Tag Archive for alumni

Elion ’15, Mitchell ’15 of the Overcoats Release Album

JJ Mitchell ’15 and Hana Elion ’15 have been performing since they were undergrads as the Overcoats and have released their album, Young.

JJ Mitchell ’15 and Hana Elion ’15 have been performing since they were undergrads as the Overcoats and have released their album, Young.

Only two years out of Wesleyan where they met, Hana Elion ’15 and JJ Mitchell ’15, the duo who are Overcoats, have enjoyed several markers of success this spring. While both Elion and Mitchell describe the formation of the band as something that “just sort of happened,” Elion adds that a career in music seemed like “a faraway dream that I didn’t expect to happen in reality.” But it is.

Their debut album, Young, released on April 21, 2017, is what they consider work-in-progress since their graduation, The title, they say, reflects the album’s emotional content: the confusion and wonder of the recent college graduate. The out-in-front vulnerability has a purpose: “By sharing these feelings through music,  it will make you stronger: you can create a community and connection around these hard feelings, which everyone has but doesn’t talk about.” One of the issues that Young explores is the newfound adult perspective on childhood— rediscovering the significance of “the tough love that our fathers would give us,” as well as  “what our mothers went through, as we come into the world as women and experience what it means to be an adult.”

In Young, the two connect the personal nature of their lyrics with different musical influences than they’d previous explored—from folk-like harmonies to pop and synth beats—allowing Overcoats an expanded vocabulary in which to reach their audience. “A good dance beat makes you heal faster,” is how they describe the eureka moment of embracing mainstream instruments in pop music.

In an earlier highlight this spring, National Public Radio invited them to give a Tiny Desk Concert, the intimate video concerts that are recorded live at the desk of “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen. “To actually do a Tiny Desk Concert and sing the music we had written and be totally ourselves—It’s something we will never forget,” says Mitchell.

On tour across the United States, with several venues in Canada this summer, the Overcoats say that the nomadic life of a musician has required them “to find a home in each other on the stage.” Now, with the release of Young. Overcoats offers their fans the opportunity to share in the sound of this home that Elion and Mitchell have created for each other, through the journey of their music.

Bay ’86 Honored with Prints in Cement at Theater in Hollywood

Director Michael Bay ’86 adds his prints to those of Hollywood icons outside TCL Chinese Theatre.

Director Michael Bay ’86 adds his prints to those of Hollywood icons outside TCL Chinese Theatre.

On May 23, Michael Bay ’86 added his hand- and footprints to the cement outside the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, signifying his status as a film icon. Bay’s 1995 debut film, Bad Boys, was only the first of Bay’s blockbusters, which include Armageddon and The Rock  as well as five “Transformers” movies, with an upcoming release of Transformers: The Last Knight slated for June 21.

A film major at Wesleyan whose senior project, My Brother Benjamin, won the Frank Capra prize for best film when he graduated, Bay recalled for Variety that it was at this theater, when he was seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at age 15, that he decided he wanted to become a director. He had had a part-time job at filing storyboards for Raiders at Lucasfilm, and he had come to the conclusion that it would be terrible. But when he saw the movie, the transformation from concept to screen captured his imagination.

Bay’s excitement about film and talent for it were clear to Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and founder and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, when he arrived on campus in 1982 and showed her some of his photographic work. She told Variety, “I was actually quite taken aback that it was the work of a high school kid because it was dynamic, had great compositions and angles, showed a real control and mastery, but the work had life and energy in it.” Basinger became his advisor.

At Wesleyan he also started collaborating with Brad Fuller ’87—now co-founder of Platinum Dunes with partners Bay and Andrew Form in 2001. With Platinum Dunes, Bay has been involved in producing a series smaller-budget hits, as well as television shows and an upcoming Amazon series, Jack Ryan.

Fuller recalled his college connection with Bay for Variety: “All I can tell you is I sat next to the right guy in film class,” he says. “I knew that guy was going to be successful; he just saw things in a way that other people didn’t.”

Basinger concurs. “Michael has consistently, over a long period of time, proved himself as a filmmaker who can get it done and whose films appeal so much they make huge amounts of money,” she told Variety. Bay added: “It’s a great industry, but it can be very cynical…So people need to remember it’s a really, really, really fun job. And I love, love, love doing it.”

