Cynthia Rockwell

She Makes Comics: Award-Winning Film by Stotter ’13, Meaney ’07 Available on Netflix

When Patrick Meaney ’07 and Marisa Stotter ’13 wanted a logo for their award-winning documentary, She Makes Comics, they commissioned artist Courtney Wirth. “We wanted something that evoked Rosie the Riveter, which we loved and thought it would be both recognizable and resonate with our audience,” says Stotter. ”I have original hanging on my wall, and whenever I see that strong, confident pose it’s a wonderful boost, a surge of energy to my heart.”

She Makes Comics, a documentary directed by Marisa Stotter ’13, and produced by Patrick Meaney ’07 and Stotter, won Best Documentary at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con International Film Festival, and was released on Netflix on Oct. 15.  Also available on iTunes and Amazon Prime, the film tells the story of the women—artists, writers, executives, as well as ardent fans—in the comic book industry. The documentary has played at film festivals around the world since its release in December 2014.

Both a thoroughly researched history—featuring luminaries such as Karen Green, the comic librarian at Columbia University, as well as women who wrote and drew comics in the 1950s and ’60s—and a lively story for a general-audience, She Makes Comics is a collaboration between two Wesleyan alumni, one a film major and one an English major—whose years as undergraduates had no overlap.

Zeitlin ’04, Janvey ’06, Quinn ’05 Produce Brimstone and Glory Documentary

The documentary Brimstone and Glory, captures a sense of both danger and exultation in the weeklong festival in Tultepec, Mexico, where pyrotechnics are the major industry. The film is produced by film studies alumni Benh Zeitlin ’04, Dan Janvey ’06, Kellen Quinn ’05 and others.

Brimstone and Glory is the feature-length documentary produced by Benh Zeitlin ’04, Dan Janvey ’06, Kellen Quinn ’05 and others, on the annual festival in Tultepec, Mexico, where pyrotechnics are the major industry. The weeklong celebration honors San Juan de Dios, patron saint of firework makers, and celebrates the artisans who dedicate themselves to pyrotechnics. Directed by Viktor Jakovleski, and edited by Affonso Gonçalves, the film is scored by Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer, the two who collaborated on the Beasts of the Southern Wild score.

Dubbed “Best Documentary Feature” at the San Francisco Film Festival, Brimstone and Glory opens in theaters this fall. In preparation, Quinn spoke about this collaboration in this Q&A:

Q: What was the genesis of this project?
A: Viktor, the director, was shown some photographs of the festival by an artist who had recently been there. He was amazed but completely baffled by the images of people “raving in the fire”, as he puts it. Sometime later, during a Berlin techno party, the crowds and sensory experience reminded him of one of the images. He recognized a connection between the collective effervescence of the techno scene that is a big part of his life and the ritualistic elements of what he had seen in those pictures of Tultepec. His initial idea was a short film, but after doing an exploratory first shoot, it became clear that there was something bigger and more ambitious to be made. Ultimately, the film shot over three consecutive festivals.

Q: And what brought you in?
A: In 2014 I was just beginning to move into producing and I was eager to work with friends. Dan Janvey told me about the project and it was immediately intriguing. Also, my mother grew up in Mexico and I spent a lot of time there as a child visiting my grandmother. I felt that working on a documentary in Mexico would offer a really meaningful way of reconnecting with the country.

WNYC’s Walker ’79 P’21 at Werk It: ‘Lean In to Podcasting’

Speaking at the third annual Werk It Festival, Laura Walker ’79, president and CEO of New York Public Radio and creator of the festival, said, “What drives Werk It is the premise that more women can play bigger roles in the podcasting movement…. Women needed to be inspired and have the confidence to lean in. You’ve brought your superpowers and your vulnerabilities…”  Walker also will be a featured speaker at a WESeminar on campus for Homecoming/Family Weekend on Saturday, Nov. 4. (Photo by Gina Clyne)

Laura R. Walker ’79, P’21, president and CEO of New York Public Radio (NYPR), has an agenda: She wants at least half of the podcasts produced to be hosted or co-hosted by women. “We’re making progress,” she reported at Werk It 2017, an annual festival she helped to create in 2015 to give women the tools they need to become creative forces in podcasting.

