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Author Nelson ’94 Continues to Receive Critical Acclaim

Maggie Nelson ’94

Maggie Nelson ’94

Since publishing her latest book, The Argonauts, winner of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, author Maggie Nelson ’94 has received attention from more mainstream outlets and audiences. As her popularity grows beyond academic circles, her earlier works, including The Red Parts and Bluets, are gaining in visibility.

A recent article from The Telegraph discusses Nelson’s books of nonfiction published between 2005 and 2015, and draws connections between them, focusing on the similarities in content and form that tie these works together:

More than anything, Nelson’s project [is]: to behave as though the land of the heart were automatically a subject for reportage, and not just a cause for an outpouring of emotion. Heartbreak, longing, sex, death, fear, family trauma, love, maternity, homonormativity: these are the territories from which Nelson has chosen to deliver her dispatches. If that sounds merely confessional, the books are far from it . . .

Nelson’s interest in form might be traced to her beginnings as a poet. “I think of the ‘I’ as a character that I’m controlling in a certain way,” she explains.

Ocorr PhD ’83 Sends Fruit Flies into Space for Cardiovascular Research

Karen Ocorr Ph.D. ’83

Karen Ocorr PhD ’83

Karen Ocorr PhD ’83, a professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, Calif., is using fruit flies to investigate how long-term weightlessness might affect the cardiovascular health of astronauts.

Ocorr’s research team packed 400 adult fruit flies and 2,000 eggs in a capsule, which will be launched by a rocket in June and return to Earth after spending a month docked in space.

In a New York Times article published on June 2, titled “Fruit Flies and Mice to Get New Home on Space Station, at Least Temporarily,” Ocorr explains that although the structure of a fly heart is very different than that of a human, the cardiovascular system shares many of the same cellular components in addition to the similar heartbeats.

Fruit flies, Ocorr said, are “actually much closer in some respects to humans than the mouse or rat models are.”

Upon their return, Ocorr and her colleagues will study the flies for abnormalities in the skeletal and heart muscles and the shape of the hearts.

At Wesleyan, Ocorr’s biology research was supervised by Allen Berlind, professor of biology emeritus.

Ocorr also appears on NASA’s educational panel with regard to science projects on the missions at the 1:22 mark. 

Read more in this 2013 News @ Wesleyan article.

Berk ’72 Puts Rare Comic and Art Collection Up for Auction

Jon Berk ’72 holds a recreation of cover art by Bob Fujimoto, which he commissioned from the artist 2002 and originally published during World War II>

Jon Berk ’72 holds a recreation of cover art by Bob Fujitani, which Berk commissioned from the artist in 2002. Fujitani asked Berk if he could embellish on the original, which had been published during World War II—and Berk was delighted to agree. He notes that a common trope of that era was a “damsel in distress” surrounded by demonic creatures, like the one above in a Nazi uniform. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

This March, Jon Berk ’72 began selling off his collection of comicbooks and comic art. It is no ordinary collection: The Jon Berk Art and Comic Collection, as it is known, consists of more than 18,000  items that span the history of comics in America. And it is no ordinary sale—ComicConnect is handing the sale, with the auction preview at the  Metropolis Gallery in New York City until June 2nd, with online auctions offered in five sessions from June 12 though 16.

Asked how he began collecting comics, Berk notes that “collecting” is much different from “reading and acquiring,” which is what he did as a boy, buying DC comics from the local five-and-dime, He also notes his preference for “comicbook” as one word, much as one would write “notebook” or “casebook.”

Away at Hotchkiss for boarding school, Berk got interested in Marvel comics—new characters he’d never heard of, with stories that left the reader dangling until the next issue—from the boys who lived on the second floor of his dorm. His Wesleyan years followed, then law school at Boston University, and somewhere along the way, his parents jettisoned those childhood boxes of comicbooks.

During a law school summer in Boston, Berk saw “one of those old spinner-racks of comics”—with Spiderman books, his favorite. “They still make these?” he thought. There in the back pages, he saw an ad for collectors—an opportunity to buy vintage comicbooks. “They sell old comicbooks?” He was hooked and became a student of the genre—of the major publishing houses, the artists and their superheroes, and the social and cultural forces that shaped the stories that unfolded in those colorful pages.

He began with the urge to collect a complete set of the Marvel Comics Silver Age, in the early 1960s. “That would be the Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain American, the Hulk,” he says. “And once I collected those, I saw, that someone had a Human Torch, a comicbook from the 1940s, by Timely.

“Then I discovered Golden Age books, and even Pre-Golden Age—that was before Superman came out in June of 1938, when forces coalesced and we were given a superhero universe not known before this time.