Note: This weekend, Brad Fuller ’87 was on campus for Reunion/Commencement 2017 events and spoke at a WESeminar, “Wesleyan in Hollywood,” with Documentary Producer Sasha Alpert ’82; Creator/Executive Producer of Will & Grace, David Kohan ’86, P’17; and former Co-Chairman of Creative Artists Agency Rick Nicita ’67. Jeanine Basinger, who originated Wesleyan’s Film Studies Program, moderated the panel, which was held in the Goldsmith Family Cinema at the Center for Film Studies.

McAlear Visits Former Students Odede ’09, ’12, and Perel-Slater ’11 at Non-Profits in Africa

Professor Michael McAlear gathers with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Africa. 

In 2010 Professor Michael McAlear first gathered with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Kenya, offering a lecture on clean water. This year on his visit during spring break, he again gave a lecture to these students, now pre-teens and young teenagers, who filled his Q&A session with their concerns, interest, ideas, and a deep desire to learn.

In March, during Wesleyan’s spring break, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Michael McAlear took a trip to visit and catch up with three alumni whom he’d known when they were undergraduates, just beginning the nonprofits for which they are now known. McAlear doesn’t see them often: they live and work in Africa. All three had received Wesleyan’s Christopher Brodigan Award in their senior year, for research or work in Africa.

Kennedy Odede '12, Mike McAlear and Jessica ’09 Odede.

Pictured from left are Kennedy Odede ’12, Mike McAlear and Jessica Posner Odede ’09.

McAlear’s first stop was in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, and home of SHOFCO, Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede. Linking education for girls with community services, the organization has grown since McAlear had last visited in 2010 to help set up the school, when it held only two classes of girls ages 6 and 7, and the group was building a clinic was built to honor Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, the student slain in the spring of 2009. At that time, McAlear offered the young students a lecture on clean water and also became a sponsor for one little girl, a responsibility and relationship that is ongoing,

“I was overwhelmed by the need in Kibera— and the optimism and fearlessness of Kennedy and Jessica; you couldn’t help being swept up by that,” McAlear recalls. “They were so young and naïve that they didn’t know what they couldn’t do—so they just kept on doing things.”

DuBois ’83 Directs Museum Honoring Girls of Color

Vashti DuBois ’83

Vashti DuBois ’83

Vashti DuBois ’83 is the founder and executive director of the Colored Girls Museum, a memoir museum honoring the stories and histories of black women. Located in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, Dubois created the space in September 2015 to rectify the continual neglect of black women’s experiences and labor. Featuring artifacts pertaining to the herstory of Colored Girls, the museum respects these objects as containing both personal and historical significance. It acts as an exhibition space as well as a place to research, gather and heal.

As reported in the Chestnut Hill Local, Dubois first visualized the Colored Girls Museum during her time as an undergraduate student at Wesleyan. For her first exhibition she crowd sourced the objects on display from friends:

Tyrnauer ’91 Creates Film About Urban Activist Jane Jacobs

Matt Tyrnauer ’91

Matt Tyrnauer ’91

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer ’91 is the producer and director of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a new documentary about author and activist Jane Jacobs. Most famous for her influence on urban studies and urban planning, Jacobs’s legacy will be playing out on screens in nearly 20 cities across the country.

The documentary film chronicles her rise as a critical voice and visionary during the urbanization movement of the 1960s. Fighting to preserve urban communities against the threat of destructive redevelopment projects, Jacobs did much to influence modern understandings of urban environments and the American city.

Baileys Support Groundbreaking Approach to Environmental Studies

On April 7, Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 visited the College of Letters.

Essel Bailey ’66 and his wife, Menakka, visited the College of the Environment on April 7.

Essel Bailey ’66 believes that science is the foundation for addressing questions of environmental policy, which aptly describes the purpose of Wesleyan’s College of the Environment. Now, he and his wife, Menakka, have increased their support of the COE with a new $4 million commitment to its programs, faculty and students – bringing their total gift to the COE to $7.5 million.