Walker came up with the idea after she’d read a report on this new medium and discovered that of the top 100 podcasts on iTunes, only 20 percent were hosted or co-hosted by a woman.

“Podcasting was headed in the same direction as every other entertainment medium—flooded with men….the gender dynamics were the same old story,” she told the attendees at the this year’s festival, recounting its history. And after a conversation on those findings with Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Walker originated the first Werk It Festival, a gathering of women with the goal of creating a paradigm shift. The festival offers the tools of entrepreneurship, production, and broadcasting—and the confidence that comes with knowledge—in a women-helping-women model.

Now dubbed “The Woman Working to Make Podcasting More Diverse,” by Fast Company, Walker reported to this year’s festival that the most popular podcasts on iTunes are now nearly 35 percent women-hosted—and of those originating at her home station, WNYC, nine out of the 20 podcasts, or 45 percent, are created by women. “In podcasting, everyone in this room can create your own characters, tell your own stories. We don’t have to be relegated to fitting ourselves into the roles that a group of male decision makers deems to be appropriate, sellable or allowable,” she told the crowd.

Held this year in Los Angeles, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel with 600 attendees (last year’s festival in New York welcomed only 100), Werk It 2017 featured a number of notable participants including  Death, Sex & Money‘s Anna Sale, Note to Self’s Manoush Zomorodi, and Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa, as well as Nina Jacobson (producer of The Hunger Games), EMMY award-winning actress Lena Waithe, Recode’s Kara Swisher, TV producer Ilene Chaiken, and podcasters Ester Perel, Nigel Poor, Nora McInerny, and Kelly Mcevers. Many of the sessions are available as podcasts at no cost on a site hosted by WNYC Studios.

Note: Walker will be on the Wesleyan campus for Homecoming/Family Weekend, speaking on “Journalism in The Trump Era: Public Media’s Role as a Trusted News Source and Convener of Public Discourse” at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, in a WESeminar to celebrate Wesleyan’s Koeppel Journalism Fellows. Anne Greene, University Professor of English and director of Wesleyan’s Writing Certificate, will serve as moderator. Walker holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BA in history, magna cum laude, from Wesleyan University, where she was an Olin Scholar.

Follow Laura Walker on Twitter: @lwalker; WNYC Studios: @WNYCStudios

And listen to her Careers by Design podcast interview, “Encore: Don’t be Scared by Ambiguity,” hosted by Sharon Belden Castonguay, director of Wesleyan’s Gordon Career Center.

In this 2016 conversation, Walker told Castonguay: “For me a lot of the fun of it, and the challenge of it, and the kind of stuff I love to do, is the mix of the creative and the business… I think that actually started at Wesleyan… There’s something about seeing connections and drawing them and reveling in them…and not being scared by the ambiguity, but being challenged by it.”

CNN’s Santana ’98 Reports from Puerto Rico: Desperate Shortages, Little Relief

CNN's Maria Santana interviews the mayor of a Puerto Rican city after the Hurricane. In the photo, a CNN cameraman points a video camera on the interview.

CNN’s Maria Santana ’98 interviews the mayor of the town of Aguadilla (pop. 60,000) in Puerto Rico. “To help his people, he’d set up three locations where people could gather water from the local aqueduct. Daily, he traveled the two hours to San Juan at 4 a.m., hoping to pick up FEMA aid. Other mayors were also making that same trip, because each town still lacked a way to communicate with the central government. The mayors would have to show up in person to find out if any aid was available.”

When CNN en Español journalist Maria Santana arrived on the island of Puerto Rico on Sept. 25, five days after category 4 Hurricane Maria tore over the land, she was eager to do her work—tell the stories of those in the center of the devastation and report on the efforts to support the victims and rebuild. But the situation was not what she expected, and—though her job has taken her to many places in the United States that had been ravaged by natural disasters—this was nothing like what she’d seen before.