“It opened up a whole new world for me; I was very interested in tracking down the early publishers like Everett Arnold and Harry Chesler,” he explains. “I’d always been interested in where did things come from? Where did things start? So I got into those Superheroes and looked for their predecessors. I was interested in the history of this American mythology.”

Now, however, “I just feel the timing is right to sell them,” said Berk, 67, an attorney with Gordon, Muir and Foley. “I’ve had fun, I’ve met great people, I have no regrets.”

In this new stage, divesting himself of this collection, not only is he getting reconnecting with many people he had met earlier, he is offering a whole new level of excitement to those who continue in the hobby.

Cofounders and owners of the Metropolis Comics, speak on the importance of the Berk Collection (“It’s funny to hear myself addressed in the third person,” notes Berk”) in a video.

Stephen Fischler, co-founder and CEO of Metropolis Comics says: “Jon’s collection is particularly special because of the appreciation that he had for what he was putting together. He wasn’t looking for collecting the newest trend and the hottest books. He was a sort of visionary and a comic historian who wanted to put together the history of comic books. He had a broad selection; he had super hero books, he had science fiction books, he had things that appealed to him and things that he loved.”

Vincent Zurzola, co-founder and CPP of Metropolis Comics, notes,  “Between the comic books and the art, this is one of the best collections ever assembled. What makes the Jon Berk Collection so unique… is that it has incredible depth to it. To give you an idea—we had to process this to put it into our database, and often, when we entered a book, it was he first one we’ve ever had. Metropolis Collectibles has been the largest buyer of vintage comics in the world for over 30-40 years—so we’ve had pretty much everything. When I’m seeing, ‘Does not exist in database’ over and over again…I know we have a very, very special collection. It was incredibly educational and mind-boggling to see books that I’ve never seen before.”

“I’m selling off 99.5 percent of my collection,” says Berk, whose keys hang out of his pocket on a Spiderman keychain. “But there’s always that .5 percent. Maybe everyone will see those some time in the future.”

Note: To see a video of Jon Berk ’72 discussing his collection, click here.

Elion ’15, Mitchell ’15 of the Overcoats Release Album

JJ Mitchell ’15 and Hana Elion ’15 have been performing since they were undergrads as the Overcoats and have released their album, Young.

JJ Mitchell ’15 and Hana Elion ’15 have been performing since they were undergrads as the Overcoats and have released their album, Young.

Only two years out of Wesleyan where they met, Hana Elion ’15 and JJ Mitchell ’15, the duo who are Overcoats, have enjoyed several markers of success this spring. While both Elion and Mitchell describe the formation of the band as something that “just sort of happened,” Elion adds that a career in music seemed like “a faraway dream that I didn’t expect to happen in reality.” But it is.

Their debut album, Young, released on April 21, 2017, is what they consider work-in-progress since their graduation, The title, they say, reflects the album’s emotional content: the confusion and wonder of the recent college graduate. The out-in-front vulnerability has a purpose: “By sharing these feelings through music,  it will make you stronger: you can create a community and connection around these hard feelings, which everyone has but doesn’t talk about.” One of the issues that Young explores is the newfound adult perspective on childhood— rediscovering the significance of “the tough love that our fathers would give us,” as well as  “what our mothers went through, as we come into the world as women and experience what it means to be an adult.”

In Young, the two connect the personal nature of their lyrics with different musical influences than they’d previous explored—from folk-like harmonies to pop and synth beats—allowing Overcoats an expanded vocabulary in which to reach their audience. “A good dance beat makes you heal faster,” is how they describe the eureka moment of embracing mainstream instruments in pop music.

In an earlier highlight this spring, National Public Radio invited them to give a Tiny Desk Concert, the intimate video concerts that are recorded live at the desk of “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen. “To actually do a Tiny Desk Concert and sing the music we had written and be totally ourselves—It’s something we will never forget,” says Mitchell.

On tour across the United States, with several venues in Canada this summer, the Overcoats say that the nomadic life of a musician has required them “to find a home in each other on the stage.” Now, with the release of Young. Overcoats offers their fans the opportunity to share in the sound of this home that Elion and Mitchell have created for each other, through the journey of their music.

Bay ’86 Honored with Prints in Cement at Theater in Hollywood

Director Michael Bay ’86 adds his prints to those of Hollywood icons outside TCL Chinese Theatre.

Director Michael Bay ’86 adds his prints to those of Hollywood icons outside TCL Chinese Theatre.

On May 23, Michael Bay ’86 added his hand- and footprints to the cement outside the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, signifying his status as a film icon. Bay’s 1995 debut film, Bad Boys, was only the first of Bay’s blockbusters, which include Armageddon and The Rock  as well as five “Transformers” movies, with an upcoming release of Transformers: The Last Knight slated for June 21.