In part, their endowment gift will fund a multi-pronged effort to extend the work and themes of the Menakka and Essel Bailey Think Tank throughout the campus, explained Barry Chernoff, chair of the COE and the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies. Chernoff is planning for seminars, workshops and faculty-student research grants as means for engaging the wider community in Think Tank themes, such as next year’s topic – Disruptions to Disasters: Confronting the Human-Environmental Relationship. The fund also supports a Distinguished Visiting Scholar, a position currently held by Professor Henry Adams of Case Western University.

“Wesleyan is committed to graduating informed citizens who will become involved in a broad range of environmental practices and policy-making,” said President Michael Roth ’78. “We are so grateful to Essel and Menakka for their sustained support of the College of the Environment and its curricular initiatives. They have helped the College achieve its mission with distinction.”

Appadurai ’00 Speaks on Food Justice and Sustainability at 2017 Americas Forum

Alok Appadurai ’00, co-founder of Fed by Threads, spoke on "Food Justice and Sustainability" at the 2017 Americas Forum, April 28. (Photo by rebecca Goldfarb Terry '19)

Alok Appadurai ’00, founder of GoodElephant.org, spoke on “Food Justice and Sustainability” at the 2017 Americas Forum, April 28. (Photo by Reebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

Alok Appadurai ’00, co-founder of Fed by Threads, the first sustainable, sweatshop-free, multi-brand, American-made organic vegan clothing store in the United States that has used a portion of its profits to feed over half a million meals to Americans in need, offered the keynote speech on  “Food Justice and Sustainability” at the 2017 Americas Forum, held at the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall on April 28. He has recently founded GoodElephant.org, designed to create a global “herd” that will work on changing the world by nurturing compassion and empathy to promote social and environmental reform—and his book, Good Elephant, will be published later this year. Appadurai’s post-Wesleyan career highlights the interests he explored at Wesleyan, where he built his own concentration in American Studies that incorporated colonialism, workers’ rights, utopian communities, the environment, and gender/class issues.

Appadurai’s talk “The Compassion Famine: Exploring The Unspoken Solutions To Hunger In America,” offered solutions to end what he calls “the compassion famine” and bring about food justice. The process begins, he says, with each person imagining a world without hunger. “While a world without hunger seems remote, we first need to each hold the idea as a possibility, before we could make this come true,” he says. He also asked his audience to “change what we imagine the face of hunger to look like.” Not just a problem for the developing nations, food insecurity is a problem that forty million people in the United States face. Yet—”We also throw out nearly 40 percent of our food—which goes to landfills and causes greenhouse gasses,” he adds.

Shankar ’94 Named 2017 Guggenheim Fellow

Shalini Shankar ’94

Shalini Shankar ’94

Anthropologist Shalini Shankar ’94 has been named one of 173 recipients of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for 2017. Winners of the annual competition were chosen from a pool of 3,000 applicants that includes scholars, artists and scientists who are advanced professionals in their respective fields. She was chosen on the basis of prior achievement as a productive scholar who has published several works on teen and youth culture, as well as her exceptional promise to continue research in the social sciences.

Shankar, who studied anthropology in Wesleyan and received her PhD in the field from New York University, is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist. An associate professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University, she has conducted ethnographic research with South Asian American youth and communities, and is one of three Guggenheim Fellows of Indian origin this year.

Poet Kevin Prufer ‘92 Publishes Forgotten Poets, Essays on Literary Translation

Kevin Prufer( Photo by Mary Yost Hallab)

Poet Kevin Prufer ’92 has several current projects, including work on a series of “forgotten” poets. (Photo by Mary Yost Hallab)

Kevin Prufer ‘92 is co-editor a forthcoming collection of essays on literary translation Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries (Graywolf 2017). For this collection, Prufer invited 25 translators and poets to select a poem and three corresponding English translations. To follow the selections, each of the 25 contributors composed a brief essay on what these various versions say about the art of literary translation.

Additionally, Prufer co-curates the Unsung Masters Series, published through Pleiades Press, which attempts to bring out-of-print and relatively unknown poets to new readers. To complement the writer’s poems, each edition features critical essays, interviews, and letters.

Prufer sees this initiative as opportunity to add new voices to the world of poetry. “Poets are so frequently unknown,” says Prufer, “and the ones we do know tend to tell a very particular narrative.” The reason they lose favor, he says, “is almost always part of an intriguing story.”

