Arts & Culture

Smith ’66 on Translating and Promoting Global Indigenous Literature

Front cover of Meditations After the Bear Feast: The Poetic Dialogues of N. Scott Momaday and Yuri Vaella

Claude Clayton “Bud” Smith ’66, professor emeritus of English at Ohio Northern University, is an author who throughout his career has worked behind the scenes to bring Native Siberian creative writing to an English-speaking audience and to promote global indigenous literature. In that spirit, before Smith’s story starts, he recommends we tune in to the PBS premiere of N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear, on Nov 18.

Smith’s connection with N. Scott Momaday is personal. In 2016, Smith co-edited and translated Meditations After the Bear Feast, a collection of poems exchanged between Momaday, a Kiowa writer and the defining voice of the Native American Renaissance in American Literature, and Yuri Vaella, a writer, reindeer herder, and political activist of the Forest Nenets people in western Siberia. But Meditations After the Bear Feast nearly did not see print. How did Smith, a descendant of one of the founders of Hartford, Conn., on his father’s side and an immigrant Czech on his mother’s—who does not speak Russian or any native languages—become the critical player in bringing Meditations to publication? According to Smith, the story begins where it does for every writer, in his childhood backyard.

Claude Clayton “Bud” Smith ’66 enjoying “retirement” at an art show at University of Wisconsin, 2017. (Photos courtesy of C.C. Smith ’66)

Smith grew up a 45-minute drive from Wesleyan, in Stratford, Conn. Despite the erasure of Native American history, Smith became aware of his hometown’s long past through local Stratford history and the stories of the Sioux man who rented fishing boats to his grandfather. He remembers that, as a child on a field trip to where the Paugussett tribe first encountered settlers in 1639, “my imagination went wild.”

By 1978 Smith had published his first book, The Stratford Devil, and begun teaching when his mother sent him an article from the Bridgeport Post that mentioned the Paugussett tribe. The tribe had just won a yearslong struggle to protect from termination their quarter-acre reservation—a small remnant of their ancestral lands and the oldest continuous reservation in the United States. The reservation happened to be three miles from where Smith grew up, and so Chief Big Eagle of the Paugussett tribe became the subject of Smith’s first book of creative nonfiction. After hours of taped interviews on the Chief’s front porch, Smith began writing the tribe’s story in the voice of the Chief. Miscommunications often arose; of one such conflict Smith said, “I was discussing the gustoweha (the chief’s headdress), which has antlers. The Chief had evidently led quite a love life, marrying four times, and so when discussing the headdress I commented, in the Chief’s voice, something to the effect that, ‘the antlers remind me of myself as a young buck.’ The Chief fumed, and I changed the line to, ‘reminds me of the deer, a noble animal.'” Through the Chief’s editing of his drafts, Smith learned how to write in another’s voice, a skill that would serve him well in his translating work later. The book, Quarter-Acre of Heartache, was published in 1985, a first-person account from the perspective of the Chief, and today, when Smith reads the quotes on the novel’s rear jacket, “half are the Chief’s actual words, half are mine. I’d so absorbed his voice that I can’t now tell which is which.”

Derry and Puffin D’Oench ’73 Film Award Open to Submissions

Community Health Center logo

The Community Health Center of Middletown is a sponsor of the film contest.

A new annual contest for budding filmmakers is now welcoming submissions. The Derry and Puffin D’Oench Film Award, sponsored by Community Health Center, Inc. (CHC), of Middletown, is open to Wesleyan University and Middlesex Community College students and alumni.

The contest’s name honors Derry and Ellen “Puffin” D’Oench ’73, community members who contributed to the local arts and cultural community. At Wesleyan, Puffin served as curator of the Davison Art Center, adjunct professor of art history, and a trustee. Russell “Derry” D’Oench was editor-in-chief of the Middletown Press from 1959 to 1991. The couple was involved in many organizations, including the Middlesex County Community Foundation, Middlesex Hospital, Community Health Center, and the NAACP.

