Dar Williams ’89 read, sang and signed copies of her new book, What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open-Mike Night at a Time (Basic Book, 2017), for an appreciative audience made up of members of both the Wesleyan and Middletown communities during an appearance at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Oct. 10. The book is a journey through America’s small towns, where the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter has toured over the past 20 years,
Tag Archive for alumni publications
by Cynthia Rockwell •
“My sister’s cancer might have been diagnosed sooner — if doctors could have seen beyond her weight,” wrote Laura Fraser ’82, in an article that detailed how medical personnel ignored her sister Jan’s serious symptoms as the whinings of “a fat, complaining older woman.”
The article, published on Statnews, a site focused on medicine, health, and science journalism and produced by the Boston Globe Media, received more social media shares, Fraser said, than anything else she has written.
Fraser’s first book Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It (Random House, 1997) had given her a background knowledge of the biases that work against those with obesity and what she saw in her sister’s quest for help. “Sometimes I think fatness is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice in the United States,” she reflects.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Writing in a New York Times opinion piece, Joseph J. Fins ’82, M.D., The E. William Davis, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, describes the startling case of a young woman thought to be in a vegetative state but later able to communicate through the movement of one eye.
In “Brain Injury and the Civil Right We Don’t Think About,” Fins says that many seemingly vegetative individuals are misdiagnosed and suffer a loss of personhood and civil rights when they do have some conscious awareness and are, in fact, in the minimally conscious state.
Because minimally conscious patients can feel pain while vegetative patients can not, a misdiagnosis of a patient’s brain state can lead to a lack of pain medication administered during a medical procedure, a horrifying possibility. So too, says Fins, is “segregating” these patients in “custodial care” facilities without offering them rehabilitative opportunities to foster their recoveries. He writes:
I use the verb “segregated” deliberately, to invoke a time when separate but equal was the law. In the wake of legal advances like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled, which call for the integration of people with disabilities into civil society, how is the pervasive segregation of this population justified?
Part of the problem is that when these laws were written, the notion of reintegration was focused on physical mobility … When we restore voice to these patients we bring them back into the room and the conversation.
I often speak to university students brought up in the era of L.G.B.T.Q. rights who can’t understand how my generation did not appreciate that people could love those they chose to love. … I caution against smugness, suggesting that their own children may well ask them how they allowed society to ignore conscious individuals and deprive them of their rights.
Fins, a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury, is the author of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the Solomon Center Distinguished Scholar in Medicine, Bioethics and the Law at Yale Law School. He spoke on these topics at Wesleyan in 2015 as the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer. A trustee emeritus of Wesleyan, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the university in 2012.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Ben Oppenheim ’02, a consulting scientist with Metabiota, a start-up focusing on epidemiological modeling and epidemic risk preparedness, was recently invited to participate in a workshop at the National Academy of Medicine. As a result, Oppenheim and his colleagues wrote an article published in Lancet Global Health titled “Financing of International Collective Action for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness,” based on these meetings. Also writing for the Brookings Institution, Oppenheim further explored the challenges of responding to global outbreaks, offering a four-point plan to protect the global poor during pandemics, with co-author Gavin Yamey.
“Post-Ebola and Zika, there’s been increasing worry—and debate—about how to prepare for epidemics and pandemics that threaten global health,” notes Oppenheim, who is also a senior fellow and visiting scholar at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. “Cracking the problem means thinking through the ways that policy, economics, health, and other factors all intertwine. In the workshop, we were thinking about how to build incentives to improve disease surveillance and outbreak detection, as well as how to improve the legal and economic architecture to speed up the development of vaccines and therapeutics. All of this demands attention to everything from epidemiology, to financing, and to politics.”
Oppenheim also discussed the economic impacts of pandemics,
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
This month, two Wesleyan alumnae writers, Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 and Simone White ’93 received the prestigious Whiting Award. Given annually to only 10 emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry, the award provides recipients with a $50,000 grant and is the largest of its kind. Previous winners have gone on to receive the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships. Some Whiting Award winners include Jeffery Eugenides, Colson Whitehead, Tracy Smith and David Foster Wallace.
Greenidge’s 2016 novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman is her most recent work and was published by Algonquin Books. The unconventional story chronicles a family of color fluent in sign language that travel to western Massachusetts to participate in a research experiment. There, they live with a chimpanzee named Charlie and attempt to teach it sign language.
