Tag Archive for alumni

Memorable Tales of a Mill Town by Winn ’75

Tracy Winn '75

Tracy Winn '75

Tracy Winn ’75 is the author of Mrs. Somebody Somebody (Southern Methodist University Press), a vibrant new collection of interwoven tales about the inhabitants of Lowell, Mass., a dying mill town.

Her affecting and unsentimental stories, set from the 1940s to the present, cover a range of fascinating characters, including mill workers, a doctor, a hairdresser, a bookie, a restless wife, and several insightful children.

In his review of the book in the Boston Globe, Steve Almond ’88 praises Winn’s book as “a testament to the power of the short form.” He adds that her stories “carefully expose the universal desires for love and security that live within all of us — and the ways in which well-meaning but damaged people thwart these desires.”

Winn chose Lowell as her setting because it reminded her of Holyoke, the town where husband grew up. In a recent interview in the Republican (Mass.), Winn said: “You can’t protect your characters from bad things. That was hard for me to learn.”

Tower ’96 Makes Remarkable Fiction Debut

Wells Tower '96

Wells Tower '96 (Photo by Suzanne Bennett)

Author Wells Tower ’96 recently garnered rave reviews across the country for his first short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Farrar Straus Giroux) which was published in March. The book received two fine reviews in the same week in The New York Times and was the cover review for The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

For the Sunday Times, acclaimed writer Edmund White wrote: “Every one of the stories .., is polished and distinctive. Though he’s intrigued by the painful experiences of men much older than he is, Tower can write with equal power about young women and boys; about hell-­raising, skull-bashing ancient Vikings and an observant housebound old man of the 21st century … His range is wide and his language impeccable.”

Book by Wells Tower '96

Book by Wells Tower '96

In her weekday review for the Times, Michiko Kakutani, one of the paper’s toughest literary critics, praised Tower’s “masterly conjuring of his people’s daily existence, his understanding of their emotional dilemmas, his controlled but dazzling language and his effortless ability to turn snapshots of misfits and malcontents into a panoramic cavalcade of American life.”

Tower majored in anthropology and sociology at Wesleyan. He received an MFA from Columbia University, and two stories he wrote there were published by The Paris Review. Tower has also written nonfiction articles for the past five years for The Washington Post and Harper’s. Besides following his dream of working as a writer, he also played in a punk band for six years.

In a recent interview in The New York Observer, Tower said: “I think what people really want is fiction that in some tiny way makes their life more meaningful and makes the world seem like a richer place. The world is awfully short on joy and richness, and I think to some extent it’s the fiction writer’s job to salvage some of that and to give it to us in ways that we can believe in.”

Link to the New York Times Sunday Book Review article:


Link to weekday New York Times review:


New York Observer interview:



Dick Rohfritch ’66 Finds Unusual Route to Book Selling

“Book-lover Dick Rohfritch didn’t set out to buy 12,000 modern first editions once owned by an eccentric lawyer-collector found murdered in his rural Missouri home. It’s just that he doesn’t like to play golf. And thereby hangs the tale of how The Woodlands got Good Books in the Woods, a new secondhand bookstore full of remarkable finds.”

The Houston Chronicle recounts this story about Rohfritch ’66, an English major who works in chemical sales but has always loved reading and enjoys collecting books.

The dead man, 70-year-old Rolland Comstock, was an avid bibliophile who acquired signed first editions by 20th-century British and American authors. In July 2007 he was found shot dead in his home, and the case remains unsolved. Many of the books in his collection were in superb condition, signed and encased in acetate wrappers.

Rohfritch discovered the collection in a warehouse owned by Second Story Books of Washington, D.C. According to the Chronicle, he soon became “the proud owner of a 40-foot trailer’s worth of modern firsts plus hard-to-find literary magazines.”

The idea of opening a bookstore emerged gradually. In The Woodlands, a planned community in the Houston metropolitan area, Rohfritch found a house that could be renovated as a bookstore and installed his son, Jay, as general manager. They expect to do sell most of their first editions over the Internet at prices ranging from $12 to $300.

Jazz Artists Bynum ’98 and Halvorson ’02 on the Rise

Taylor Ho Bynum

Recording by Taylor Ho Bynum '98

A recent March article by Nate Chinen in The New York Times focused on Firehouse 12, a New Haven state-of-the-art recording studio and home to a jazz record label of the same name. Firehouse 12 Records is co-owned by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum ’98 and Nick Lloyd, who owns the recording studio.

The Times article pointed out that the Firehouse 12 studio in a renovated 1905 firehouse in New Haven’s Ninth Square Neighborhood has also become a venue for performances by some of today’s most talented young avant-garde jazz artists. At the same time, Firehouse 12 records has already released several well-reviewed recordings by a number of up-and-coming musicians, including drummer Tyshawn Sorey, trumpeter Peter Evans, and guitarist Mary Halvorson ’02. Halvorson’s Dragon Head album went into a second printing.

