Tag Archive for alumni achievements

“You Just Have to Read This. . .” Books by Wesleyan Authors Garrison ’67, Porter ’77, MALS ’79, and Tupper ’95

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Light in the River coverDavid Lee Garrison ’67, Light in the River (Dos Madres Press, 2020)

Lately, many of us have been looking for small ways to escape from our screens and our worries. David Lee Garrison’s latest poetry collection is the perfect shelter for moments like these, providing an assortment of charming, readable poems that will leave readers in good humor. All of the poems are brief and enchanting, presenting as bite-sized stories that seamlessly balance comedy and depth and seem to encompass tiny worlds of their own in remarkably few words.

In “Meatballs,” a dog begs for the meatballs his owner is cooking, looking at him with “big wet eyes” and a “relentless display / of pathos”; at the end, the owner quips that the dog has “got [him] / by the meatballs.” In “Men at Seventy,” the speaker’s voice straddles wit and sadness: “They take aspirin before playing tennis, / write wills directing that their ashes / be mixed into the clay of the courts.” “Beware of the Poem” reflects on the art of the poem itself, and Garrison cites other poets, including Langston Hughes and Thomas Lynch, several times throughout the collection. Garrison’s style is effortless and self-aware, and his is the perfect book to keep on your bedside table if you’re looking for a nugget of wisdom and humor before calling it a night.

David Lee Garrison ’67 is a poet who lives in Oakwood, Ohio. He earned his PhD from Johns Hopkins University and taught Spanish and Portuguese at Wright State University for 30 years. He has translated and published the poems of several notable Spanish poets, and his poems have appeared in several journals and anthologies.

“You Just Have to Read This…” An Interview with Madam C.J. Walker Author Erica L. Ball ’93

Madam CJ Walker coverErica L. Ball ’93 is a historian and the Mary Jane Hewitt Department Chair in Black Studies at Occidental College, who specializes in 19th and 20th-century African American history. Her second book, Madam C.J. Walker: The Making of an American Icon (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), tells the life story of one of the most influential women in American history. Throughout the biography, Ball unravels Walker’s importance as a hair- and skin-care trailblazer, a philanthropist, and an activist.

Annie Roach ’22, editorial student assistant, recently interviewed Ball about Walker and the process of writing the book.

Annie Roach ’22: What first inspired you to write this book? How did you first hear about Madam C.J. Walker?

Erica L. Ball ’93: Getting to the project was a circuitous route. A former professor from grad school was doing a series on famous American women, and she floated the idea of me potentially writing one on Madam C.J. Walker. That didn’t work out, but I’d already started the research and had gotten pretty far along down that road and knew I really wanted to continue working on the project.  A friend put me in touch with the editors at Rowman & Littlefield, and that’s when the project really took off. That’s the short and technical answer to how this book came into being.

There’s actually a longer answer that stretches all the way back to Wesleyan, and to my history senior honors thesis project. Madam C.J. Walker actually makes an appearance in Chapter 3. There I talk a little bit about her work as a philanthropist and her prominent role the in purchase of the Frederick Douglass home. Weirdly, the roots of this book go all the way back to my senior year of college.

Erica L. Ball

Erica L. Ball ’93 is the author of Madam C.J. Walker: The Making of an American Icon.

A.R.: What was the process of researching and writing like?

E.B.:I think of it as a three-stage process that actually took place simultaneously. One, the book is designed not just to introduce readers to Madam C.J. Walker the person; it’s also designed to serve as a lens onto the broader sweep of African American history. To do that, I had to make sure that I not only stayed current and up on all of the trends in African American history, but that I also allowed these historiographical trends to help me make sense of the larger political and cultural significance of Madam Walker’s life experiences.

The second aspect of the research process involved digging into the work that had already been written on Madam C.J. Walker, and of course, her great-great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, has a wonderful cradle-to-grave biography of Madam Walker. Other folks have written great books on Madam Walker or published work analyzing the history of African Americans’ hair-care or beauty practices; all of that was very useful and helped to contextualize Madam Walker’s story.

The other critical aspect of the research process involved digging into the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company papers at the Indiana Historical Society. I found a wealth of material during my visits there.

A.R.: What did you find in your research that was most surprising?