The Whiting Award committee wrote that Greenridge “is at work on a broader underlying story: our inability to find a common language for a discussion of race in America. The sense you get is that she’s nowhere near her full powers yet, and the prospect is thrilling.”
White, program director at The Poetry Project and visiting assistant professor of literary studies at The New School, Eugene Lang College, has published several collections of poetry. Her most recent collection, Of Being Dispersed, was printed in 2016 by Futurepoem Books.
The Whiting Award selection committee praises White for “[deconstructing] our ideas of Americanness and the failure of language to be the transparent scrim we sometimes mistake it to be.” Dear Angel of Death, a book of criticism and poems also by White, is forthcoming with Ugly Duckling Press.
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
When the news broke of Philando Castile’s tragic death at the hands of a St. Paul police officer last summer, Eduardo Medina ’00, MD, MPH, like many Americans, felt called to action. As a native of New York City and a Minneapolis resident for the past 10 years, he was familiar with a number of high profile cases of police misconduct and says that he felt compelled to address the structural racism that was the underlying cause of this tragedy.
Working with colleagues Dr. Rachel Hardeman and Dr. Katy Kozhimannil, both professors in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, they set out to address the link between premature deaths, both in the criminal justice system and in the healthcare system in America.
Their efforts culminated in “Structural Racism and Supporting Black Lives — The Role of Health Professionals” published last December in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. In it, the authors assert that structural racism not only plagues American policing practices, but has also corrupted the ways in which American doctors care for their patients.
Different from interpersonal racism, structural racism is, they write, “a confluence of institutions, culture, history, ideology, and codified practices that generate and perpetuate inequity among racial and ethnic groups,” so while few physicians express overt racism, they still work within a racist system. Medina cites evidence that, African American’s receive fewer referrals for cardiac catheterization and children of color often receive less adequate pain management in emergency rooms. This is, the authors believe, something that the field needs to more thoroughly acknowledge. Yet as they astutely note in their article, the term “racism” scarcely appears in medical literature.
Their research featured a shocking statistic about race and medicine in America. Citing a study published earlier in 2016, that found “50% of white medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biologic differences between black and white people,” such as: the blood of black people coagulates more quickly; the skin of black people is thicker than that of white people.
“Sadly, these misconceptions do not entirely surprise me,”Medina says, “considering America’s history of perpetuating the myth of differences based on racial classification, segregated care and medical experimentation on communities of color.”
To tackle these inequities, medical professionals “will have to recognize racism, not just race,” they write. Instead of simply attributing health disparities solely to biological differences, professionals ought to also examine other, broader, more structural factors that influence the health of their patients. A solution, the authors propose, is to integrate anti-racism programs along with traditional healthcare when dealing with illnesses such as diabetes, whose complications disproportionately effect black Americans.
Medina’s integration of social justice and medicine, he notes, actually echoes a history of political activism among Latin American physicians, like Che Guevara and Salvador Allende, something he studied as a Latin American Studies major, even while on the pre-med track at Wesleyan.
“Wesleyan offered a lot of opportunities that I was able to build on as I went forward with my career,” he says. Outside class, he found a “rich intellectual, cultural and spiritual community” particularly among students of color. Medina even had the opportunity to fulfill his work-study at a local health care clinic.
Today, Medina still keeps up with several Wesleyan friends, including Lauren Gilchrist ’99, Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor of Minnesota. Meanwhile, he and his spouse, Dr. Hardeman, intend to keep fighting for justice and equity for marginalized patients. “As medical professionals of color if we’re not doing this work,” he asks, “then who else is?”
by Laurie Kenney •
In The Done Thing (Tyrus Books, 2016), author Tracy Manaster ’01 introduces us to Lida Stearl, a newly retired widow growing more obsessed each day with her ex-brother-in-law Clarence, on death row for the murder of her sister almost 20 years earlier. We watch as Lida strikes up a correspondence with Clarence while posing as a naïve twenty-something in need of a friend. We witness the rawness of Lida’s pain when she realizes that her niece Pamela, whom she raised as her own, has been in contact with the man she has despised for all these years. And we stand by helplessly as we observe Lida’s obsession, once kept in check by her marriage and her career, spiral out of control—setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the one thing that matters most: her relationship with Pamela. Library Journal, in a starred review, says, “Manaster has written a deeply human and morally saturated novel, with captivating language. Don’t miss this sympathetic examination of how a tragic incident can irrevocably change a life’s course.” While Publishers Weekly says, “In this engrossing story about the effects that vengeance can have on love, Manaster refuses to take the happy, easy way out, instead leaving her strikingly relatable characters with just enough room to breathe.”