Bynum, who was interviewed by the Times, studied with Wesleyan music professor and jazz legend Anthony Braxton. He mentions in the article that Firehouse 12 had an initial success with their first release of a boxed set of Braxton recordings, priced at $100.

Recording by Mary Halvorson '02

Recording by Mary Halvorson '02

Bynum and Halvorson also were singled out with two of their musician friends in April in The Wall Street Journal as “among the most exciting new jazz musicians to emerge on the New York scene.” The WSJ article called Bynum’s sextet recording Asphalt Flowers/Forking Paths (Hat Hut) “one of the best recordings of the past year. It’s a broad, sprawling disc brimming with unique harmonies and pithy solos.” The article noted that Halvorson’s Firehouse 12 album Dragon Head was named the finest debut recording in the Village Voice’s annual jazz critics’ poll.

Link to New York Times article on Firehouse 12:


Link to Wall Street Journal article:


Quindlen P’07, Premji P’99, Masselli,                   Alexander ’88, to Receive Honorary Degrees

An award-winning best-selling author, a pioneering entrepreneur and philanthropist, and two dedicated members of the Middletown community will be the honorary degree recipients at the 177th Wesleyan Commencement on May 24, 2009.

Anna Quindlen P'07.

Anna Quindlen P'07

Anna Quindlen P’07, who will also give the Commencement Address, is a novelist, a journalist, and a champion of higher education. She currently writes the “Last Word” column on the back page of Newsweek and serves as chair of the board of Barnard College, where she received a degree in English literature.

Quindlen has published five novels, all of them bestsellers. Her most recent, Rise and Shine, debuted at number one on The New York Times bestseller list. She has also published many nonfiction books, including Thinking Out Loud, How Reading Changed My Life, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life, which has sold more than 1 million copies.

Quindlen spent most of

Whedon ’87 to Keynote Shasha Seminar in May

Joss Whedon '87.

Joss Whedon '87.

Joss Whedon ’87, writer, director and executive producer of such popular TV shows as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” and the new series “Dollhouse,” will give the May 30 keynote address for the seventh annual Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns. The unique seminar scheduled for May 29 through 31 will focus on “Defining American Culture: How Movies and TV Get Made.”

Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Chair of the Film Studies Department, and curator of the Cinema Archives will be the facilitator for this seminar. Other presenters include successful Wesleyan alumni who work as film and TV producers, directors, writers and actors.

“This seminar provides an opportunity for an intellectual examination of films and TV and their influence on our culture,” says Linda Secord, Director of Alumni Relations and the Shasha Seminar organizer.

Tyrnauer ’91, Leff ’90, Burden ’89 Create Valentino Documentary

Matt Tyrnauer '91, left, talks with Valentino.

Matt Tyrnauer '91, left, talks with Valentino.

Matt Tyrnauer ’91, special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine, has produced and directed an engaging new documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, which was released nationwide in March. (The film opened in Manhattan on March 18 at the Film Forum.)

Co-produced by Adam Leff ’90 with Carter Burden ’89 as executive producer, the film celebrates the colorful career of the renowned Italian fashion designer Valentino, covering the period between his 70th birthday and his final couture show. It tells the story of his extraordinary life, examines the fashion business today, and deals with the designer’s relationship with fame.

The Last Emperor</em>.

Valentino, center, in Valentino: The Last Emperor.

At the center of the documentary is the unique relationship between Valentino and his business partner and companion of 50 years, Giancarlo Giammetti. Tyrnauer and his crew had exclusive, unprecedented access to Valentino and his entourage. In production from June 2005 to July 2007, the filmmakers shot more than 250 hours of footage.

In March, Valentino and Giammetti were guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the film was also featured on The Charlie Rose Show and The View. The documentary has been received favorably in the press. Lisa Berman of Entertainment Weekly says: “I really enjoyed Matt’s film. He did an amazing job, and the access was phenomenal. I found it fascinating how it … became a business story.”

Tyrnauer comments: “The movie, in certain ways—thanks almost entirely to its stars—plays more like a feature film than a documentary. What started as a journalistic inquiry, in the end, revealed a unique love story with the world of fashion as a backdrop.”

Tynnauer was recently interviewed by several publications, including Women’s Wear Daily and IndieWire.

Film website:

Kotlowitz ’77 Reports on Cleveland’s Ravaged Housing

In a New York Times Magazine story published March 4, Alex Kotlowitz ’77 examines the Cleveland, Ohio, housing market, which has been ravaged by foreclosures and criminal activity.

“Cleveland is reeling from the foreclosure crisis,” he writes. “There have been roughly 10,000 foreclosures in two years. For all of 2007, before it was overtaken by sky-high foreclosure rates in parts of California, Nevada and Florida, Cleveland’s rate was among the highest in the country.”

