Campus News & Events

Gift of Beckett Letters by Levy ’60 Inspires Homage Symposium

A symposium, "Homage to Samuel Beckett," highlighted letters and memorabilia gifted by noted AIDS researcher Jay Levy ’60, Hon ’96, and his wife, Sharon, from their decades-long friendship with the playwright, which began when Jay was living in Paris after his graduation from Wesleyan. 

A symposium, “Homage to Samuel Beckett,” highlighted books, letters, and memorabilia gifted by noted AIDS researcher Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, and his wife, Sharon, from their decades-long friendship with the playwright, which began when Jay was living in Paris after his graduation from Wesleyan.

Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives is now home to a robust collection of novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett’s letters and books.

The memorabilia was donated to Wesleyan by Beckett’s longtime friend Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, and his wife, Sharon.

On Oct. 24, Levy joined Samuel Beckett scholar Lois More Overbeck; President Michael Roth ’78; Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian at Wesleyan Andrew White; Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins; and Assistant Professor of French Michael Meere for a symposium titled “Homage to Samuel Beckett.” The event, held in Olin Library’s Smith Reading Room and attended by students, faculty, friends, and scholars honored Levy’s recent gift to the library: his personal correspondence with Samuel Beckett over nearly 30 years.

According to Levy, his decades-long friendship with Beckett was sparked by a conversation he had as an undergraduate awaiting the arrival of his date at Bradley Airport for Spring Weekend in 1959.

“The arrival board and announcements kept reporting delays, but assurances that the plane would arrive,” Levy recalled. “After some hours a Wes student near me said, ‘This is like waiting for Godot.’ I was curious enough (lucky for me!) to inquire, ‘What is Waiting for Godot?’ and was informed that it was a play by an Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, living in France. More detail indicated that it had been performed in French six years before and fit into the Theater of the Absurd.” Coincidentally Levy had just begun a French literature course on just that topic.

A few days later, Levy spoke with French professor Alex Szogyi, about Waiting for Godot, and subsequently wrote a paper on the play for the course. While Szogyi didn’t agree with Levy’s thesis—which noted religious references suggesting that “Godot” was meant to be God—he “apparently considered it sufficiently noteworthy to suggest my sharing it with Professor Mayoux at the Sorbonne (who knew Beckett) when I went to Paris to conduct biological research after graduation,” Levy said.

Jay levy

Jay Levy, Samuel Beckett, and Stuart Levy gathered in Paris.

Levy did, in fact, share his paper with Mayoux, who then passed it along to Beckett. The playwright invited the young American scholar to his apartment. A friendship was formed, which grew to include Levy’s twin brother, the late Stuart Levy Hon. ’98.

“It is really a delight and an honor to give my correspondence, books, and gifts from Samuel Beckett and a variety of letters and articles about him to Wesleyan,” concluded Levy. ”After all, my introduction to Samuel Beckett began with that fateful day at Bradley Airport in 1959, when I was a junior in college. Now look at what an incredible adventure this school gave me through its education and through its excellent teachers—a reputation I’m pleased to say still remains.”

Matthew Winn ’92, vice chair of the Alumni Association and a cousin of Levy, concurred: “This event is the very essence of Wesleyan. Jay found a passion for something outside his field and pursued it with the same energy he approached his career. It was also touching to see his friends and classmates. The fact that they came is a testament to the deep and enduring relationships the University fosters.”

In her talk, Overbeck recalled Beckett’s gentle charge to “go round” to meet the people with whom he corresponded, which made “all the difference,” she said, adding an additional depth to her research. “Letters are a two-dimensional trace of relationships, written in very specific time and place, to a very specific audience,” she said. “Letters are written in an attempt to bridge time and distance, or to mediate a disjunction of feeling…. As such, each one constitutes a living moment.”