A film major at Wesleyan whose senior project, My Brother Benjamin, won the Frank Capra prize for best film when he graduated, Bay recalled for Variety that it was at this theater, when he was seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at age 15, that he decided he wanted to become a director. He had had a part-time job at filing storyboards for Raiders at Lucasfilm, and he had come to the conclusion that it would be terrible. But when he saw the movie, the transformation from concept to screen captured his imagination.

Bay’s excitement about film and talent for it were clear to Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and founder and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, when he arrived on campus in 1982 and showed her some of his photographic work. She told Variety, “I was actually quite taken aback that it was the work of a high school kid because it was dynamic, had great compositions and angles, showed a real control and mastery, but the work had life and energy in it.” Basinger became his advisor.

At Wesleyan he also started collaborating with Brad Fuller ’87—now co-founder of Platinum Dunes with partners Bay and Andrew Form in 2001. With Platinum Dunes, Bay has been involved in producing a series smaller-budget hits, as well as television shows and an upcoming Amazon series, Jack Ryan.

Fuller recalled his college connection with Bay for Variety: “All I can tell you is I sat next to the right guy in film class,” he says. “I knew that guy was going to be successful; he just saw things in a way that other people didn’t.”

Basinger concurs. “Michael has consistently, over a long period of time, proved himself as a filmmaker who can get it done and whose films appeal so much they make huge amounts of money,” she told Variety. Bay added: “It’s a great industry, but it can be very cynical…So people need to remember it’s a really, really, really fun job. And I love, love, love doing it.”

Note: This weekend, Brad Fuller ’87 was on campus for Reunion/Commencement 2017 events and spoke at a WESeminar, “Wesleyan in Hollywood,” with Documentary Producer Sasha Alpert ’82; Creator/Executive Producer of Will & Grace, David Kohan ’86, P’17; and former Co-Chairman of Creative Artists Agency Rick Nicita ’67. Jeanine Basinger, who originated Wesleyan’s Film Studies Program, moderated the panel, which was held in the Goldsmith Family Cinema at the Center for Film Studies.

Alumni Honored for Professional, Creative Achievements, Service

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At the Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Alumni Association on May 27, seven alumni received Distinguished Alumni Awards, and one Outstanding Service Award was presented, along with the James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award. Robert G. McKelvey ’59 (front row, far left) received special recognition for his many years of service, leadership, and generosity: Wesleyan’s historic College Row lawn was dedicated as McKelvey Green. Also pictured are (front row, l. to r., following McKelvey): Donna S. Morea ’76, P’06, chair of the Board of Trustees; Distinguished Alumni Nicholas J. Rasmussen ’87, Amy Schulman ’82, P’11, Isaac O. Shongwe ’87, and McConaughy Memorial Award recipient Matthew H. Weiner ’87 P’18. Back Row, Distinguished Alumni Santi “Santigold” White ’97 and Michele A. Roberts ’77; President Michael S. Roth ’78; Distinguished Alumnus Robert L. Allbritton ’92; Outstanding Service award-winner Rick Nicita ’67, Distinguished Alumnus Tos Chirathivat ’85, P’14, ’17, and Chair of the Alumni Association Tracey K. Gardner ’96.

Driscolls Honored with 2017 Baldwin Medal

John and Gina Driscoll.

During the commencement ceremony, John ’62 and Gina Driscoll, at left, received the Baldwin Medal. The Baldwin Medal is the highest award of the Alumni Association.(Photo by Olivia Drake)

During the 185th commencement ceremony on May 28, John ’62 and Gina Driscoll were honored with the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal, the highest award of the Alumni Association. John and Gina have each provided exemplary service to Wesleyan for more than three decades, during which they have been truly remarkable ambassadors of goodwill. Among Freeman Asian Scholars, their names are synonymous with devoted friendship and unstinting support. For many years the Driscolls traveled extensively throughout Asia with the late Houghton “Buck” ’43 and Doreen Hon. ’03 Freeman P’77 to interview prospective Freeman scholars. The Freeman Driscoll Endowed International Scholarship was named in their honor.

DuBois ’83 Directs Museum Honoring Girls of Color

Vashti DuBois ’83

Vashti DuBois ’83

Vashti DuBois ’83 is the founder and executive director of the Colored Girls Museum, a memoir museum honoring the stories and histories of black women. Located in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, Dubois created the space in September 2015 to rectify the continual neglect of black women’s experiences and labor. Featuring artifacts pertaining to the herstory of Colored Girls, the museum respects these objects as containing both personal and historical significance. It acts as an exhibition space as well as a place to research, gather and heal.