The number of empty houses in the city and Cuyahoga County is so high that no one has an accurate count, he says. At least 1 in 13 houses within the city is vacant. Wholesalers are picking up homes “as if they were trading baseball cards.”

“On one street I visited,” Kotlowtiz says, “a third of the houses were abandoned. One resident, Anita Gardner, told me about the young family who moved in down the street a few years before. They spruced up the house with new windows, a fireplace, wood kitchen cabinets, track lighting and a Jacuzzi. When they lost the house to foreclosure, they left nothing for the scavengers. They stripped their own dwelling, piling toilets, metal screen doors, kitchen cabinets, the furnace and copper pipes into a moving van.”

Kotlowitz teaches writing at Northwestern University and writes frequently about issues related to urban proverty.

Farrell ’87, Bloom ’77 Aid U.S. Task Force on Autos

Two Wesleyan alumni are serving on the U.S. Treasury’s task force reviewing the auto industry.

Dianna Farrell ’87, recently appointed by President Barack Obama as deputy director of the National Economic Council, is the White House representative to the task force.

Ron Bloom ’77 is also on the task force. He is currently a special assistant to the president of the Pittsburgh-based United Steelworks union. In that role he has helped the union revive bankrupt companies and consolidate the nation’s steel makers to make them profitable, and he has helped to save jobs, according an article co-written by New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse ’73. Bloom is recognized as one of the nation’s foremost experts in the separate health plans that his union and the U.A.W. have established with various companies.

Ibarguen ’66 Discusses Future of News

Alberto Ibarguen ’66, CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and former publisher of The Miami Herald, was a guest recently on the PBS News Hour in a segmented devoted to the future of newspapers.

The segment aired to coincide with the move of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from print to the web. Ibarguen told the News Hour’s Jeffrey Brown that the market will find a way to “provide people with the news that we need to function in a democracy”—though perhaps not through newspapers.

Asked about the record of newspapers migrating to the web, Ibarguen called it “inconclusive.”

A model for the post-newspaper world is not yet apparent, he noted, but it will be digital, mobile, and interactive.

“So far, nothing comes close to the general reach of a newspaper, that ability to blanket a community with the same information that everybody can share, and figure out how to go forward together as a community, nothing yet,” he added. “But we also haven’t had a major city that doesn’t have a newspaper. And when that happens, I think the market will figure out how to deliver that information. I think it is that important.”

Lobel ’90 Studies 1960s Pop Artist James Rosenquist

Book by Michael Lobel '90.

Michael Lobel ’90 is the author of James Rosenquist: Pop Art, Politics, and History in the 1960s (University of California Press, 2009), the first full-length scholarly volume devoted to the artist.

Rosenquist’s paintings, notable for their billboard-sized images of commercial subjects, are emblematic of 1960s Pop Art. The artist’s startling and provocative imagery deals with some of the major political and historical events of that turbulent decade, from the Kennedy assassination to the war in Vietnam.

Lobel combines close visual analysis with extensive archival research, He provides social and historical contexts in which these paintings were produced and suggests new readings of a body of work that helped redefine art in the 1960s within the burgeoning consumer culture of postwar America.

Michael Lobel is associate professor of art history and director of the MA program in modern and contemporary art, criticism, and theory at Purchase College, State University of New York. His previous books include Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art and Fugitive Artist: The Early Work of Richard Prince 1974–77.

Lerer ’76 Receives National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Book by Seth Lerer '76.

Book by Seth Lerer '76.

On March 12, Seth Lerer ’76 was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism for his scholarly work Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

On the website Critical Mass, NBCC board member Carlin Romano commented: “Lerer brought to his subject both the critical acuity and unlimited openness it deserved. He insisted on placing a complex literature within the history of childhood, a story both contested and blessedly clear. He took into account the cavalcade of publishing history, without permitting it to trample the imaginative ‘transformations’ wrought by the books.”

In his book, Lerer studies iconic ancient and contemporary children’s books that have encouraged a lifelong love of literature in young readers during their formative years. The author examines the changing environments of family life and human growth, schooling and scholarship, and publishing and politics in which children were changed by the books they read. This unique, single-volume work captures the rich and diverse history of children’s literature, considering such writers as J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Robert McCloskey, Shel Silverstein, and many others.

Lerer was recently interviewed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, in which he revealed that the book is a kind of “intellectual autobiography” that draws upon his “youthful passion for reading and his experience as a parent.”

After nearly two decades teaching in Stanford University’s English Department, Lerer recently became a Distinguished Professor of Literature and dean of the arts and humanities at the La Jolla campus of the University of California, San Diego. Lerer also is the author of Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language. His next project is an annotated edition of The Wind in the Willows.