Tag Archive for alumni

Fecteau ’91, Nelson ’94 Recipients of MacArthur Genius Grants

Vincent Fecteau '91 and Maggie Nelson '94 received MacArthur "genius grants" Sept. 22. 

Vincent Fecteau ’91 and Maggie Nelson ’94 received MacArthur “genius grants” on Sept. 22.

Two Wesleyan alumni are recipients of the 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, commonly known as the “genius grants.”

Vincent Fecteau ’91 and Maggie Nelson ’94 each received a no-strings-attached $625,000 grant for their exceptional creativity and potential for future contributions to their fields.

Vincent Fecteau works from his studio in California.

Vincent Fecteau works from his studio in California.

They’re among 23 fellows in the country to receive the honor.

“While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope” said MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”

Vincent Fecteau, a studio arts major, is a sculptor who creates abstract pieces—by hand from simple materials—that encourage careful and concentrated looking and reflection. His slow and meticulous approach to his craft, as well as his experimentation with modes of displaying his work, demonstrates that abstract sculpture is a vital and expressive form of art.

The results are both captivating and demanding; as viewers work to understand what they are seeing, they find themselves at the threshold between visual perception and objective knowledge of three-dimensional space. In this way, Fecteau imbues his work with philosophical content, just as the work assumes psychological dimensions through its uncanny correspondences with the human body. In our age of ever-increasing distraction, Fecteau’s sculpture offers a place for the sustained experience of thought and observation to unfold and flourish.

Maggie Nelson, an English major, is a writer reflecting on the complexities of gender, identity and culture in day-to-day living in works that transcend the divide between the intellectual and the personal. She is creating a new form of nonfiction writing and cultural criticism that examines some of the most pressing cultural issues of our time, such as transgender and queer identity, depictions of violence and femininity. Her work, like her most recent book The Argonauts, represents an empathetic and open-ended way of thinking that offers a model for how even very different people can live together.

Since 2005, she has been a member of the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where she currently serves as director of the Creative Writing Program.

Since 2005, Maggie Nelson has been a member of the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where she currently serves as director of the Creative Writing Program.

In all of her work, Nelson remains skeptical of truisms and ideologies and continually challenges herself to consider multiple perspectives. Her empathetic and open-ended way of thinking—her willingness to change her mind and even embrace qualities of two seemingly incompatible positions—offers a powerful example for how very different people can think and live together. Through the dynamic interplay between personal experience and critical theory, Nelson is broadening the scope of nonfiction writing while also offering compelling meditations on social and cultural questions.

Sculpture artist Jeffrey Schiff, professor of art, and painter Tula Telfair, professor of art, remember having Fecteau as a student. They’re impressed with his “remarkable body of work” that explores the fullness of dimensionality in sculpture.

“His small and medium sized sculptures, usually on pedestals or hanging on the wall, wrap form around space in convoluted tangles, sometimes incorporating objects or photographic images in the mix. The work reminds us of the endless potential mobility of space, while composed of simple non-precious materials,” Shiff says. “In all his work, his touch or hand is in evidence.

At Wesleyan, working with Tula Telfair, Fecteau produced a painting thesis that was, even then, fundamentally sculptural, balancing colorful objects in juxtaposition with each other and the gallery space – each contained in a plastic tailored slipcover. “These sculptures hung a few inches off the wall like paintings – creating shimmery and curiously intimate bubbles that hinted at narratives while remaining purely formal,” Telfair said.

Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, worked with Nelson on her honors thesis, which focused on confessional poetry.

“Maggie’s artistic practice is a demanding one,” Crosby says. “She reports in The Argonauts that she sometimes finds herself laboring ‘grimly’ over her sentences, wondering if any language offers the needful form (52). Her practice makes no claim for emotional transparency (as if one can simply know one’s own, or another’s, emotions). Art can hold open a space in which we – the writer and the reader – don’t know, and in that not knowing can address the world without attempting to know it fully creates possibility. Her artistic practice makes a space for interactions that undo the known landscape, the one covered by cliché. She is open to exploring the sometimes explosive intimacies of the everyday – not every conversation is a happy one –, and she does not hide, conceal, sidestep, or evade what she finds there.”

Wesleyan boasts several other alumni MacArthur Fellows including 1988 recipient Ruth Behar ’77, cultural anthropologist; 1994 recipient Sam-Ang Sam PhD ’88, musician and cultural preservationist; 2005 recipient Majora Carter ’88, urban revitalization strategist; 2009 recipient James Longley ’94, filmmaker; and 2015 recipient Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, playwright and performer.