The film contest, accepting submissions from Nov. 1, 2019, until May 1, 2020, seeks “to find talented, emerging filmmakers who are getting their start or have roots in our Middletown community,” said Mark Masselli, Hon. ’09, P’16, CHC’s founder and president/CEO. “We’re looking forward to screening the submissions, and giving a new generation of filmmakers a launching pad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. CT Post: “Former Wesleyan Provost is First Woman President at Hobart and William Smith Colleges”

Joyce Jacobsen, formerly Wesleyan’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs and the Andrews Professor of Economics, was inaugurated Oct. 18 as the first woman president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. At the ceremony, the chairman of the HWS Board of Trustees said: “Dr. Jacobsen enters the presidency of Hobart and William Smith at a time of increasing complexity in higher education both here on campus and nationally. It is my belief, and the unanimous belief of the Board of Trustees, that there is no one better to help us navigate this future than Dr. Joyce Jacobsen.” Read more coverage of the inauguration in Finger Lake Times.

2. Wilson Center Blog: “Victoria Smolkin: A History of Soviet Atheism”

In this Q&A, Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin discusses her book, A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism. She explains how religion in the former Soviet states has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, and offers a preview of her second book project. Smolkin was a Title VIII Research Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in 2014–15.

Barber Authors New Book on ‘One Man’s Journey from Gangleader to Peacekeeper’

Citizen OUtlaw

Charles Barber is the author of Citizen Outlaw, published Oct. 15 by HarperCollins.

Charles Barber, writer-in-residence in letters, is the author of a new book that tells the dramatic story of William Juneboy Outlaw III. Formerly the head of a major cocaine gang in New Haven, Outlaw turned his life around and now is an award-winning community advocate, leading a team of former felons who negotiate truces between gangs on the very streets that he once terrorized.

Barber wrote Citizen Outlaw: One Man’s Journey from Gangleader to Peacekeeper, published Oct. 15 by HarperCollins, in collaboration with Outlaw. The two gave a WESeminar and book signing on Nov. 1 at Russell House as part of Homecoming/Family Weekend. Their collaboration was also featured on the Today Show on Nov. 13.

Three Wesleyan students and alumni also worked over the summer and contributed to the book including Ben Owen ’21, Nicole Updegrove ’14, and Natalia Siegel ’18.

Indian Sarod Master Performs at Wesleyan’s 43rd Annual Navaratri Festival

Wesleyan’s 43rd Navaratri Festival, held Oct. 10-14, celebrated traditional Indian music and dance.

2019 Navaratri Festival events included:

    • A colloquium focusing on “Re-sounding Islam—Marking Religious and Aesthetic Pluralism in the Historiography of South Indian Music.”
    • The Saraswati Puja (Hindu ceremony), where audience members bring instruments, manuscripts, and other items for blessing.
    • “The Sarod Trilogy” by Amjad Ali Khan.
    • The Bhojanam (feast) featuring vegetarian Indian delicacies.
    • “The Courtesan Dance” from South India by guest performer Yashoda Thakore.
    • “Vocal Music of South India” by vocalist and Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music David Nelson on mridangam and violinist Nandini Viswanathan.
    • A free interactive presentation of the fundamental concepts of Indian classical music, and how the practice of composition continually helps to preserve both tradition and musical technique.

The festival was presented by the Center for the Arts, Music Department, and Dance Department, with leadership support from the Madhu Reddy Endowed Fund for Indian Music and Dance at Wesleyan University, and additional support from the Jon B. Higgins Memorial Fund.

Grammy Award-nominated sarod (19-stringed instrument) master Amjad Ali Khan performed “Sarod Trilogy” Oct. 10 as part of the 43rd Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan.

Khan was joined by his sarod-playing sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash, along with tabla player Amit Kavthekar. Khan was born into the sixth generation of the illustrious lineage of the Senia-Bangash school of music, and is credited with reinventing the technique of playing the sarod, which means “melody” in Persian.

Photos of the “Sarod Trilogy” performance are below: (Photos by Rich Marinelli)

"Sarod Trilogy"

"Sarod Trilogy"

Miniature Artworks Displayed at Into the Image Exhibit

The exhibit titled Into the Image is on display at the Davison Art Center (DAC) through Nov. 24. This exhibition of miniature artworks—drawn entirely from the Davison Art Center collection—features objects made across several centuries and includes examples by Rembrandt van Rijn and Henri Matisse.