In this Q&A, Manaster talks about the characters she brings to life in The Done Thing.
Q: Where did the idea for The Done Thing come from?
A: The Done Thing had its inception in the worst short story written in the 80-year history of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In an attempt to settle a pretentious bar argument about whether or not a piece could have both a twist ending and emotional heft, I had a proto-Lida—I think her name was Joan—puttering about her house in a state of focused fury, knowing that miles away in Arizona a proto-Clarence was being executed for the death of her sister. The twist was that because Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, she misses the actual moment of his passing.
It was a terrible story. I lost the argument. The twist robbed the narrative of emotional resonance. But the premise was a good one, meaty enough to carry a book, and I began to hone in on Lida: her voice, the world she navigates, the impossible resolution she craves. It took nearly a decade—and everything I learned from writing, editing, and publishing my debut, You Could Be Home by Now—for me to become an adept enough writer to be equal to that voice.
Q: Was it always your intention to create a character like Lida, with whom we empathize, even when she’s at her worst? Was it a creative struggle to keep that balance in mind—the fine line between righteous anger and going too far—as you moved through the story?
A: After the initial “hey, wow, this could be an actual book” inspiration, Lida’s essential character gave me very little trouble.
by Laurie Kenney •
Wesleyan is known for its top-notch writing programs and for the accomplishments of its community of award-winning alumni, faculty, students and staff book authors, editors and translators.
Members of the Wesleyan community—alumni, faculty, students and staff—are invited to submit their latest books, as well as information about forthcoming and recently signed titles, and other literary news, to Laurie Kenney, books editor for Wesleyan magazine. Books and information received will be considered for possible coverage in Wesleyan magazine, on the News @ Wes blog and through Wesleyan’s social media channels, as well as through possible in-store display and event opportunities at Wesleyan’s new bookstore—Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore—which will open on Main Street in Middletown later this spring.
While the editors can’t guarantee coverage for any book, due to the sheer number published each year, they hope that gathering and sharing information about these projects through various university channels will help to better serve and promote Wesleyan authors and their work.
Advance reading copies and finished review copies can be sent to: Laurie Kenney, Books Editor, Wesleyan University, Office of University Communications, 229 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.
by Laurie Kenney •
In The Right’s Road to Serfdom: The Danger of Conservatism Unbound: From Hayek to Trump (Bulkington Press, 2016), Christopher F. Arndt ‘92 argues that conservatism is not what it pretends to be and that the American Right created Donald Trump. “There’s a destructive logic that has led the so-called ‘Party of Liberty’ to nominate an authoritarian like Donald Trump as its leader,” says Arndt, a former Wall Street executive and portfolio manager, in the press materials for the book. “I wrote the book to explain how this happened—to offer a readable, yet substantive account of recent political developments and do so in the context of the principles of political freedom that are common to us all.”
Below, News @ Wes talks with Arndt about the book, the subsequent election of Donald Trump, and the future.
What prompted you to write The Right’s Road to Serfdom?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding recent political developments, and in particular political developments on the American Right. I wrote the book to clarify recent events, to offer a warning, and also to serve as a timely reminder of the American ideal of Liberty. That’s a pretty general answer so let me provide an example:
In early September of 2016, the Dallas Morning News—a famously conservative newspaper—wrote an editorial urging its readership to reject Trump’s bid for the presidency. In doing so, the editorial writers of the paper noted that “Trump is—or has been—at odds with nearly every GOP
by Laurie Kenney •
Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital, by John P. Richardson ’60 (Ohio University Press, 2016), tells the story of urban development pioneer and public works leader Alexander Robey Shepherd, who was instrumental in building the infrastructure of the nation’s capital when it was knee-deep in mud and disrepair after the Civil War. In fact it was Shepherd’s leadership, says Richardson, that made it possible for the city to finally realize the vision of French architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant, some 80-plus years after George Washington appointed L’Enfant to plan what was then known as the new “Federal City.”
“Shepherd did not build the buildings, but he built the infrastructure that made it possible to develop the city we see,” says Richardson, a retired intelligence officer and Middle East specialist who spent more than 30 years researching Shepherd before writing his book. “Much of Shepherd’s work is below the ground but critical to a modern city.”