As reported in the Chestnut Hill Local, Dubois first visualized the Colored Girls Museum during her time as an undergraduate student at Wesleyan. For her first exhibition she crowd sourced the objects to put on display from friends:

Tyrnauer ’91 Creates Film About Urban Activist Jane Jacobs

Matt Tyrnauer ’91

Matt Tyrnauer ’91

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer ’91 is the producer and director of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a new documentary about author and activist Jane Jacobs. Most famous for her influence on urban studies and urban planning, Jacobs’s legacy will be playing out on screens in nearly 20 cities across the country.

The documentary film chronicles her rise as a critical voice and visionary during the urbanization movement of the 1960s. Fighting to preserve urban communities against the threat of destructive redevelopment projects, Jacobs did much to influence modern understandings of urban environments and the American city.

Alumnae Participate in Networking Event for Women Student-Athletes

The mission of the Athletics Advantage (A+) Program is to grow, connect and develop a diverse network of alumni leaders online and through campus programs and events that will inspire, connect and prepare student-athletes for post-Wes life.

On May 7, 20 alumnae returned to campus to participate in a speed networking event for women student-athletes in various stages of their post-Wes journey.

They included: Blair Ingraham ’14; Alicia White ’15; Glenn Hartman-Mattson ’14; Andrea Balkan ’86; Vanessa Block ’15; Michele Drossner ’14; Erin Reding Glaser ’06; Fran Rivkin ’78; Lottie Barton ’16; Corinne Rivard ’16; Lisa Brummel ’77; Nicole Butterfield; ’90; Marisa Graziano P’19; Cindy Nye ’87; Meg Dunham Dempsey ’85, P’19; and Rebecca Hall ’04.

Learn more about the A+ online network. (Photos by Gabe Hurlock ’20)

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Baileys Support Groundbreaking Approach to Environmental Studies

On April 7, Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 visited the College of Letters.

Essel Bailey ’66 and his wife, Menakka, visited the College of the Environment on April 7.

Essel Bailey ’66 believes that science is the foundation for addressing questions of environmental policy, which aptly describes the purpose of Wesleyan’s College of the Environment. Now, he and his wife, Menakka, have increased their support of the COE with a new $4 million commitment to its programs, faculty and students – bringing their total gift to the COE to $7.5 million.

In part, their endowment gift will fund a multi-pronged effort to extend the work and themes of the Menakka and Essel Bailey Think Tank throughout the campus, explained Barry Chernoff, chair of the COE and the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies. Chernoff is planning for seminars, workshops and faculty-student research grants as means for engaging the wider community in Think Tank themes, such as next year’s topic – Disruptions to Disasters: Confronting the Human-Environmental Relationship. The fund also supports a Distinguished Visiting Scholar, a position currently held by Professor Henry Adams of Case Western University.

“Wesleyan is committed to graduating informed citizens who will become involved in a broad range of environmental practices and policy-making,” said President Michael Roth ’78. “We are so grateful to Essel and Menakka for their sustained support of the College of the Environment and its curricular initiatives. They have helped the College achieve its mission with distinction.”

Appadurai ’00 Speaks on Food Justice and Sustainability at 2017 Americas Forum

Alok Appadurai ’00, co-founder of Fed by Threads, spoke on "Food Justice and Sustainability" at the 2017 Americas Forum, April 28. (Photo by rebecca Goldfarb Terry '19)

Alok Appadurai ’00, founder of GoodElephant.org, spoke on “Food Justice and Sustainability” at the 2017 Americas Forum, April 28. (Photo by Reebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

Alok Appadurai ’00, co-founder of Fed by Threads, the first sustainable, sweatshop-free, multi-brand, American-made organic vegan clothing store in the United States that has used a portion of its profits to feed over half a million meals to Americans in need, offered the keynote speech on  “Food Justice and Sustainability” at the 2017 Americas Forum, held at the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall on April 28. He has recently founded GoodElephant.org, designed to create a global “herd” that will work on changing the world by nurturing compassion and empathy to promote social and environmental reform—and his book, Good Elephant, will be published later this year. Appadurai’s post-Wesleyan career highlights the interests he explored at Wesleyan, where he built his own concentration in American Studies that incorporated colonialism, workers’ rights, utopian communities, the environment, and gender/class issues.

Appadurai’s talk “The Compassion Famine: Exploring The Unspoken Solutions To Hunger In America,” offered solutions to end what he calls “the compassion famine” and bring about food justice. The process begins, he says, with each person imagining a world without hunger. “While a world without hunger seems remote, we first need to each hold the idea as a possibility, before we could make this come true,” he says. He also asked his audience to “change what we imagine the face of hunger to look like.” Not just a problem for the developing nations, food insecurity is a problem that forty million people in the United States face. Yet—”We also throw out nearly 40 percent of our food—which goes to landfills and causes greenhouse gasses,” he adds.