On Oct. 10, Miya Tokumitsu, DAC curator, and Andy Szegedy-Maszak, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek and Professor of Classical Studies, led a gallery talk during the opening reception.

Into the Image will be the final exhibition in the Davison Art Center’s current gallery at 301 High Street. A new gallery will be constructed between Olin Library and the Public Affairs Center over the next few years.

Photos of the opening reception are below: (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

exhibit
exhibit

3 Alumni Receive MacArthur “Genius” Awards 

MacArthursThree of the 26 “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals” to receive 2019 MacArthur Fellowships are Wesleyan alumni.

Mary Halvorson ’02, Saidiya Hartman ’84, Hon. ’19, and Cameron Rowland ’11 each received a $625,000, no-strings-attached award by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius” grant, are selected based on “exceptional creativity,” “promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments,” and “potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work,” according to the foundation.

They join 17 other Wesleyan alumni and university affiliates named MacArthur Fellow recipients. (View all.)

Mary Halvorson '02

Mary Halvorson ’02

Mary Halvorson ’02 is a guitarist, ensemble leader, and composer who is pushing against established musical categories with a singular sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves with each new album and configuration of bandmates. She melds her jazz roots with elements of experimental rock, folk, and other musical traditions, reflecting a wide range of stylistic influences.

Her additional albums as a solo performer or leader include Saturn Sings (2010), Bending Bridges (2012), Illusionary Sea (2014), and Meltframe (2015), and she has performed on numerous other recordings as a side musician or co-leader. Since 2018, Halvorson has served as an instructor at The New School’s College of Performing Arts. She has performed at such national and international venues and festivals as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Berlin Jazz Festival, and the Village Vanguard, among many others.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The Hill: “Analysis: 2020 Digital Spending Vastly Outpaces TV Ads”

The Hill reports on a new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, which finds that 2020 presidential hopefuls have spent nearly six times more money on Facebook and Google advertising than on TV ads. President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee lead the way in digital advertising, having spent nearly $16 million so far. All told, Facebook and Google have raked in over $60 million on online ads this cycle to date. “At this stage in the campaign, candidate spending is driven by supporter list-building and investing heavily to secure enough donors to qualify for the Democratic debates,” explained Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

2. Religion News Service: “Sixty Years Later, Only Frank Lloyd Wright Synagogue Continues as ‘Work of Art'”

Joe Siry, Kenan Professor of the Humanities and professor of art history, speaks about Beth Sholom Synagogue, the only synagogue designed by the distinguished architect Frank Lloyd Wright, on the 60th anniversary of its opening. Siry is an expert on Wright’s work, and the author of Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (The University of Chicago Press, 2011). Read an interview with Siry about the book.

3. KERA “Think”: “Do Colleges Really Need Safe Spaces?”

President Michael Roth joins host Kris Boyd for a wide-ranging conversation in connection with his book Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses. They discuss Roth’s ideas of how to balance students’ needs to feel safe and included on college campuses while keeping them open to exploring new ideas, as well as common misunderstandings about the concept of “safe spaces,” and the effects of the backlash against political correctness. Roth also recently spoke about his book on Tablet Magazine’s “Unorthodox” podcast. (Roth comes in around 49 minutes).

4. WTIC “Todd Feinberg”: “Richard Grossman”

Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, is interviewed about what’s going on with the US economy, why he’s not too worried about prolonged low interest rates, concerns over a recession, and what can be done to fix income inequality.

5. Exhale Lifestyle: “Award-Winning Boston Filmmaker Sparks Conversations About Change”

This profile describes how Tracy Heather Strain, professor of the practice in film studies and co-director of the Wesleyan Documentary Project, became a filmmaker specifically because she wanted to make a film about her longtime idol, Lorraine Hansberry. Like Hansberry, the author of the monumental play A Raisin in the Sun, about black families living under racial segregation in Chicago, Strain is “concerned with contemporary society’s obvious injustices.” Strain earned a Peabody Award for her 2017 documentary about Hansberry, Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.