In addition, translator/poet/publisher Peter Cole, who worked as a visiting writer and professor at Wesleyan, also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2007, as did jazz composer and performer Anthony Braxton, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, Emeritus. Braxton received the award in 1994.

Attorney Hasselman ’91 Represents Standing Rock Sioux Against Dakota Access Pipeline

Attorney Jan Hasselman ’91 is representing Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, speaks to members of the media outside U.S. District Court in Washington, DC., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, as members of the tribe asked a federal judge to temporarily stop work on parts of the Dakota Access Pipeline to prevent the destruction of sacred and culturally significant sites near Lake Oahe. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Attorney Jan Hasselman ’91 is representing Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, speaks to members of the media outside U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Sept. 6 as members of the tribe asked a federal judge to temporarily stop work on parts of the Dakota Access Pipeline to prevent the destruction of sacred and culturally significant sites near Lake Oahe. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Jan Hasselman ’91, a staff attorney with Earthjustice’s Northwest office in Seattle, serves as counsel for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their efforts to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

An article in The Atlantic “The Legal Case for Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline,” asks “Did the U.S. government help destroy a major Sioux archeological site?

The article is one of several in the media that highlight the work of the legal team and the questions they raise. At this time, the issue ongoing.

Atlantic Associate Editor Robinson Meyer writes in his Sept. 9 article:

“As part of the ongoing trial, the legal team for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe submitted documents to the court last Friday that certified one of their main claims in the case: that the pipeline will pass through and likely destroy Native burial sites and sacred places.

“These documents provided some of the first evidence that state authorities had missed major archeological discoveries in the path of the pipeline. For instance, they described a large stone feature that depicted the constellation Iyokaptan Tanka (the Big Dipper)—a sign that a major leader, likely a highly respected Chief, was buried nearby.

“‘This is one of the most significant archeological finds in North Dakota in many years,” said Tim Mentz, a Standing Rock Sioux member and a longtime Native archeologist in the Great Plains. “[Dakota Access Pipeline] consultants would have had to literally walk directly over some of these features. However, reviewing DAPL’s survey work, it appears that they did not independently survey this area but relied on a 1985 survey.”

Hasselman, who has been affiliated with Earthjustice since 1998, is working with colleagues Associate Attorney Stephanie Tsosie and Managing Attorney Patti Goldman on this project. An Earthjustice case overview offers a summary so far, updates, concerns, and a “What’s at Stake” summary: “The Army Corps’ approval of the permit allows the oil company to dig the pipeline under the Missouri River just upstream of the reservation and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s drinking water supply. An oil spill at this site would constitute an existential threat to the Tribe’s culture and way of life.”

When Democracy Now reported on Sept. 7, on a federal judge ruling that construction on sacred tribal burial sites could continue. Hasselman was quoted as saying, “We’re disappointed with what happened here today. We provided evidence on Friday of sacred sites that were directly in the pipeline’s route. By Saturday morning, those sites had been destroyed. And we saw things happening out at Standing Rock—dogs being put on protesters—that haven’t been seen in America in 40, 50 years.”

Hasselman, who majored in history at Wesleyan, is a graduate of Boston College Law School, where he was was executive editor of the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review. While at Earthjustice, he has successfully litigated a number of regional and national issues, including listings of salmon under the Endangered Species Act, stormwater pollution, coal fired power plants, and forestry. He also serves on as an adjunct on the faculty of University of Washington and Seattle University law schools.

Award-winning Documentary ‘Dream On,’ by Roger Weisberg ’75 Airs on PBS, Oct. 7

DreamONDream On, the newest documentary by Roger Weisberg ’75, will air on PBS at 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7. (check local listing). The film is the 32nd documentary written, produced and directed by Weisberg, who heads Public Policy Productions. Dream On has already appeared in 19 international film festivals, garnering four top awards. Weisberg’s earlier works have won more than 150 awards, including Emmy and Peabody awards, as well as two Academy Award nominations.

Dream On asks the question: “Is the American Dream still alive and well?” Are we still optimistic that hard work will raise our standard of living—for our generation and for our children? Weisberg explores this question with political comedian John Fugelsang serving as host and commentator throughout this unusual road trip. The journey revisits the cities of Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1831 itinerary, which served as the Frenchman’s research for Democracy in America. In it, Tocqueville described America as a land of equality, opportunity and social mobility. For those interested in viewing the film as part of a community screening event or classroom educational opportunity, PBS offers a viewer’s guide, as well as a trailer and additional resources, including video segments that Weisberg was not able to include in the 90-minute slot for PBS.

Roger Weisberg ’75, founder of Public Policy Productions, introduces his latest documentary exploring the American dream in a roadtrip following the 1931 journey of Alexis de Toqueville and featuring political comedian John Fugelsang.

Roger Weisberg ’75, founder of Public Policy Productions, introduces his latest documentary, an epic road trip exploring the endangered American dream. The film retraces the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville and features political comedian John Fugelsang.

Weisberg also spoke to The Wesleyan Connection about the process of creating his newest work and his hopes for it: 

Connection: What was the inspiration for Dream On?

Roger Weisberg: I wanted to make a contribution to PBS programming surrounding the election, but I wanted to do it in a way that was different from some of my more conventional reporting on poverty, social mobility and economic inequality. The road trip infused this project with a degree of exuberance and levity, while also permitting us to examine some urgent social issues and meet some really powerful subjects along the way.

Connection: How did John Fugelsang come to join you?

RW: We were pretty lucky to have been referred to him by colleagues who worked with Bill Moyers. It turned out that for John, the timing was perfect: He’d just lost his job as a talk show host, because the cable network that had hired him was sold to a foreign buyer. Because of John’s new feeling of economic insecurity, he was able to put himself in the shoes of many of the people he met on our Tocqueville odyssey.

Connection: What kind of time frame were you working in?

RW: In the early part of 2013, I did the whole road trip on my own, without a crew, to meet prospective participants and scout locations. In the fall of 2013, we filmed this journey in two stints of about 25 days each.

Ekperigin ’05, Writer and Actress, to Perform Stand-Up on Late Night with Seth Meyers

Naomi Ekperigin

Naomi Ekperigin ’05 will make her first appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Sept. 29. (Photo by Ben Esner Photography)

Naomi Ekperigin ’05, a writer, comedian, and actress based in New York City, will make her first appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Sept. 29. Ekperigin, known for tackling race, politics, and religion in her routine, will perform her stand-up act ahead of her Comedy Central special, The Half Hour, which airs in October.

Ekperigin, who studied English and film studies, started performing when she arrived at Wesleyan.

“I always enjoyed acting and performing as a kid, but I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to do it. Once I got to Wesleyan, I did a lot of theater, which was my primary extracurricular,” she said.

She joined Gag Reflex, Wesleyan’s oldest comedy troupe. This was her first real experience performing comedy and was her first step towards becoming a stand-up.

Ekperigin believes one of the most pivotal moments in her life was attending and performing in the New Student Orientation activity, In the Company of Others, which featured upperclassmen sharing their stories. Ekperigin explained, “When I attended the show freshman year, I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 and Julius Onah ‘04 and distinctly remember thinking, ‘I like this place. I’m going to be okay here.’”

She went on to perform in the show during orientation for the rest of her years at Wesleyan. She loved working with the director, Karen Bovard ‘77, and sharing her experience with the Wesleyan community. “When I stood in Crowell Concert Hall, facing more than 500 students, and making them laugh, I felt a rush and a calmness I’d never felt before,” she said. “I knew performing in that way was what I was meant to do, and it is a huge part of how I got to where I am now.”

“Wesleyan was where I found my voice and lost the sense of fear of expressing myself,” she said. “By the time I graduated I had a pretty clear sense of who I was, and how I wanted to express myself.”

At Wesleyan, Ekperigin earned High Honors and the Akiva Goldsman Prize for Screenwriting for her film thesis, a feature-length screenplay. “These accomplishments were signs that I was headed in the right direction, and that I had an actual talent for writing, not just an interest,” she said. Her writing experience during college also set her up for a career as a television writer, most notably on the Comedy Central series Broad City, which stemmed from her experience as a stand-up comedian.

As for what’s next, Ekperigin is serving as a co-executive producer and writer on a pilot starring Jessica Williams from The Daily Show. She explained, “This half-hour comedy will look at issues around race, gender, and feminism through the eyes of a millennial who wants to ‘be the change’ but doesn’t quite know how to put that into practice now that she’s in the real world.”

Lerer ’76 Interviewed By Slate Magazine on the Evolution of Children’s Literature

Seth Lerer ’76, literary critic and Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego, spoke to Slate.com on the complex history of children’s literature.

“The earliest kids books…were largely designed to teach moral behavior,” he said. “They were about social decorum and a particular way of being a child, especially in relation to parents and teachers. Some children’s books—many of the early medieval romances, for instance—had an adventure quality to them, but always a moral and spiritual quality too.”

He also observed the increasing focus on young women in today’s literature. “When you look at the trajectory of modern books, Harriet the Spy, Judy Blume—books from the ’60s and ’70s—and then at Hermione in Harry Potter, who’s very much a modern YA heroine, and at The Hunger Games, you see children’s literature really moving toward an audience of younger women in particular, who face particular challenges and really develop their heroic lives.”

Lerer, the author of Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter, was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism in 2009 and the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in 2010.

Read the full interview here.

Kolcio, Stanton Create, Perform “Steppe Lands” as Freedom Dance Ukraine

Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio, left, and Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton, right, perform with Freedom Dance Ukraine this summer. The project was based on Kolcio's recent work in Ukraine. (Photo by Lucy Guiliano)

Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio, bottom left, and Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton, bottom right, perform with Freedom Dance Ukraine this summer. The project was based on Kolcio’s recent work in Ukraine. Other members of the ensemble: (above, left to right): Elvira Demerdzhy Julian Kytasty, Alina Kuzma.  (Photo by Lucy Guiliano)

A Connecticut dance event offered Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio an additional way to explore her ongoing dance/movement project highlighting the effect of political forces at work in Ukraine.

Last summer, Kolcio invited colleague and Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton to join with two other dancers, both with ties to Ukraine, to create a dance. This event, Dance for Peace, was sponsored by Artists for World Peace, an organization founded and led by Wendy Black-Nasta P’07, with music director Robert Nasta MA ’98, P’07.

Kolcio, who holds a doctorate in somatics, places the dance they created, “Steppe Land,” in the context of her project in Ukraine, where she has familial roots.

Solo Show by Weiner ’03 at Los Angeles Gallery

From http://bencharlesweiner.com

Textures of You from bencharlesweiner.com

Recent works by Ben Charles Weiner ’03, a New York-based artist, are on display at Mark Moore Gallery in Los Angeles. Artdaily.org praised the works in this exhibition, Textures of You,  as “lush yet uneasy,” noting that Weiner was inspired by synthetic body enhancement products and used a hyperrealistic technique to create the paintings. Read the full article here.

In a recent conversation with The Wesleyan Connection, Weiner explained the workflow and artistic style he used for these paintings. “Formally, my approach to painting these subjects takes inspiration from the stock textures used in graphic design and CG rendered imagery. I photograph these substances at close range, then use the same image as the source for multiple paintings, reformatting this image using analog means by painting it onto canvases of different sizes and dimensions. Thus, in both my subjects and process, I’m exploring the synthetic augmentation of the body and its expression.”

Weiner, who received his BA in studio arts from Wesleyan, later studied under Mexican muralist José Lazcarro at Universidad de las Americas (Mexico). He has also worked closely with artists Jeff Koons, Kim Sooja and Amy Yoes as an assistant. He notes that he still draws upon his experience at Wesleyan, explaining, “The work in my show is similar to the work from my thesis at Wesleyan in that both shows consist of hyperrealistic paintings of mass-produced ephemera from daily life. This new work takes inspiration from minimalism and pushes further toward abstraction than my earlier work.”

He has exhibited his work widely across the United States and in Mexico.

Army Veteran Ball ’08: “Afghan Translator Deserves Special Immigrant Visa”

Matthew Ball ’08 passed up a lucrative job in the financial sector to serve in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger after graduation. He and his cohorts relied on Afghani translators who frequently risked their lives for the American Troops.

After graduation, Matthew Ball ’08, at left, served in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. He and fellow soldiers relied on Afghan translators who frequently risked their lives for the American troops. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Ball)

In 2010-11, when Matthew Ball ’08 was stationed in the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar province, serving in the 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, he and the other soldiers relied on Qismat Amin, then only 19 years old, for both information and communication with the local Afghan residents.

Now a Stanford law student, Ball is on a personal mission: To fulfill what he views as his duty to the young interpreter who worked with him during his deployment.

“There’s a really strong bond that a lot of soldiers have with interpreters—they’re crucial members of the team. … There were times when my life was in Qismat’s hands and Qismat’s life was in my hands,” Ball told the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Hamed Aleaziz for an Aug. 20 story.

Arnson ’76 Offers Insight into Colombia’s FARC Peace Deal for ‘PBS NewsHour’

Cynthia Arnson ’76, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, speaks on PBS NewsHour about the historic peace agreement with Colombia's FARC rebels.

Cynthia Arnson ’76, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, speaks on PBS NewsHour on Aug. 25 about the historic peace agreement with Colombia’s FARC rebels.

On Aug. 24, Colombia’s president signed a peace deal with FARC rebels, ending the world’s longest running conflict. For insight on the accord, PBS NewsHour anchor and correspondent Hari Sreenivasan turned to Cynthia Arnson ’76, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Noting that the text of the accord is complex, covering more than 250 pages and  five basic agreements—agrarian reform, upcoming FARC political engagement, illicit economies (including drug trafficking), transitional justice, and terms of disarmament—Arnson added, “And as with any peace accord, the real test comes when it’s time to implement, and the government and all of Colombian society have to live up to the agreement, including the FARC.”

In the segment, Sreenivasan asked Arnson to explore if the level of distrust between the factions is likely to complicate FARC disarmament and whether the human rights violations on both sides will scuttle the agreement. “How do you bring some of those perpetrators to justice while you build this peace?” he asked Arson.

“Well, it is hugely controversial. And the country is very polarized,” she admitted. “And there will be a plebiscite, a chance for the Colombian public to vote either yes or no for the peace accord to be binding and valid. Thirteen percent—50 percent of 13 percent of the registered voters have to come out and approve the peace accord that’s been negotiated.

“And the most strident critic is the former president, Alvaro Uribe, and the current president, Santos, was his defense minister, and so there is a tremendous amount of bad blood. And there are provisions on transitional justice and on the political participation of the FARC guerrillas that are really, really controversial.

“And there is an expression in Spanish about swallowing frogs. And I think there are many such frogs in this agreement.” (For more, see also PBS NewsHour on Facebook for a video questions and answer session with Arnson and Sreenivasan on the topic).

Walker ’79 Interviewed By Fortune on Women In Podcasting

Laura Walker (photo by Scott Ellison Smith)

Laura Walker. (Photo by Scott Ellison Smith)

Laura Walker ’79, New York Public Radio CEO, was recently interviewed by Fortune on the topic of women in the podcasting industry. She discussed how she got her start in radio, what business school was like for women in the 1980s, and why more women are needed in podcasting.

Walker discussed the motivation to help start Werk It, WNYC’s annual festival for women in podcasting, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to get more women involved in podcasting.

“I think that many women are natural storytellers and aren’t fearful of mixing the personal and the factual. I think also women often can ask tough personal questions…and they aren’t afraid to explore at deeper emotional levels. But most importantly I think it’s just that we need everyone’s voice.”

Read the full interview here.

Swanson Called Wesleyan Coach of Running Elite

Boston Marathon winner and former Runners World editor Amby Burfoot, his former Wesleyan coach Elmer Swanson and Jeff Galloway, Olympian, author and coach and founder of the Galloway Run Walk Run method of running. (Lori Riley / Hartford Courant)

Boston Marathon winner and former Runners World editor Amby Burfoot ’68, his former Wesleyan coach Elmer Swanson and Jeff Galloway ’67, Olympian, author and coach and founder of the Galloway Run Walk Run method of running. (Lori Riley / Hartford Courant)

The list of athletes who ran on Elmer Swanson’s teams over the 30 years he served as Wesleyan’s track and cross-country coach “reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ in elite running,” observed Hartford Courant Sports Columnist Lori Riley. She remembered Swanson, who died Aug. 12, at the age of 92, in an piece rich with comments from some of his well known—and fleet-footed —alumni.

Riley’s roundup notes: “He coached [Amby] Burfoot [’68], who won the Boston Marathon in 1968, his senior year, and went on to become the editor of Runners World magazine. He coached Bill Rodgers [’70], who won four Boston marathons and four New York City marathons and become one of the most recognizable runners in the world. He coached Jeff Galloway [’67], who ran the 10,000 meters in the 1972 Olympics and pioneered the Galloway Run-Walk-Run method, enabling many to start running and continue in the sport injury-free. He coached John Fixx [’83], son of Jim Fixx, who wrote the iconic “Complete Book of Running” during the height of the running boom in 1977. He coached Sebastian Junger [’84], who went on to become a filmmaker and author and wrote the best-seller The Perfect Storm (and also ran a 2:21 marathon).”

And, the praise from these runners for their college coach included these comments:  Junger, in a Facebook post, recalled Swanson as “such a source of calmness and love.’ Burfoot called Swanson “a rock… a second father.”  Galloway noted that “Elmer helped focus on that importance of running without making it overbearing,” and Fixx concurred: “Elmer’s runners seem to run longer after college, and continue to do better … It’s as though he paced his coaching so, in fact, our best years weren’t in college.”

Sumarsam, PhD Students, Alumni Present at Symposium

University Professor of Music Sumarsam demonstrated puppet movements at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA), in Penang, Malaysia.

University Professor of Music Sumarsam demonstrated puppet movements at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA), in Penang, Malaysia.

University Professor of Music Sumarsam and several PhD students and alumni recently presented papers at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA). The symposium was hosted by Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia, from July 31 to Aug. 6.

Sumarsam presented a paper titled, “Religiosity in Javanese Wayang Puppet Play,” and demonstrated puppet movements.