While she and the crew stayed at a hotel in San Juan—with internet accessibility to transmit her reports—even short trips into the countryside showed massive devastation, but little aid reaching the people.

Fraser ’82: When Fat-Shaming Precludes Medical Care 

Laura Fraser's sister Jan, smiling, with her arms around her dog, Sunny.

Laura Fraser’s sister Jan. with her dog, Sunny, at her home in Colorado, several months before Jan died of endometrial cancer, Jan had sought medical attention earlier but her symptoms had not been met with attention they warranted, says Fraser ’82.  (Photo by Cynthia Fraser Taylor)

“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.

Lillie ’74 Receives Higginbotham [Hon. ’96] Lifetime Achievement Award

Charisse Lillie ’74 was honored with the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for her accomplishments, service and dedication to the legal profession and minority community. She initially met the late Justice Higginbotham while she was an undergraduate at Wesleyan.

Charisse Lillie ’74, an attorney, member of the business community, and a lecturer on issues of diversity and corporate responsibility, will receive the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award during the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Minority Attorney Conference, “Advocacy and Fundamental Rights for Changing Times.”

The award recognizes her accomplishments and dedication to the legal profession and the minority community through civil, community or legal service. Now the CEO of CRL Consulting LLC, she recently retired from Comcast Corporation, where she held senior-level positions. Higginbotham, who died in 1998, was a civic leader, author, academic and federal appeals court judge active in efforts eliminate racial discrimination. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from Wesleyan in 1996, delivering the Commencement address that year. He had also delivered Wesleyan’s Hugo L. Black Lecture in 1991, an annual series endowed by Leonard S. Halpert ’44.

Garcia ’88 Joins NPR with Weekly Podcast: What’s Good with Stretch and Bobbito

Bobbito Garcia and DJ Stretch Armstrong are in animated discussion and laughter across a studio table on the air at NPR.

Bobbito Garcia ’88 (AKA Bob Kool Love) and DJ Stretch Armstrong, a legendary duo from late-night hip-hop radio in the ’90s, have reunited—reigniting their wit and wisdom in interviews with current cultural icons for the NPR podcast, What’s Good With Stretch and Bobbito.

Bobbito Garcia ’88 and DJ Stretch Armstrong are back broadcasting—just like they were in the ’90s. Except:

It’s not student radio WKCR at Columbia University; it’s National Public Radio.

It’s not in the 1 until 5 a.m. timeslot; it’s an audio-on-demand podcast.

And the guests are not the as-yet-undiscovered hip-hop artists.

In What’s Good with Stretch and Bobbito, the listener will find Garcia and Armstrong offering smart, lively conversation with trendsetters and cultural icons ranging from Chance The Rapper, to activists Linda Sarsour, to Stevie Wonder. (“The standout interview of my career,” says Garcia, “with the legend of legends.”)

“Your Pillow”: Starbucks Selects Single by Rhodes ’90

J.R. Rhodes ’90 has a new album coming out Nov. 3, and a single from it has already been picked up for play in Starbucks. (Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis)

Next time you’re seeking a caffeine fix in Starbucks, keep your ears open for a song by J.R. Rhodes ’90. Hers is a haunting alto voice—with a throatiness and rich, emotional depth reminiscent of Joan Armatrading—and the song, in a minor key, “Your Pillow,” was the first single released from her album I Am, due out Nov. 3.

A music major at Wesleyan and a singer/songwriter since then, Rhodes had released three albums previously: Elixir (2011), Afriqueen Stare (2003) and Songs of Angels (1999).

The high-profile single placement, however, is something entirely new.

“A career in music can definitely be a winding road,” she says. “You have your days when you want to give up. And then you get a little help. And sometimes—you get a lot of help.”