E.B.: Two things, I would say. As I went through the papers held at the Indiana Historical Society, I was stunned by the number of requests for donations that she received. The files contain daily requests from random people all over the country, and outside of the United States, as well. Many requests come from well-known figures who are heads of institutions and presidents of HBCUs. And then there are other letters, like one from a fellow who was incarcerated at the infamous Angola Prison Farm in Louisiana. After hearing about Madam Walker, he writes a letter to tell her about his plight and to ask for help and a few dollars. Seeing that range of people reaching out to her was quite extraordinary. That ultimately led me to one of the key arguments I make in the book: Madam Walker was someone who fashioned herself into a modern celebrity—someone whom masses of individuals identified with, looked up to, and sought to reach out to—right at the moment when modern celebrity itself [was] being invented.

A.R.: In the context of our current world, what exactly makes this story so important and applicable now?

E.B.: Maybe it goes in two directions. On the one hand, I think of Madam Walker’s story as emblematic of a long freedom struggle. This is a person who insisted on not being limited by the terms that society set for her. She refused them. She didn’t believe them. And this was the starting point for her participation in the Black freedom struggle. This is a woman who moved, who would not be contained in one particular location, and who consistently defied Jim Crow limitations on Black freedom of movement. This is a woman who not only searched for opportunities for herself, but went on to create and expand opportunities for other people. Madam C.J. Walker was a person who refused to be satisfied with the political status quo for African Americans but engaged in a concerted, intense civil rights campaign—a multifaceted civil rights campaign—to fight for better conditions for people of African descent. I think she represents the capacious nature of the African American freedom struggle. And I think that can be a useful lesson for us today. It’s a long journey, a long struggle, one that can take many forms and requires different types of actions.

There might also be another lesson in there for folks who are well-positioned, like wealthy celebrities. Madam Walker’s life story raises some questions for them: What do you do with your money? What do you do with your fame? Is it just for you, or do you do what someone like Madam C.J. Walker did, and insist on using it for the public good?

A.R.: What is the most important takeaway that you hope readers will get out of reading about Madam C.J. Walker?

E.B.: She was more than a lady who was just interested in something that people often think of as frivolous (beauty culture) and she was not focused on helping Black women imitate white standards of beauty. She spoke in terms of health, she spoke in terms of agency, and she advocated for the independence of Black women. She was much more than some of the caricatures that emerged in the ’60s and ’70s made her seem. That’s why her memory was so important to African Americans for much of the 20th century.

A.R.: What was your time at Wesleyan like?

E.B.: I grew up in a military family and went to high school in Arizona, where my father was stationed at the time. I’d never been to Connecticut. It was a big change for me. I spent a lot of time hanging out at WesWings, I was a member of the Cardinal Sinners a capella group, and I sang in a blues band called Johnny Vess and the Westones. I had a great time and I learned so much; Wesleyan was a formative experience for me.

Sometimes I think if I hadn’t gone to Wesleyan, my life would have been very different. There were paths that I didn’t know were possible for me to take. One was becoming a researcher, a scholar, a professor. As I worked on my honors thesis, I got it into my head that this is something I might want to keep doing with my life. I also made some great friends. I actually live fairly close to one of my Foss 9 dormmates from frosh year. It’s a small world.

A.R.: Anything else you want to add about your book or about Wesleyan?

E.B.: Wesleyan taught me how to think differently, how to think broadly, how to wrestle with new ideas, how to be open in ways that I didn’t know that I could be. It’s an extraordinary institution that develops habits of mind that are conducive to better world-making. It opens people up in ways that are extraordinary and profound. And I will always be grateful for having had the opportunity to attend Wesleyan.

United Way Creates Fellowship Honoring Cooney ’81

J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. '81

J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. ’81

The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) is honoring Wesleyan alumnus Gordon Cooney ’81 by establishing the J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. Fellowship in Criminal Justice.

Cooney, a government major at Wesleyan, works as a senior partner for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he oversees the firm’s litigation operations across the globe and has a long history of fighting for social justice. He served as regional board chair for UWGPSNJ from 2017–2020, and the fellowship was made in recognition of his significant leadership to United Way.

The J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. Fellowship in Criminal Justice is a six-month fellowship presented to people who have lived experience with the criminal justice system in Philadelphia, aspire to a career in criminal justice or community organizing, and who have shown a commitment to social equity. The Cooney Fellowship is coordinated with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE), a UWGPSNJ-supported nonprofit agency that, since its founding in 2011, helps low-income Philadelphians clean up their criminal records.