Photos of the symposium and accompanying exhibit are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake and Cynthia Rockwell)

Director of Special Collections Suzy Taraba ’77 MALS ’10 addresses those in Smith Reading Room from the podium

Director of Special Collections and Archives Suzy Taraba ’77, MALS ’10 welcomed the attendees to the Beckett Symposium, noting her pleasure at the gift and its value to the University’s students and other scholars. Matthew Winn ’92, who attended the event, said that he found Taraba and University Librarian Andrew White’s interest in primary sources to be noteworthy. “The University’s emphasis on primary research and object-based learning stands out in an increasingly digital world and reminds us that nothing replaces hard work and source materials,” Winn remarked.

Alumnus Jay Leve at the podium addresses the audience

Dr. Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, thanked Taraba, who worked closely with him on his gift to Wesleyan. Levy also noted the importance of the University’s dedication to wide-ranging scholarship. A biology major as an undergraduate and at that time already preparing for a career in medicine, he notes: “My enjoyment of the arts, my enjoyment of the humanities is typical of Wesleyan’s commitment to liberal arts.”

A screen next to Levy (at the podium) shows an archival photo (circa 1961) of the young Levy in Paris, as well as his twin brother Stuart, flanking Samuel Beckett.

“During our last meeting in Paris in 1986, I spoke to Sam . . . and expressed the optimism I drew from his experiences—particularly the problem faced in publishing Waiting for Godot,” noted Levy, speaking next to a projection of an early photo of himself and twin brother Stuart with Beckett. “I often share this story with my students and scientific colleagues who have grants, letters, articles, or books rejected. Samuel Beckett . . . sent Waiting for Godot to many editors and theater directors. Finally Roger Blinn, after four years, recognized its merit and staged the play that has since had such a great influence on the theater, literature, and other fields.”

Details of a few letters; Levy's are typewritten, Becketts are scrawled.

Included in the display cases outside Special Collections and Archives are a number of letters from Beckett to Levy, and from Levy to Beckett. During his talk, Levy shared moments of connection and conversation with the playwright, adding “This little capsule of my interactions with this really wonderful genuine man, whom I first met when I was 22, opened up incredible vistas in my life—meeting wonderful Beckettophiles like Lois Overbeck and her colleagues at Emory….” Levy noted that one of his letters was included in Overbeck’s four-volume collection of Beckett’s correspondence.

Paper on Bacteria Adhesion Named “Editor’s Pick” by Journal of Biological Chemistry

Rich Olson

Rich Olson

Katherine Kaus PhD '18

Katherine Kaus

A paper written by Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Rich Olson and his former students was designated as an “Editor’s Pick” by the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Only 2% of the approximately 6,600 papers published each year in the journal receive this designation.

Titled “The 1.9 Å crystal structure of the extracellular matrix protein Bap1 from Vibrio cholerae provides insights into bacterial biofilm adhesion,” the paper, published on Oct. 4, explores how bacteria “glues” itself to surfaces in the environment. The co-authors include Alison Biester ’19, Ethan Chupp ’18, Jianyi Lu ’17, Charlie Visudharomn ’17 and Katherine Kaus PhD ’18. Kaus, who is first author on the paper, is featured in a special profile on the JBC website.

Bacteria commonly form structures called biofilms, which are communities of living cells encapsulated by a three-dimensional matrix of secreted proteins, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates. Biofilms are a defense mechanism against environmental challenges and play a role in many pathogenic diseases.

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.

Taylor ’21 Speaks to Choate Juniors on the Importance of Mindfulness

Tyla Taylor '21 She joined Choate counseling office coordinator Susanna Stinnett; coach and Chaplain James Davidson; Yale student Abigail Grimes, and Mindfulness Instructor Amanda Votto,

Tyla Taylor ’21, pictured second from left, served as a panelist for a discussion on “A Mindfulness Meditation Approach to Managing Stress” at Choate Rosemary Hall. Other panelists included, from left, Chaplain James Davidson, Yale student Abigail Grimes, Choate counseling office coordinator Susanna Stinnett; and mindfulness instructor Amanda Votto.