Rankine Hon. ’17 Addresses First-Year Students on ‘Citizen’

Claudia Rankine Hon. ’17 addressed the Wesleyan Class of 2021 in Memorial Chapel on Sept. 1, discussing her book, Citizen: An American Lyric, as part of Wesleyan’s First Year Matters program.

For this year’s First Year Matters program, incoming new students read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric during the summer before their arrival on campus.

Rankine, a noted poet and author, had been on campus for Commencement 2017, when she received an honorary degree and addressed the graduating class.

On Sept. 1, Rankine was back at Wesleyan to address the Class of 2021, offering insights into the development of the book. She also entered into a discussion with first-year students, taking questions from the audience, who gave her snaps of approval throughout her talk and a standing ovation at the end.

Kevin Butler, assistant dean of students, who spearheaded this year’s program, noted that the selection committee had chosen Citizen for a number of reasons.

“It is extremely powerful and has thought-provoking passages,” he said. “We thought we could engage both the first-year students and the community at large in some really in-depth conversations on microaggressions, equality and fairness.

“There are very few speakers I’ve seen who have the certain style, voice quality and tone that is engaging and comfortable—even when the questions and answers are difficult,” he added.

Shasha Seminar 2017 Convenes Experts on Gun Legislation Debate, Paths Forward, Oct. 27-28

Guns in American Society, this year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, will be held on campus on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 27-28. Made possible by a generous grant from the Shasha family, the 16th annual event will convene experts, including Wesleyan faculty and administrators, as well as alumni from across the country, to examine current debates about the role of guns in American society and discuss ways of reducing the national incidence of gun violence.

According to seminar organizer Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history and science in society and researcher in the history of technology, law and culture, guns are a topic of concern not just for those advocating for gun control but also for gun rights advocates, who see the issue as a question of personal liberty. The debate, she notes, is now moving onto college campuses, with the recent passage of legislation allowing guns on campus in 10 states. Additionally, 16 more states are considering such legislation.

Ligon ’82 Discusses Creative Practices, Race, at Wadsworth Atheneum

Glenn Ligon ’82 in front of his piece, White #15, on exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum. (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

In a program jointly sponsored by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and The Amistad Center for Art & Culture, artist Glenn Ligon ’82 joined Dean and Professor of Art History at Northwestern University Huey Copeland for a discussion on Sept. 13 at the Atheneum in Hartford. The two, who noted their longstanding friendship as they began their onstage discussion, explored Ligon’s creative practices and Copeland’s research on the ways African American artists have addressed race in the history of American art.

Prior to the conversation, attendees were invited to view the Atheneum’s permanent installation of post-2000 contemporary art in the Hilles Gallery. Ligon’s piece, White #15 (1994, paintstick on linen and wood), is on exhibit there. Ligon had been featured at the Athenaeum in MATRIX 120, the 1992 exhibit in an ongoing and changing series of contemporary art exhibitions, initially funded 1974, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The conversation between Ligon and Copeland explored Ligon’s work, including the installation, To Disembark (1993), and that of other contemporary artists, including Cameron Rowland ’11—as well as the museums charged with illustrating the history of African Americans, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture—in the context of current events.

Staff Spotlight: Borman Planting Trees for Wesleyan’s Next Century

Grounds Manager Rob Borman notes that the trees he and his team plant will shape the campus for decades to come.

In this Q&A, we speak with Rob Borman, grounds manager for Physical Plant.

“The trees we are planting this year are creating the face of Wesleyan 100 years from now,” Borman says. Offering a guided tour of the central campus, he noted recent plantings, the decision process behind those choices, and the history of what felled any previous trees on those spots.

He also focused on present details, taking note of the health of the foliage—color and thickness—as well as any recent stressors, like extreme weather or insect-related events, which may be affecting these future giants of Wesleyan.

Q: When did you become the grounds manager?

A: I became the grounds manager in October 2014. Prior to this, I was in facilities maintenance, focusing solely on athletics, including event preparation and set-up. However, I’d been forming my impressions of the entire campus, even then.

Q: What was first on your list?