One such poet, Dunstan Thompson, first inspired Prufer to launch the series. Thompson, a gay poet whose books had been out of print since 1948, frequently wrote homoerotic work that depicted the battlefields and combat hospitals of World War II. Once a highly regarded young American poet, Thompson struggled with his sexuality and renewed his religious devotion, eventually settling into obscurity in England.

Today the series often relies on dedicated readers to suggest additional subjects to explore. Many send e-mails, but sometimes, Prufer says, “people even come up to me at parties to suggest writers.”

Prufer is also at work on his own poetry—a collection of poems titled The Art of Fiction, focusing on how an author controls the passage of time within literature. He derived this particular interest in narrative structure, he says, in part from his experience writing fiction, which he pursued at Wesleyan as a College of Letters major.

Yet another book of his poetry, How He Loved Them, is forthcoming with Four Way Books in 2018 and features a political emphasis. When asked how his poems might relate to the current political climate, Prufer responded, “You know, poetry is really bad at telling you who to vote for; I think we have a enough of that…I think what poems do is meditate on the complexity of, in the case of political poetry, political situations, and to my mind, that seems like a more interesting act of politics.”

Prufer is the author of  six books of poetry, most recently Churches, which made the New York Times list of Ten Favorite Poetry Books of 2014. Also the editor of several anthologies, he is editor-at-large of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. With graduate degrees from Hollins University and Washington University, he is a professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston and the low-residency MFA at Lesley University. His awards include four Pushcart prizes, and he has received numerous awards from the Poetry Society of America, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lannan Foundation.

12 Wesleyan Alumni Receive Webby Nomination for ‘Wolf 359’ Radio Drama

Behind the scenes in a production of Wolf 359: Noah Masur ’15, Zach Libresco ’13, Michelle Agresti ’14, Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11, and Zach Valenti ’12.

Behind the scenes in a production of Wolf 359: Noah Masur ’15, Zach Libresco ’13, Michelle Agresti ’14, Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11 and Zach Valenti ’12.

Gabriel Urbina ‘13 had been out of college for eight months when, “one day, for whatever reason, this idea for a show popped into my head.” The show manifested itself as a radio drama called Wolf 359 which, four years later and in the midst of its final season, has found itself maintaining a vibrant cult following among its ever growing fan base and a finalist in the Digital Audio Drama category of the 2017 Webby AwardsOf further note: Wolf 359 is a hugely Wesleyan collaborative effort — of the 12 cast and production members, all are Wesleyan alumni!

Staff writer and producer Sarah Shachat ’12 describes Wolf 359 as “a sort of wonderful way to work with awesome people you didn’t know how to approach in college.”

Wolf 359 is based around the life of the communications officer of the U.S.S. Hephaestus Research Station, Doug Eiffel (voiced by Zach Valenti ’12), who is orbiting around the red dwarf star Wolf 359 on a scientific survey mission of indeterminate length. Eiffel’s only companions are the stern mission chief Minkowski (Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11), the insane science officer Hilbert (also Valenti ’12), and the station sentient, an often-malfunctioning operating system called HERA, (Michaela Swee ’12).

While rooted in the sci-fi genre, Urbina says “no genre has made a conscious effort to stay out of the show,” with inspiration drawn on from “conversations I have with the cast members about politics, philosophy, religion, and ecology.” Urbina, Valenti, and Shachat all describe their time as film majors at Wesleyan as integral in their ability to, as Valenti says, “pull the magic trick that is film on the audience’s nervous system with deliberate and intentful choice.”

Urbina describes the experience of working on Wolf 359 as “a proof-of-concept for all of us, to feel that we can execute something creative that we can put out regularly.” As a project that began as a side experiment in the midst of the busy lives of the cast and crew, “the fact that Wolf has found an audience that really cares about it is unspeakably cool,” says Shachat.

As Urbina and Co. gear up to record their final season of Wolf 359 this summer, Urbina respond to the inevitable “what’s next” question with, “The short answer is, ‘We don’t know’; the slightly longer answer is, ‘We all would love to continue working together as much as we can.’”