Alexander Robey Shepherd was born in Washington in 1835. After his father’s early death, Shepherd left school at the age of 13 and worked his way up from apprentice to owner of a plumbing company. After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, he started a second career—in politics.
by Laurie Kenney •
In The Ones, Daniel Sweren-Becker ’06 creates a vision of a not-so-distant future world in which a random group of babies is chosen each year to be the smartest, best looking, most athletic members of society. “The Ones,” as they are called, short for the chosen ones, enjoy the privilege of membership in this exclusive group during the genetic engineering program’s 20-year history until a society-wide backlash marginalizes their status and threatens to even outlaw their existence. Sweren-Becker’s fast-paced YA novel follows two of The Ones (or are they?): 17-year-old Cody and her boyfriend, James, who are forced to decide whether to stand up for their rights…and how far they’re willing to go to do so.
The Ones (Imprint, 2016) is Sweren-Becker’s literary debut. A television writer and playwright in Los Angeles, he originally conceived the book as a television series. “When I decided to switch gears into a series of books [the second is due in September], it felt natural to pick YA [Young Adult] because the main characters were teenagers,” he says. “I think this genre is read so widely because we’ve reached a point where these books are fun and accessible but also deal with really sophisticated issues that attract a more mature audience.”
by Laurie Kenney •
Robert Wilder ’88 draws on his 25 years of teaching experience to paint a complex, funny, poignant picture of life in middle school in Nickel (Leaf Storm Press, 2016). The novel tells the story of two middle school misfits who bond over a mutual love for 1980s pop culture: Coy, whose mother is in rehab and whose stepfather is trying, but not always succeeding, to hold things together in her absence; and Monroe, his just-as-quirky female best friend whose braces have given her a rash that becomes a life-threatening illness. Booklist, in a starred review, says, “Wilder powers his classic coming-of-age narrative with a ferocious storytelling voice . . . A humorous, poignant, and formidable debut.”
The idea of Nickel stemmed from Wilder’s love of the quiet, quirky kids he’s taught over the years, as well as his teenage son, London. “I love teenagers, and I ask them questions daily,” says Wilder. “I take notes on their obsessions, dreams, fashion choices and language, and I learn something new from them every day without fail. I have to be subtler with my own children. They think it’s weird when I ask them a question that has to do with a character I’m working on. They want me to make them enchiladas and give them money.”
Wilder used the elements of storytelling he learned from studying fiction for his first two books—collections of comedic essays based on his own personal experiences as a teacher and a father. In writing Nickel, Wilder found some similarities but also one notable difference. “With nonfiction, you already have the world created for you. If something happened in my kitchen, I can refer to it anytime I need to,” he says. “When writing fiction, you need to create an entire world from the ground up.”
For Wilder, the process of writing Nickel began with the voice of the book’s main character, Coy. “I started with Coy’s voice and let it lead me,” he says. “Many of the kids I was thinking about when I developed that voice spoke in code and sound effects, so my early drafts were an attempt to try and emulate that shorthand manner of speech. When I sent the manuscript to my friend Christopher, he said, ‘This is great but totally unreadable.’ So I had to try to keep the core elements of Coy’s voice but allow the casual reader access to him and his world.”
Wilder drew on his own high school memories and experiences, as well as his experience as a teacher, to flesh out the book’s relatable, realistic characters and setting. “For the character of Coy, I tried to recall what it was like when I was his age and how hard it was being a relatively sensitive teenager who suffers loss, especially in a large school. When I created the school that Coy and Monroe attend, I drew on all the telling details I’ve gathered in my 25 years of teaching. Schools are such a rich environment and culture; it was a lot of fun trying to capture what it’s like being in that world day after day. I also allowed myself to see the challenges and absurdities of school life the way Coy and Monroe would.”
Wilder, an English major and soccer player during his years at Wesleyan, recently finished another novel, which he hopes to publish soon. He is also working on a television pilot loosely based on his two essay collections, Daddy Needs a Drink: An Irreverent Look at Parenting from a Dad Who Truly Loves His Kids—Even When They’re Driving Him Nuts, which the Los Angeles Times called “consistently hilarious,” and Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge: What I Learned in School the Second Time Around—One Man’s Irreverent Look at Being a Teacher Today, which Publishers Weekly called “honest and funny.”
“There is no doubt that I have far more empathy for the teenage species after writing Nickel,” says Wilder. “How couldn’t I? Writing is an act of empathy, after all.”