Alumni in the News

1. Chicago Sun-Times: “The Music of Alsarah & The Nubatones Transcends Borders, Cultures”

Mary Houlihan profiles Sarah Elgadi ’04, noting, “From a young age, Alsarah, who fronts the Brooklyn group Alsarah & the Nubatones, found refuge in music.” Elgadi was 12 when her family arrived in United States. “Now, years later, the 37-year-old singer, songwriter, bandleader and ethnomusicologist (she has a degree from Wesleyan University) has forged a career with ties to her background, bringing a fresh sound to world music.”

2. Eureka Alert: ”Study: Adults’ Actions, Successes, Failures, and Words Affect Young Children’s Persistence”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science reports on the study led by Julia A. Leonard ’11, MindCore postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, who observes: “Our work shows that young children pay attention to the successes and failures of the adults around them and, reasonably, don’t persist long at tasks that adults themselves fail to achieve.”

3. Boston.gov: “Dr. Taylor Cain [’11] Appointed to Lead Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab”

In the release announcing her appointment, Cain said: “As the new director, I cannot wait to grow the threads of this work. I am looking forward to partnering with the many communities that care deeply about housing in Boston and exploring projects that grapple with the connections between housing, transportation, employment, and other important dimensions of urban life.”

4. NPR.org: “How UAW’s Strike Against GM May Affect Ford and Fiat-Chrysler”

In this interview with New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor, NPR host David Greene asks about the strike that the United Automobile Workers union launched earlier this month in more than 30 factories after failing to reach a deal with GM.

5. Core77: ”frog’s Francois Nguyen [’94] is Actively Helping Shape What the Future Looks Like

Writer Alexandra Alexa notes in this interview—which is part of a series on the presenters in this year’s Core77 Conference, exploring the future of the design industry—that Nguyen was one of the lead designers of the original “Beats Studio” headphones by Dr. Dre. She writes: “Even when he’s not working, Francois Nguyen never really stops envisioning what the world might look like. More than a decade into his industrial design career, Nguyen knows a thing or two about staying resilient and nimble as the discipline changes.”

6. International Examiner: “‘Carrie Yamaoka [’79]: recto/verso’ is Not So Much About What You See as How it Happens

Susan Kunimatsu writes about the artist’s retrospective, currently at University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery through Nov. 3: “Yamaoka is fascinated with transformations, like the moment when exposed photo paper hits the developing chemical and an image starts to appear. Many of her artworks are about capturing that moment.”

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

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

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

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

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

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Where We Live: “The Life and Legacy of American Composer Charles Ives”

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, is a guest on this show about the legacy of composer Charles Ives. Bruce is the only pianist who has ever played all of the Ives music for solo voice, in a project called the Ives Vocal Marathon, which took place at Wesleyan in 2009. He is also the co-editor of a new collection of Ives songs, a former member of the board of the Charles Ives Society, and the chair of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the society.

2. The New York Times: “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces'”

In this op-ed, President Michael Roth argues that while “safe spaces” can be taken too far on college campuses, the much-maligned concept actually “underlies the university’s primary obligations” to its students. He advocates for creating “safe enough spaces,” which “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect that enables students to learn and grow—to be open to ideas and perspectives so that the differences they encounter are educative.” Roth further explores this topic and many others in his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College CampusesHe was interviewed recently about the book on several radio shows, including The Jim Bohannon Show, The Brian Lehrer Show, WGBH On Campus Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio, among others, and published op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Atlantic.

Theater’s Oliveras Performs in World Premiere of Kiss My Aztec!

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

This summer, award-winning actor, singer, producer, and new assistant professor of theater Maria-Christina Oliveras acted in the world premiere of Kiss My Aztec, a new musical on Latino history.

Written by John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone, winners of the 2018 Special Tony Award for Latin History of Morons, the musical debuted May through July at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Performances will continue at La Jolla Playhouse starting Sept. 8.

Oliveras became involved in the musical’s developmental process in 2014, when it started out as a play and evolved over time.

“I am a new works junkie. There is nothing like ‘brain-childing’ a piece from its inception,” Oliveras said in a recent interview with Broadway World. She described the show as a “non-traditional epic musical comedy with teeth. It is brash, bold, hilarious and vulgar. An Aztec take or retake of history in the vein of Spamalot or Book of Mormon. We are not aiming for historical accuracy. And we are ‘equal opportunity offenders.'”