Tyla Taylor '21

Tyla Taylor ’21

By grounding oneself in the present moment, mindfulness can help create a free, calm, and content space without any judgment.

Tyla Taylor ’21, the mindfulness intern for Wesleyan’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, is working to share the practice of mindfulness with the campus community and beyond.

“Our minds are often going at full speed planning the next move, and the one after that,” Taylor said. “For me, mindfulness is paying attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, with compassion and non-judgment. From my own practice, I’ve seen how it’s made me a kinder friend, a more attentive student, and better able to handle situations that are thrown at me that are out of my control.”

On Oct. 15, Taylor was invited to Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., to speak on a panel titled “A Mindfulness Meditation Approach to Managing Stress.” Taylor shared her experience and knowledge of mindfulness with more than 150 high school juniors.

“I brought up how mindfulness has helped me feel more engaged with whatever I’m doing in my life—my school work, spending time with friends, extracurriculars—and helps me navigate and feel like I have power and agency when something comes up in my life that makes me feel out of control,” she explained.

Having attended an independent college prep day school for her own high school education, Taylor hoped to connect with the students on a personal level. She spoke about the stressors students face on a daily basis.

“Mindfulness was a practice that I dabbled with in high school but didn’t take seriously until college, and I tried to let them know why it is important, and how I wish I had had this tool in high school as well,” she said. “For example, when you get a bad grade in high school, it’s easy to catastrophize and think, ‘This is so bad. I’m not smart. I’ll never get into that great college, etc.’ Mindfulness can help them detach from this thought that is creating a negative emotion, and understand how that unpleasant emotion isn’t who they are, but rather a temporary state that will pass.”

Taylor, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in education studies, also is a residential advisor for West College Residence Hall. As part of her mindfulness intern responsibilities, Taylor leads Mindful Wes, a group that meets weekly for mindfulness-based meditation sessions.

She also brings different speakers to campus and hosts events related to mindfulness. Last spring, Mindful Wes ran an “Unplugging Event” and challenged students to give up their phones for one day.

“My favorite testimony after the event was that one student reduced—and maintained afterward—her phone usage from eight hours a day to two hours a day,” Taylor said.

Additionally, as a volunteer component to the job, Taylor started an initiative at Middletown’s Farm Hill Elementary School, where she leads mindfulness exercises twice a week for two different classes. She recently taught a lesson on recognizing emotions. After that class, a fourth-grade student reported back to Taylor that when his sister had made him angry by taking his toy, instead of hitting her back like he usually would have, he took three mindful breaths and then walked away.

“It’s never too young for children to start mindfulness meditation,” she said. “It can help with their academic achievement, concentration, emotional control, and overall resilience towards stress.”

For more information, contact Mindful Wes.

Grossman Discusses Latest Unemployment Trends on WTIC Radio

Grossman

Richard Grossman

On Oct. 16, Richard Grossman, chair and professor of economics, discussed the latest unemployment numbers and current state of the economy with Todd Feinburg at WTIC in Hartford. This month, the national unemployment rate has fallen to a new low—3.5%.

“Historically, and certainly for the last 10 years, the number peaked at 10% after the financial crisis, and it’s been working its way down ever since,” Grossman said. “That doesn’t mean all is wonderful if you’re in the labor force. There’s a lot of other things going on … people working part-time who would like to be working full-time … people who are doing contract work that would like to be having full-time jobs with benefits.”

Economists generally see an uptick in wages when unemployment goes down.

“Last month, the wage rate went up, but it went up by less than it had gone up in the previous month, so it suggests that even though the employment rate is low, that still hasn’t had an effect on wage. Normally we’d expect a really strong labor market to have some positive impact on wages.”

Grossman is an expert on economic history and current policy issues in macroeconomics, banking, and finance.