When asked for a photo that includes Gabriel Urbina, the creator of Wolf 359 admits, "There aren't many with me and Sarah, as usually we're the picture-takers during rehearsals and recordings! This snap of the full cast and crew of our first live show is probably the best one to get us is. Sarah is left-most, and I'm fourth going from left to right. "

When asked for a photo that includes Gabriel Urbina ’13 himself, the creator of Wolf 359 admits, “There aren’t many with Sarah Shachat ’12 [staff writer and producer] and me, as usually we’re the picture-takers during rehearsals and recordings. This snap of the full cast and crew of our first live show is probably the best one to get us is. Sarah is left-most, and I’m fourth from the left “

me and

A very Wesleyan Wolf 359: The core cast from left to right: Scotty Shoemaker ’13, Zach Valenti ’12, Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11, Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs ’11, and Michaela Swee ’12

A very Wesleyan Wolf 359: The core cast from left to right: Scotty Shoemaker ’13, Zach Valenti ’12, Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11, Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs ’11, and Michaela Swee ’12

Clarkson ’94, of Sapphire Ventures, Featured in ‘Forbes’

Elizabeth “Beezer” Clarkson ’94

Elizabeth “Beezer” Clarkson ’94

Elizabeth “Beezer” Clarkson ’94managing director for Sapphire Ventures, was recently profiled in Forbes magazine. A 2014 “Forty Over 40 Women to Watch” honoree and one of 2016’s “Top 30 Women Rising Stars in Institutional Investing,” Clarkson is highly regarded in the tech and venture communities. The Forbes article, Want To Be Appreciated, Give Someone A Shot by Whitney Johnson, details both Clarkson’s background and her commitment “to magnify opportunities for other women,”—or “give them a shot,” in the vernacular of the Broadway hit, Hamilton.

Clarkson found her first post-college position—a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley—through what is now Wesleyan’s Gordon Career Center, before following the path of the booming tech industry west, relocating to San Francisco. A former Wesleyan trustee, she holds an MBA from Harvard and has a 20-year career as a strategy consultant and investor for various firms and large companies.

Junger ’84, Garcia ’99 Screen Their Work at the Tribeca Film Festival

This month, Sebastian Junger ’84 and Liz W. Garcia ’99 will each feature their films at the annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Founded in 2001 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert DeNiro and Craig Hatkoff, the Tribeca Film Festival attracts nearly half a million attendees.

Junger, a journalist, author and filmmaker, is co-director, with Nick Quested, of the film Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS, 

It follows an extended family’s attempt to flee their homeland in the face of violence and tragedy. Edited down to 99 minutes from an extensive 1,000 hours of footage, it also captures the combat of Kurdish fighters in Sinjar and Shia Militias in Iraq.

Hell on Earth is the latest product of Junger’s long-held interest in war journalism. He directed the award winning documentary Restrepo (2010), which documents US military personnel stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. This film would eventually become part of a trilogy that includes Korengal (2014) and The Last Patrol (2016).

Prior to his war journalism, Junger authored two notable works of nonfiction,The Perfect Storm, which was adapted into a film staring George Clooney, and A Death in Belmont. His writing and journalism has earned him a Magazine Award and a Peabody Award and has appeared in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Harpers and The New York Times Magazine.

Filmmaker Liz W. Garcia '99

Filmmaker Liz W. Garcia ’99

One Percent More Humid, which will also play at the festival, is director Liz W. Garcia’s second narrative film. It follows two college-age childhood friends, played by Juno Temple and Julia Garner, who return home from school for a New England summer. Although together they engage in typical summer mischief, the effects of their shared past traumas become increasingly pronounced. Yet as they attempt to process their traumas, a rift eventually arises in their old friendship.

Deborah Rudolph, assistant programmer at the festival, describes One Percent More Humid as “a sun-soaked, atmospheric coming-of-age tale of two young women looking to free themselves from distractions, to repair their friendship, and help each other reach the other side of grief.”

Previously, Garcia directed The Lifeguard, her directorial debut, which premiered in 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival. She was the co-creator of the 2010 TNT series Memphis Beat, and has written for television series like Wonderfalls, Cold Case, and Dawson’s Creek. Currently she is writing the final installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Festival literature calls her “one of the most prolific female voices working today in film and television.”