Arts & Culture

Students Perform West African, Hip-Hop, South Indian Dances


On May 11, the West African Dance and West African Music and Culture classes performed at the Center for the Arts Courtyard. The invigorating performances featured Wesleyan Artist-in-Residence and choreographer Iddi Saaka, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music and master drummer John Dankwa, and master drummer Mohammed Alidu. Throughout the semester, students learned the fundamental principles and aesthetics of West African dance through learning to embody basic movement vocabulary and selected traditional dances from Ghana. Photos of the performance are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

New Book by McIntyre ’84 Explores How We Arrived at a Post-Truth Era

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.

Post-Truth book cover

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?

Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Supports ICPP’s Performing Artist Case Studies

Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP) has been awarded a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Introduced as a pilot initiative in 2011, the ICPP is the first institute of its kind, a center for the academic study of the presentation and contextualization of contemporary performance. The low-residency program offers students a master’s degree in innovative and relevant curatorial approaches to developing and presenting time-based art.

The grant will be used to support performing artist case studies, working with artists at critical points in their careers to provide analysis of their entrepreneurial strategies, as well as engagement with the economic drivers of cultural production. This funding will further ICPP’s efforts to bring to light different models for artist development, and highlight successful tactics for philanthropic support over the arc of their career. Findings developed during the case studies, including best practices and replicable models, will be shared via a website and print publication, as well as at various conferences.

“As older infrastructure for arts support erodes, performing artists are developing inventive new models for sustaining a career,” said Sarah Curran, managing director of ICPP. “These case studies will allow us to work with artists to both assess and suggest new entrepreneurial strategies, and create and share models of best practice. Our hope is that this process will spark dialogue not only with artists and curators involved in the studies, but also with arts organizations, cultural policy makers, and grant makers about how best to support artists in this shifting arts economy.”

“The continued support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation recognizes the impact that the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance has beyond the Wesleyan campus,” said President Michael Roth. “These case studies will provide a new assessment of best practices and inventive strategies for the arts.”

Mixed-Race, Interfaith Identities Explored through Performative Conversations

Middletown-based ARTFARM artistic director Marcella Trowbridge, center, works with Lola Makombo ’20 on crafting a performative conversation based on interviews with a family member.

Students in the Mixed in America: Race, Religion, and Memoir course explored mixed-race identities not only through reading, writing, and classroom discussion, but through performative art.

Matt Kleppner ’18 created a short performance based on an interview with his uncle.

Throughout the semester, students used the genre of the memoir as a focusing lens to look at ways that Americans of mixed heritage have found a place, crafted an identity, and made meaning out of being considered “mixed.”

The course is part of Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, which pairs non-arts faculty with artists for collaborative teaching and research. Professor Liza McAlister teamed up with the local professional theater organization ARTFARM to offer students a module of four classes under the instruction of artistic director Marcella Trowbridge.

In the students’ exploration of memoir, Trowbridge asked them to interview a family member and craft a short performative piece based on their interviews–or–their responses to their interviews.

“We spoke about ‘brass tack’ strategies for interviewing and documentation, but then left the linear procedural work for a process-based inquiry,” Trowbridge explained.

The class collaboratively brainstormed and worked physically with mark-making, personal items, architecture, kinesthetic response, and the use of space. Students also learned about using text, gestures, movement, sound, repetition, and props in a performance.

On April 18 and 19, the students shared their compositions with their classmates.

Bùi ’07 Shares Photos, Paintings, Video at CEAS Gallery

On March 29, Vietnamese artist Lêna Bùi '07 spoke to gallery goers at the opening reception of her exhibit, Proliferation at the College of East Asian Studies. In Proliferation, Bùi draws on her context of living in a rapidly changing country. Her abstract paintings, photographs, and candid video broadly examine the less obvious effects of development on the socio-political and cultural fabrics of the country, and specifically dealing with people's negotiation with nature in various forms.

On March 29, East Asian studies major Lêna Bùi ’07 spoke to gallerygoers at the opening reception of her exhibit, Proliferation, at the College of East Asian Studies. In Proliferation, Bùi draws on her context of living in a rapidly changing country. Her abstract paintings, photographs, and candid video broadly examine the less obvious effects of development on the socio-political and cultural fabrics of the country, specifically dealing with people’s negotiation with nature in various forms.

Helping Widowed Fathers Move Forward with Their Children: An Interview with Author Rosenstein ’80, MD

In The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life (Oxford University Press, 2018), Donald L. Rosenstein ’80, MD, and Justin M. Yopp, PhD, tell the stories of how seven men whose wives died from cancer came to terms with their grief and learned how to move forward into a meaningful future with their children. The book is based on the experiences of the men as members of a support group run by Rosenstein and Yopp at the Comprehensive Cancer Support Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All proceeds from the book will be donated to Rosenstein and Yopp’s clinical and research work at UNC with widowed parents. For more about the widowed parents group, visit widowedparent.org.

Ulysse’s Book Long-Listed for PEN Open Book Award

A book by Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse was long-listed for the PEN Open Book Award.

The PEN Open Book Award confers a $5,000 prize upon an author of color to celebrate racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities.

Ulysse’s first poetry collection, Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, me & THE WORLD, was published in 2017 by Wesleyan University Press. The lyrically vivid meditative journey embraces and reclaims a revolutionary Blackness that has been historically stigmatized and denied. Ulysse crafts experiments with “ethnographic collectibles” of word, performative sounds and imagery to blur genres and the lines between the geopolitical and the personal. These poems, performance texts and photographs gather fractured memories—longings laced with Vodou chants confronting a past that looms in the present.

Ulysse also is professor of anthropology and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Read “I am a Storm” from Because When God Is Too Busy in this Wesleyan Magazine Backstory.

2 Wes Press Poets Named Finalists for L.A. Times Book Prize

Wesleyan University Press author-poets Shane McCrae and Evie Shockley have been selected as finalists in the poetry category for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. McCrae received the nod for In the Language of My Captor, which was previously honored as a finalist for the National Book Award, while Shockley was chosen for her latest collection, semiautomatic. In the Language of My Captor, by Shane McCrae

“We are thrilled for authors Evie Shockley and Shane McCrae to have their books recognized in this way,” said Susanna semiautomatic by evie shockleyTamminen, director and editor-in-chief of Wesleyan University Press. “These are both extraordinary books, and we feel truly honored to be their publisher.”

McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor examines the idea of freedom told through stories of captivity. Comprised of historical persona poems with a prose memoir at its center, the book addresses the illusory freedom of both black and white Americans. Shockley’s semiautomatic traces a web of connections between the kinds of violence that affect people across the racial, ethnic, gender, class, sexual, national and linguistic boundaries that do and do not divide us.

Winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will be announced on April 21, 2018, at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

Bogin ’18 and Monson ’18 Participate In Creative Residency at Goodspeed

Tekla Monson '18 and Molly Bogin '18 are the first Wesleyan students to take part in a pilot program between the university and the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals.

Molly Bogin ’18 (left) and Tekla Monson ’18 (right) are the first Wesleyan students to take part in a pilot program between the university and the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals.

Molly Bogin ’18 and Tekla Monson ’18 represented Wesleyan in the university’s inaugural program with the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut, last month. The students joined 36 established and emerging composers and lyricists to participate in the two-week creative residency—the only one of its kind solely dedicated to the creation of new musicals. Kathleen Conlin, Theater Department chair, and Ellen Nerenberg, dean of the arts and humanities, initiated Wesleyan’s involvement with the program.

Bloom ’75 Goes Behind Closed Doors in “White Houses”

Award-winning author Amy Bloom ’75, Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, will release her latest novel, White Houses, on Feb. 13. The book centers on First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s love affair and friendship with reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok. Told from Hickok’s point of view, White Houses covers everything from the inner workings of the Roosevelt administration to Hick’s own brutal upbringing in rural South Dakota.

Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review, says, “Bloom elevates this addition to the secret-lives-of-the-Roosevelts genre through elegant prose and by making Lorena Hickok a character engrossing enough to steal center stage from Eleanor Roosevelt.” While Publishers Weekly says, “Cleverly structured through reminiscences that slowly build in intimacy, Bloom’s passionate novel beautifully renders the hidden love of one of America’s most guarded first ladies.”

Amy Bloom ’75 is the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing and director of the Shapiro Creative Writing Center.

Bloom will embark on a book tour in support of White Houses later this month, starting at R.J. Julia in Madison, Conn., on Feb. 13. A full list of events, including several additional Connecticut appearances, can be found on Bloom’s website.

We caught up with Bloom to ask about her experience writing White Houses.

Is this your first time attempting such a novel, based on historical figures and events? Why this story, in particular? And what were the biggest challenges involved?
Every novel is, for me, an attempt to do something new. The Roosevelts were fascinating: great leaders, complicated people. The story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok was a love story not just lost to history but literally torn out of the history pages. (Lorena was routinely cropped out of White House photos.) The greatest challenge was pretty much what it always is: Who are the people, how to the tell the story and who is telling the story. With the added burden that periodically a little voice would yell: These are real people!

How was this process different than creating characters sprung from your imagination (even if based on real people)?
The characters inevitably, even when based on fact and history, are products of my imagination, of empathy, of research and of a certain hard-to-describe leap.

How did you begin the process? Did you read the letters first and then decide to write a novel based on the relationship? Or were you always interested in exploring the genre?
I read Blanche Weisen Cook’s wonderful biography of Eleanor Roosevelt in which she mentions the 3,000 letters between Eleanor and Lorena and writes a bit about who Lorena was—crack reporter, first woman to have a byline in The New York Times, author—and about the love affair between them. Cook was pilloried for asserting that it seemed very likely there had been a love affair, until other historians finally read the letters and, slowly, too slowly, and privately, apologized and acknowledged that it was obvious from the letters that this had not been a schoolgirl crush on either side—between women in their 40s!—but a love affair that laid the foundation for a lifelong friendship.

How much did you know about the relationship, and about “Hick,” specifically, when you began writing? What additional research did you do, and how did that additional research inform your writing?
Research always offers one new rivers to follow, new gardens to visit. There have been tons of books about Eleanor Roosevelt and a few about Lorena Hickok in relation to Eleanor. I read an awful lot.

What did you find most interesting about (and what were the challenges involved in) inhabiting the mind of, and creating a voice for, Hick?
I struggled to find my narrator and there were parts of Hick I did not admire, but the Hick that I created from her letters and from her professional work is funny, frank, tough, clear-eyed, impulsive and a hell of a storyteller.

What about this story spoke to you—and what did you learn along the way that will stay with you?
Two things: A life of pretense is a death sentence, and love is not wasted, even when it ends.

Ford Foundation Supports Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance

Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP) received a two-year, $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.

The award will support a new leadership fellowship program; three curatorial mini-intensives for prospective students; and two global curatorial forums designed to bring an international perspective to the discussion and dissemination of best practices and forge a global network of performing arts curators. This funding will further ICPP’s efforts to advance diversity among participants and to amplify the graduate program’s impact on the field of performance.

“The Ford Foundation funding allows ICPP to support diverse perspectives in the field of performance curation, both in our student body and as our students advance professionally,” said Sarah Curran, director of the Center for the Arts and managing director of ICPP. “We are also grateful for the opportunity to create a global platform for curatorial exchange.”

“This support from the Ford Foundation allows ICPP to amplify a visible and inclusive path into the program and equitable opportunities as our students, in their second year, pursue leadership positions in the field,” said Samuel Miller ’75, director and co-founder of ICPP.