Hogendorn Presents Economics Papers in New York and Portugal

Christiaan Hogendorn

Christiaan Hogendorn

On Oct. 3, Christiaan Hogendorn, associate professor of economics, presented a paper titled “Unequal Growth in Local Wages: Rail versus Internet Infrastructure” for the City College of New York’s Economics Department. David Schwartz ’17 co-authored the paper.

And on Oct. 12, Hogendorn presented a paper titled “The Long Tail of Online News Visits” at the 17th Media Economics Workshop in Braga, Portugal. The paper was co-authored by Hengyi Zhu ’15 and Lisa George of Hunter College. He also served as a discussant for a panel on Network-Mediated Knowledge Spillovers in ICT/Information Security.

“Bomb Cyclone” Strikes Campus on Oct. 17, Causing Extremely Low Pressure, High Winds

weather station

The Wesleyan University Weather Station measures wind speed, barometric pressure, air temperature, relative humidity, and solar irradiance.

On Oct. 17, the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded a dramatic drop in atmospheric (barometric) pressure—a drop so severe it compared to one from Hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

Between 2 a.m. on Oct. 16 and 2 a.m. on Oct. 17, the pressure dropped from 1020 to 980 millibars, resulting in what meteorologists refer to as bombogenesis or a “bomb cyclone.” Bomb cyclones are defined by a drop of more than 24 millibars of pressure over less than 24 hours, and here, the pressure dropped 40 millibars.

During Hurricane Sandy the pressure also dropped to 980 millibars.

“We’ve looked through the last three years of data collected by the Wesleyan Weather Station, and no other event over that time period is more dramatic than this one,” said Dana Royer, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “This clearly shows that the bomb cyclone this month was indeed unusual.”

In Hartford, Conn., the pressure minimum (~980 millibars, similar to the pressure the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded) tied the all-time record for the month of October.

The bomb cyclone also affected wind speed. Between 1 and 2 a.m. on Oct. 17, wind rapidly increased from 0 to 34 mph and fluctuated between 5 and 25 mph over the next 24 hours.

The Wesleyan Weather Station was established with a Teaching Innovation Grant from President Michael Roth and Johan “Joop” Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science. The station and weather “dashboard” is maintained by Joel LaBella, facilities manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

bomb cyclone

The Wesleyan Weather Station recorded the dramatic drop in atmospheric pressure on Oct. 17. This graph shows the average air pressure from the last 30 days.

bomb cyclone

During the bomb cyclone, the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded the drastic fall in atmospheric pressure and the rapid rise in wind speed.

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.

Abrell to Speak on the Future of Meat During 92nd Street Y’s Inaugural Food Summit

Elan Abrell, a fellow in animal studies and philosophy, will be a panelist at 92nd Street Y’s first-ever Food Summit on Nov. 9.

The Summit will explore the future of what and how we eat and will include some of the most dynamic and influential figures in the culinary world. Guests will discuss how food brings us together, the future of cookbook publishing, mental health in the food industry, how immigrant chefs continue to transform American cuisine, and much more.

Abrell’s panel will focus on the topic of “Meat: The Future.” He will join experts from the fields of anthropology, nutrition, and the emerging industry of cellular agriculture to explore the science, the implications, alternate sources of animal protein, and life after meat.

This fall, Abrell is teaching a course on Liminal Animals: Animals in Urban Spaces, which examines the major ways in which nonhuman animals influence and are influenced by human-built environments, with specific attention to the ethical, political, and social dimensions of human-animal interactions in these spaces.

For 145 years, 92nd Street Y has been serving its communities and the larger world by bringing people together and providing groundbreaking programs in the performing and visual arts; literature and culture; adult and children’s education; talks on a huge range of topics; health and fitness; and Jewish life.

Tickets are available online.