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

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

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

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

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

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

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors Goodman ’06, Thoms MAT’62, and Blake ’78

In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

The Shame coverMakenna Goodman ’06, The Shame (Milkweed, 2020)

In a letter to her children that she writes in case of an untimely death, Makenna Goodman’s protagonist Alma muses, “My great fear, which has kept me up nights for years, is that you will have to live without a mother when you need one the most.” This sentiment does not stop her from abruptly escaping her rustic Vermont home one night and leaving behind her young children and professor husband in pursuit of a life in New York City. As Alma’s identity crisis unfurls throughout her road trip to Brooklyn, she gradually reveals to the reader the circumstances of her departure in hushed, urgent prose.

The development of the narrative mirrors the progression of a long drive: at times the story feels electrifying and precipitous, at other times dreamlike and ponderous. Goodman manages to create a character who is desperate, imaginative, and lost, evoking an image of motherhood that is Elena Ferrante-adjacent in its subtle rage and self-doubt. Goodman’s novel also ties issues of the female consciousness to overlying sociopolitical systems and modern-day capitalism, making her work revolutionary in the world of female-authored literature. The Shame feels ultra-relevant in its interrogation of the contemporary female psyche and the pressures of marriage, motherhood, and career.

Bergmann ’76 Designs Monumental Women Statue for Central Park

Bergmann

Artist Meredith Bergmann ’76 sculpted a Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, pictured here as a clay model, that will be debuted to the public on Aug. 26. (Photo by Michael Bergmann)

In honor of the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, when women won the right to vote, New York City will welcome a Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument to its grounds on Aug. 26.

Designed and sculpted by nationally-known artist Meredith Bergmann ’76, the statue depicts and honors women’s rights pioneers Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Meredith Bergmann '76

Meredith Bergmann ’76

The statue will be located in Central Park and will be the first statue depicting real women in the park’s 166-year history. Currently, there are 23 statues of real men in Central Park; women are “represented” through fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, and Juliet (with Romeo).

“Like the women I’m portraying, my work is meant to raise questions and to provoke thought,” Bergmann said. “My hope is that all people, but especially young people, will be inspired by this image of women of different races, different religious backgrounds, and different economic statuses working together to change the world.”

Bergmann, who also created the Boston Women’s Memorial and the September 11th Memorial at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, depicts the women working together at a table, each representing an essential element of activism: Sojourner Truth is speaking, Susan B. Anthony is organizing, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton is writing.

“You Just Have to Read This…” Books by Wesleyan Authors: Meyerson ’04, Card ’04, and Fink ’77

In this continuing series, we explore a selection of the latest books by Wesleyan alumni. The volumes, sent to us by the alumni authors themselves, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

The Imperfects coverAmy Meyerson ’04, The Imperfects (HarperCollins/Park Row Books, 2020)

Generations of secrets loom large in this novel about the dysfunctional Miller family. When the eccentric family matriarch, Helen, passes away, the items she leaves behind—including a 137-carat diamond hidden in her bedroom—stir up old resentments, new tensions, and plenty of questions among her daughter and grandchildren. As the family races to determine whether they are the rightful heirs to the precious gemstone, they make startling discoveries about Helen, who immigrated to the United States from Austria, and her family’s tragic past.

A fast-paced and engaging read, The Imperfects is based on the true story of the Florentine Diamond, which went missing around 1918, after the fall of the Austrian Empire.

Amy Meyerson ’04 is an associate professor of writing at the University of Southern California. The Imperfects is her second novel. Her debut novel The Bookshop of Yesterdays, an international best-seller with translations in 11 languages, was featured in a 2018 Connection article.

Moezzi ’01 Shares Reflections, Advice on Applying Rumi’s Wisdom to Modern Life

Melody Moezzi

In The Rumi Prescription, Melody Moezzi ’01 shares her story of studying and learning from the wisdom of 13th-century mystic poet Rumi, whose verses she found relevant even in today’s world. Moezzi majored in philosophy at Wesleyan.

The timing of the release of The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life (Penguin Random House, 2020) was far from ideal. Officially out March 3, the new book by Melody Moezzi ’01 was barely in readers’ hands before social distancing restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Moezzi was able to participate in a handful of events near her home in Wilmington, N.C. . . . and then the remainder were canceled or rescheduled in virtual form.

The Rumi Prescription coverHowever, The Rumi Prescription is the sort of book that people with extra free time on their hands—and the inclination to obtain meaning from difficult experiences—might value. Moezzi’s third book, The Rumi Prescription details how she came to interpret and apply the lessons of the 13th-century mystic poet Rumi to her modern-day world, a process that was ultimately life-changing.

An Iranian-American Muslim author, attorney, activist, and visiting professor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Moezzi has also written about mental health in her 2014 memoir Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life. On May 18, she will participate in a live Zoom conversation about The Rumi Prescription with fellow mental wellness activist and illustrator Ellen Forney ’89, as part of a series offered by Literati bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Click here to join the event on May 18.

Moezzi recently answered questions about The Rumi Prescription, how Rumi’s words can apply to today’s world, and her advice for taking care of your mental health during a pandemic.

First of all, how’s The Rumi Prescription doing? What a time to launch a new book.

Melody Moezzi: It’s not the best time to be releasing a book, but it turns out that the topic of this book is actually something that is helpful for people right now, so I’m glad for that. At least people seem to be finding comfort in it.

Forney ’89 Creates Comical Handwashing Illustration

forney hand washing

Ellen Forney ’89 created “Hand-Washing Like A Pro!” in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

A comical handwashing illustration by author, artist, speaker, and mental wellness coach Ellen Forney ’89 appeared in the March 20 edition of The Washington Post and is used in the COVID Coach App, a mental health app from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

She’s also offering it as a free printable download from her website.

Forney says her how-to “Hand-Washing Like A Pro!” comic adheres to the the World Health Organization guidelines, but is “easier and funnier.”

“I got the idea for [the comic] after reading that people had trouble remembering the WHO-recommended method,” she said. “It’s useful because you can print it out and hang it by your sink, or give it to your grandmother or favorite restaurant to hang by their sink.”

Through six illustrations, she suggests how to rub palms like a snickering villain, rub the backs of hands like piggybacking spiders, rub palms like spiders kissing, rub backs of fingers with a kung fu grip, rub thumbs like you’re gripping a motorcycle throttle, and rub fingertips like you’re using a mortar and pestle.

In 2018, Forney curated an exhibition for the National Library of Medicine on “graphic medicine,” comics about health and healthcare.

She’s also is the author of the graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me, which is taught in Wesleyan’s Life Writing course by Charles Barber, associate professor of the practice in the College of Letters. She’s also spoken with his class twice, most recently during the Spring 2019 semester.

Startup Led by Dhanda ’95 Developing COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests

Rahul Dhanda

Rahul Dhanda ’95

A lack of fast, reliable diagnostic testing has played a major role in the rapid proliferation of cases of COVID-19. Rahul Dhanda ’95 and his team at Sherlock Biosciences are working furiously to change that, potentially shortening the testing’s time horizon to a matter of minutes.

Dhanda is co-founder, CEO, and president of the engineering biology startup based in Cambridge, Mass., which is creating two different diagnostic tests for COVID-19—one rooted in CRISPR technology, the other in synthetic biology. The hope is that the tests can be released during the course of the current pandemic, Dhanda said, each with its own different applications and utility.

A history major who also took premed classes at Wesleyan, Dhanda earned his MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before forging a successful career in the biotech field, with a specialty in diagnostics.

Tezén ’97 Appointed President, CEO of A Better Chance

Francisco Tezén

Francisco Tezén ’97 (Photo courtesy of A Better Chance)

On Feb. 1, Francisco Tezén II ’97 became the next president and chief executive officer of A Better Chance, a national nonprofit that places talented young people of color into the leadership pipeline through increased access to academically rigorous secondary schools.

Tezén, a first-generation Peruvian-American, will lead the nonprofit when racial equity, educational opportunity, diversity, access and inclusion are at the forefront of our nation’s collective conscience. He was formerly the chief development officer at the Food Bank For New York City.

“My parents, an immigrant father and a black mother from rural North Carolina, stressed the importance of education to climb out of poverty and realize our American dream,” Tezén said. “As an alumnus of a college preparatory program, I have experienced firsthand the transformative effect of efforts that open pathways of opportunity for people like me. I am honored to lead A Better Chance in writing the next chapter in its venerable legacy.”