapsulates the past four years, not just for trans people, but for a wide variety of groups,” Zosherafatain said. “There is a lot of intersectionality in the series, including race, immigration, income inequality, and other structural issues.”

Zosherafatain, a trans-Iranian-American and co-founder of TransWave Films, began directing and producing films in 2012 after realizing that there weren’t many movies exclusively about trans people. He previously directed I am the T, a documentary series about trans experiences around the world.

“I was moved to create the series the first week that Trump took office. Within that first week, he removed any mention of LGBTQ rights from The White House website, creating a sense of urgency in me. I knew I had to do something to shed a light on the plight of transgender Americans,” Zosherafatain said.

With Trump now out of the White House, Zosherafatain credits President Joe Biden for passing executive orders that protect the LGBTQ community within a few days after the inauguration.

“I definitely think that things will improve drastically with Biden now in office. He has made other promises to advance trans rights. I’m very optimistic about his presidency. However, trans equality has a long way to go on the state level, which is an issue that Trans in Trumpland heavily investigates,” Zosherafatain said. “The next four years will be incredibly crucial for the transgender community.”

Zosherafatain and his work also have been featured in The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, BBC News, The Advocate, The New Yorker, and New York Magazine.

Play by Long MALS ’96 Focuses on Coping with the Pandemic

John Long MALS '96

John Long MALS ’96

A new play written by John Long MALS ’96 is available for online viewing through the Phoenix Stage Company’s YouTube Channel.

Titled Learning Experience, the play explores individual experiences of living in quarantine during the pandemic in the first half of 2020. Eight people, ranging in age from 18 to 70s, tell their stories in the form of monologues to be posted online. The stories reveal what their lives were like before the pandemic and how they’ve changed during isolation.

“Some characters work from home, some go into work, some don’t work at all, but all are motivated to share a learning experience online to communicate with people they will never meet or know,” Long explained. “By turns moving and humorous, these characters share a desire to continue living, learning, laughing, and growing in a time of crisis that affects everyone.”

Learning ExperienceTo watch the play, go to www.phoenixstagecompany.org and follow the link to the play on the theater’s YouTube channel.

Theater, Long says, has always adapted and survived for thousands of years. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, theatermakers continue to adapt.

Alumni, Parents Explore “Living a Good Life” in Mini-Course

Horst good life

Steven Horst, professor of philosophy, lectured on “Means and Desires” Jan. 14 during the three-part mini-course on Living a Good Life. The series, which is ongoing until Feb. 1, is open to all alumni, parents, and friends of the University.

desire mapping

Horst speaks on desire-mapping.

“What is the good life?”
“What should I value?”
“What should I believe?”

These are the questions that more than 760 alumni, parents, and friends of the University are exploring this winter as part of a three-part mini-course titled Living a Good Life.

Taught by Wesleyan Professors Steven Horst, Stephen Angle, and Tushar Irani, the course gives attendees the chance to participate in activities during each one-hour virtual webinar. Attendance is encouraged for all three classes, but not required.

The mini-series is based on Wesleyan’s Living a Good Life undergraduate course, piloted during the Fall 2020 semester.

good lifeThe course is part of the University’s new Window into Wesleyan virtual event series created by the Office of Advancement’s Alumni and Parent Relations Office.

On Jan. 14, Steven Horst, professor of philosophy, lectured on “Means and Desires.”

On Jan. 21, from 7 to 8 p.m., Stephen Angle, professor of philosophy and Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, will speak on Daoism.

And on Feb. 1, from noon to 1 p.m., Tushar Irani, associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of letters, will lead a session on Stoicism.

All three of these lectures will be recorded and shared with registrants when available. Register for the mini-series online here.

“We’re so excited by the interest from alumni and parents in this opportunity,” said Dana Coffin, associate director of alumni and parent relations. “I think it goes to show that the larger community has such an interest in maintaining a lifelong connection to Wes and appreciates the opportunities to engage with our incredible faculty.”

For more information, see:

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Hill ’93, Schonfeld ’13, and Woodson ’76

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., 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.

Watch Her coverEdwin Hill ’93, Watch Her (Kensington, 2020)

As the third installment in Edwin Hill’s mystery series, Watch Her is a sophisticated and gripping psychological thriller with sharp attention to character- and world-building. Protagonist Hester Thursby, a Harvard librarian and renowned researcher, is pulled into a murder mystery that starts when she and her friend Detective Angela White are summoned to investigate a break-in at a house belonging to the owners of a for-profit university, the Matson family. Readers are swept into addictive prose as Hill unravels a complex history that explains the unusual circumstances of the Matsons’ break-in. Hill manages to keep the plot moving at a fast and engaging pace, while still paying special attention to detail and suspense. The cast of characters is strong and eclectic, featuring compelling LGBTQ+ and female voices, and Hill builds on both new and old characters in his third novel. Readers will appreciate the book on its own, but will undoubtedly be eager to pick up (or revisit) the first and second books in the series as well.

Edwin Hill is the author of the Hester Thursby mystery series, which includes the books Little Comfort, The Missing Ones, and Watch Her. He graduated from Wesleyan with a BA in American Studies and earned an MFA from Emerson College. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, he worked in educational publishing. He lives in Roslindale, Mass.

3 Alumni Authors Published in Ploughshares

Ploughshares

Works by Steve Almond, Fay Dillof, and Christina Pugh are published in the Winter 2020–21 issue of Plougshares.

Works by three Wesleyan alumni are published in the Winter 2020–21 issue of Ploughshares. Founded in 1971 and published at Emerson College, Ploughshares is an award-winning journal featuring the freshest voices in contemporary American literature.

The issue includes: “The Man at the Top of the Stairs, On Rendering the Inner Life” by Steve Almond ’88; “Private Practice” by Fay Dillof ’87; and “Reading for the Plot” by Christina Pugh ’88.

Almond, an English major, is also the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer at Wesleyan this spring. He’s the author of 11 books of fiction and nonfiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (Workman Publishing, 2004) and Against Football: One Man’s Reluctant Manifesto (Melville House Books, 2014). His stories and essays have appeared in Best American Short Stories, the New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. His most recent book is William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life (Ig Publishing, 2019).

This spring, Almond is teaching Writing Certificate Senior Seminar: Writing and Publishing at Wesleyan.

Work by Dillof, a university major, is published or forthcoming, in New Ohio Review, Green Mountains Review, FIELD, Barrow Street, Rattle, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She has been awarded the Dogwood Literary Prize in Poetry and the Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry.

Pugh, who majored in English and French language and literature, has published five books of poems, including Stardust Media (University of Massachusetts Press, 2020), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry, and Perception (Four Way Books, 2017), named one of the top poetry books of 2017 by Chicago Review of Books. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, Kenyon Review, Yale Review, and other publications. A former Guggenheim fellow and visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome, she teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Pugh’s Stardust Media was also featured in this April 2020 “You Just Have to Read This…” article by Sara McCrea ’21.

The Ploughshares Winter 2020–21 Issue, edited by Editor-in-chief Ladette Randolph and Poetry Editor John Skoyles, also features poetry and prose by Nick Arvin, Gina Ochsner, Sylvie Baumgartel, and Jennifer Givhan, as well as Kelli Russell Agodon, Justin Balog, Shauna Barbosa, J. Mae Barizo, Christopher Buckley, Michael Burkard, Nora Caplan-Bricker, Elaine Hsieh Chou, Emily Cinquemani, Katie Condon, Jackie Craven, Caroline Crew, Evgeniya Dame, Shangyang Fang, Corey Flintoff, Jessica Goodfellow, Matthew Henry, David Keplinger, Ted Kooser, Laurie Lamon, Michael Lavers, Kathleen Lee, Eugenia Leigh, Ruth Madievsky, Alexandra Marshall, Gary McDowell, Paul Muldoon, Janice Northerns, Suphil Lee Park, Madelin Parsley, Emily Pittinos, Jeremy Radin, David Roderick, Craig van Rooyen, Noah Warren, Mason Wray, He Xiang, and Jane Zwart.

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.”

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Desai ’03, Logan ’16, and Savarese ’86

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., 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.

The Dance Towards Death coverTejas Desai ’03, The Dance Towards Death (The New Wei, 2020)

In the third volume of his crime thriller trilogy The Brotherhood Chronicle, Tejas Desai delivers awe-inspiring narration that easily follows through in its mission to add a breathtaking final installment to the series. The Dance Towards Death follows former private investigator Niral Solanake and his journey through an intricate international criminal world across all corners of the globe. Desai’s realistic and clear-cut use of dialogue is most striking in his prose, as he manages to capture a multitude of tones and attitudes within each of his characters.

In an interview with Digital Journal, Desai explained that the exquisite precision of the book is no coincidence—he spent years engaging in a rigorous editing and revising process. “I’m meticulous, so even though the basic draft of The Dance Towards Death was finished years ago, it has still been chiseled and revised several times since,” he said. His attention to detail shows, and readers and fans will not be disappointed with the result.

Wesleyan Jeopardy! Contestants Remember Longtime Host Alex Trebek

J.R. Mannetta Jeopardy

Many Wesleyans have competed on Jeopardy! over the years. J.R. Mannetta ’13, right, is pictured on the Jeopardy! set in January 2020 with host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8. Read more about Mannetta’s experience.

Jeopardy! fans around the world are mourning the passing of longtime host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8 at age 80. According to The New York Times, Trebek had hosted the show consistently since 1984, missing only one episode during that time—on April Fools’ Day in 1997, when he swapped places with the host of Wheel of Fortune as a gag.

Many Wesleyans had the opportunity to compete on Jeopardy! over the years. Below, some reflect on their experiences and share remembrances of Trebek.

J.R. Mannetta ’13 competed on Jeopardy! in January 2020.

When you go on Jeopardy! you don’t actually speak with Alex until the episode is recording and they do your interview segment. Which is my way of saying beyond that conversation I didn’t interact with Alex much. He does do Q&A during commercial breaks and despite obviously not being at 100 percent physically he was still very much with it mentally. He still had a very quick wit and is bitingly funny.

I watched Jeopardy! religiously from high school to now and I can’t fathom what the show will look like without him.

Erhard Konerding MALS '82

Erhard Konerding MALS ’82

Erhard Konerding MALS ’82 retired as a documents librarian in Wesleyan’s Olin Library in 2015. He joined the University staff in 1972 and earned an MALS from Wesleyan in 1982. He was on the show in May 1994.

Contestants now take an online test to qualify, but back in the 1990s you would go to one of Merv Griffin’s casinos in Atlantic City and take a 10-question test. If you got enough questions right—I think it was seven or eight—they’d ask you back for a 50-question test and then for an audition. I went down to Atlantic City several times to take those tests. One day, I was sitting in the Star and Crescent at Alpha Delt and the phone rang. They asked me to come out to Hollywood and record the show.

When you film Jeopardy!, you show up at the studio in the morning with two changes of clothes. I was able to sit in the audience and watch until it was my turn. That first night, I was in second place going into the final question, and was able to bet strategically to end the night in first place. The second night, I was in second place but the third-place person was close behind me. I was doing the math frantically, and they finally said, “Erhard, we need a number from you.” My Jeopardy! career ended that night, but I won a trip to Hawaii.

Wesleyan Alumni, Staff Win Local, National Elections

election 2020

From left, Matt Lesser ’10; Wesleyan employee Amy Bello; John Hickenlooper ’74, MA ’80, Hon. ’10 (photo by Gage Skidmore); Alex Kasser ’88; and Michael Demicco ’80 all won seats in their respective elections on Nov. 3, 2020.

Alumni and staff who have met with success in the November 2020 elections include:

Amy Bello, administrative assistant for the African American Studies Department, won her first term as a State House representative for Connecticut’s 28th District. Bello, a Democrat, is serving on the Wethersfield Town Council and is the former mayor. Read more in this Nov. 5 Hartford Courant article or in this past Wesleyan Connection article.

Michael Demicco ’80 won his second term serving as a State House representative for Connecticut’s 21st District. Demicco, a Democrat, represents Farmington and Unionville, Conn. Read more here.

Former two-term Democratic Colorado governor John Hickenlooper ’74, MA ’80, Hon. ’10 won a U.S. Senate seat, representing the state of Colorado. Read more in this Nov. 3 NBC News article and Nov. 4 CBS Denver report.

Alex Kasser ’88 won her second term as a State Senator for Connecticut’s 36th District. Kasser, a Democrat, represents Greenwich, Stamford, and New Canaan, Conn. Kasser’s campaign manager is Nichola Samponaro ’11 and Emily Litz ’20 helped edit Kasser’s campaign videos. Read more in this Nov. 5 Greenwich Time article.

Matt Lesser ’10 won his second term as a State Senator for Connecticut’s 9th District. Lesser, a Democrat, represents Middletown, Newington, Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, and Cromwell, Conn. Read more in this Nov. 4 Patch article.

Do you know about other Wesleyan alumni who won an election? Email newsletter@wesleyan.edu.

Arkin ’82 Interviews Mastrogiovanni ’79 on “Creative Conversations” Series

arkin show

On Oct. 26, Matthew Arkin ’82 interviewed author Heidi Mastrogiovanni ’79 on his YouTube show “Creative Conversations.”

Mastrogiovanni is the author of the comedic novel Lala Pettibone’s Act Two (finalist for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards) and the sequel, Lala Pettibone: Standing Room Only. The prequel in the trilogy, Lala Pettibone: Curtain Up, will be released next year.

As a graduate of Wesleyan, Mastrogiovanni chose to have all of the protagonists in her novels be alumni of her alma mater.

With James Napoli (The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm), Mastrogiovanni is co-host of the “Movies Not Movies” comedy podcast. A dedicated animal welfare advocate, Mastrogiovanni lives in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband and their rescued senior dogs.

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Arnold ‘91, McKenna ’79, P’20, and Posner ’86

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., 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.

The Essentials Vol 2 coverJeremy Arnold ‘91, The Essentials Vol. 2: 52 More Must-See Movies and Why They Matter (Turner Classic Movies, 2020)

In 2020, many of us have been turning to movies for entertainment in the comfort of our homes, making the demand for good film recommendations even more urgent. In the second volume of a series based on the weekly film-focused television program The Essentials, Jeremy Arnold showcases 52 must-see films from the silent era to the late 1980s. In his detailed, wide-ranging collection, Arnold provides the opportunity for a movie a week, satisfying avid film watchers everywhere.

The book is replete with vivid, eye-catching photographs in both black and white and color, as well as detailed synopses explaining why each movie is essential, cast lists, and quotations from renowned actors and film critics like Drew Barrymore and Molly Haskell. The book satisfies both lifelong film buffs and more inexperienced film-watchers who want to increase their knowledge about the world of movies. Arnold’s engaging selections are full of variety, adding another gem to a comprehensive and valuable series.

Jeremy Arnold ’91 is a film historian and commentator. He is the author of Turner Classic Movies: The Essentials volumes 1 and 2, as well as Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season. His writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, Moviemaker, and the Directors Guild of America magazine. While at Wesleyan, he studied film under Professor Jeanine Basinger.

Note: Arnold will be on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. He will be introducing four films that he programmed from the book, in on-air discussions with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

The Paleontologist's Daughter coverKatharine L. McKenna ’79, P’20, The Paleontologist’s Daughter (Ratski Publications, 2020)

In her energetic, vivid memoir, Katharine L. McKenna describes her experience as the daughter of renowned paleontologist Malcolm C. McKenna. Having inherited much of her father’s passion for the science, her childhood was a thrilling journey as she shadowed her father during many of his paleontological pursuits. She and her family explored the wonders of the American West—its landscapes, its rocks, its wide spaces, which later went on to inform her career as a painter.

McKenna’s story is about the concrete pleasures of her experience alongside her beloved father, but it is also about inheritance—what it means to inherit curiosity, talent, passion, and interests from a long lineage of family members, and how that inheritance can be translated in many different ways throughout a person’s life. McKenna depicts astounding scenes of wonder as the treasures of the American West are revealed to her throughout her childhood; the story is full of excitement and vigor. McKenna offers her readers a new dimension of her artistic capabilities with her memoir, demonstrating her multifaceted identity and creative, lively spirit.

Katharine L. McKenna ’79, P’20 is an artist specializing in abstract figurative painting. She is best known for her “color, light, and spirit” technique. Her primary inspirations for her work are the adventures she went on as a child with her paleontologist father in the American West. She currently teaches painting at the Woodstock School of Art in Woodstock, N.Y. Her work has been featured at a variety of museums, including the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona, and Woodstock Artists Association and Museum.

Unholy coverSarah Posner ’86, Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump (Random House, 2020)

If you’ve ever wondered what accounts for the alliance between the evangelical movement and President Donald Trump, Sarah Posner’s Unholy has you covered. Having long studied the evangelical right in America, Posner is an expert on the demographic and therefore a fitting voice to identify the roots of the American evangelical movement and its perspective on Trump. Posner seeks to investigate the question of why a core part of Trump’s fan base consists of people who identify with the religious right, despite Trump himself having little religious affiliation.

The author delves deeply into Trump’s identity as a public figure, and explains why these characteristics make him the ideal candidate for white evangelicals, many of whom seek a leader who will guide the country away from liberalism. “Trump’s evangelical supporters,” Posner writes in Chapter 2, “have chosen to see him not as a sinner but as a strongman, not as a con man but as a king who is courageously unshackling them from what they portray as liberal oppression.” Her confident, sharp prose aids the urgency of her argument as she explores the stakes of another term of a Trump presidency. The book is timely and crucial as we approach the 2020 election.

Sarah Posner ’86 is a journalist and author. She is a reporting fellow with Type Investigations. In addition to Unholy, she is the author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters. Her reporting on the religious right in Republican politics has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Republic, Vice, HuffPost, The Nation, Mother Jones, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Prospect, and Talking Points Memo, among other publications.