Wesleyan Media Project Students and Faculty Speak at Conference, Contribute to National Political Debate

Wesleyan Media Project at Conference

Several faculty, students, and alumni associated with the Wesleyan Media Project attended and presented at the Conference on Politics and Computational Social Science (PaCSS) in Washington, D.C., this summer. From left, Pavel Oleinikov, associate director of the Quantitative Analysis Center, adjunct assistant professor of quantitative analysis; Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project; Lance Lepelstat ’20; WMP Project Manager Laura Baum; former pre-doctoral research fellow Jielu Yao; Carlo Medina ’18; and Tsun Lok Kwan ’21.

As the 2020 presidential election season heats up, the Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) is providing important analysis on campaign advertising for researchers and the media alike. Over the summer, Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of WMP, worked with undergraduate students and others to accelerate the analysis of digital political advertising, which has seen enormous growth this year over previous cycles.

In the early summer, WMP hosted a mini-hackathon to begin the process of analyzing political ads on Facebook. They worked with summer students through the Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC), and with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Saray Shai and her students Adina Gitomer ’20 and Liz Atalig ’21 on political ad analysis. And in late August, WMP, with support from Academic Affairs and the Government Department, took students, staff, and a former student to the second annual Conference on Politics and Computational Social Science (PaCSS) in Washington, D.C.

Finn Writes in The Conversation about ‘Sanctuary’ Cities

John Finn

John Finn

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In this article, professor emeritus of government John Finn, a constitutional scholar, examines how anti-abortion and pro-gun “sanctuary” towns popping up across the country are challenging how we understand the power of federal law and its role in the states and the lives of Americans. Finn was also recently interviewed on KJZZ about sanctuary cities (he comes in around 5 minutes).

Sanctuaries protecting gun rights and the unborn challenge the legitimacy and role of federal law

In June 2019, the small Texas town of Waskom declared itself a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn.”

Waskom’s city council passed an ordinance that labels groups – like Planned Parenthood, NARAL and others – that perform abortions or assist women in obtaining them “criminal organizations.”

The ordinance borrows from a similar resolution passed in March by Roswell, New Mexico. Unlike the merely rhetorical Roswell resolution, however, the Texas law bans most abortions within city limits. There are no abortion providers in the town, so it is not clear how the town would enforce the ordinance. It might, perhaps, deter an organization from opening a clinic.

These “sanctuaries for life” join other sanctuaries popping up across the country that challenge federal law and how we understand its power and role in the states and the lives of Americans.

Gun owners’ rights

The rapid rise of anti-abortion sanctuaries has a precedent in the growth of so-called Second Amendment sanctuaries.

Second Amendment sanctuaries are partly a response to proposed “red flag” laws. Such laws authorize state courts to issue emergency protection orders, which allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from a person who presents a danger to others or themselves.

Second Amendment sanctuaries are a booming business. Five states and at least 75 cities and counties have designated themselves as Second Amendment sanctuaries. They refuse to enforce background checks and to comply with emergency protection orders.

Alumni, Faculty Discuss Russia’s Return to the World Stage at Shasha Seminar

David Abramson ’87, Foreign Affairs Analyst at the U.S. Department of State, asks a question at a panel held by Wesleyan alumni on Saturday afternoon regarding Russia’s economic development, the prospects for foreign investors, and the range of careers available to graduates in Russian studies.

David Abramson ’87, foreign affairs analyst at the U.S. Department of State, asks a question regarding Russia’s economic development during the 2019 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns.

shasha bannerRussia has returned to the world stage in dramatic fashion in recent years with military interventions and interference in elections.

What is driving this aggressive behavior? Will the current political system survive the scheduled departure of its architect, Vladimir Putin, in 2024? How should the United States deal with Russia?

On Oct. 11–12, Wesleyan alumni and faculty panelists tackled these questions and more during the 2019 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns. This year’s theme was “Understanding Russia: A Dramatic Return to the World Stage,” with Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, serving as this year’s director. Rutland works on contemporary Russian politics and political economy, with a side interest in nationalism. (For a Q&A with Rutland, previewing the seminar, click here.)

The Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues.