Laurie Kenney

Sweren-Becker ’06 Creates a Brave New World in New Book

Daniel Sweren-Becker ’06

Book by Daniel Sweren-Becker ’06.

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.”

Middle School Misfits Inhabit New Wilder ’88 Novel

Robert Wilder ’88

Book by Robert Wilder ’88.

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.”

Robert Wilder ’88

Robert Wilder ’88

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.”

Smith ’82 Explores How Fear Distorts Reality in First Novel

Book by Patricia Smith ’82.

Book by Patricia Smith ’82.

“At seven thirty, with SJ still asleep, Deirdre Murphy left the house for school. She walked side streets shaded by trees in their glory—pale autumn reds, yellows the color of honey. She scuffed through piles of leaves, each whoosh a reminder of every other autumn and every other beginning of the school year, the only way Deirdre knew how to mark time. She kept track of events based on the girls she taught: the drama queens, the freaks, the year they were all brilliant. This year, Deirdre could already tell after a week of classes, was the year of the needy girls.”

So begins The Year of Needy Girls, the debut novel from Patricia Smith ’82. The book is published by Kaylie Jones (’81) Books, an imprint of Akashic Books, headed by publisher and editor-in-chief Johnny Temple ’88.

The Year of Needy Girls tells the story of Deirdre, a dedicated private school teacher from a working class background, and her partner, Sara Jane (SJ), who live in a tolerant New England town, divided by a river and by class, until the murder of a 10-year-old boy changes the way the townspeople look at themselves…and at others. Publishers Weekly says, “Smith’s crisp prose and dedication to moralistic ambiguity make for a provoking read,” while Library Journal notes, “Smith’s first novel successfully builds tension and a sense of dread among the picture-perfect New England fall.”

Sienkiewicz ’03 Authors Book on U.S. Efforts to Reshape Middle Eastern Media

Matt Sienkiewicz ’03

Book by Matt Sienkiewicz ’03.

The U.S. has poured millions of dollars into local television and radio programming in the Muslim World in an effort to win the hearts and minds of that region’s citizens. But according to communications scholar Matt Sienkiewicz ’03, the Middle Eastern media producers who rely on these funds are hardly puppets on an American string.

In The Other Air Force: U.S. Efforts to Reshape Middle Eastern Media Since 9/11 (Rutgers University Press, 2016), Sienkiewicz explores America’s efforts to employ “soft-psy” media—a combination of “soft” methods, such as encouraging programs modeled on U.S. entertainment and reality programs, with more militaristic approaches to information control—to generate pro-American sentiment in the Middle East. Drawing on years of field research and interviews, Sienkiewicz gives readers an inside look at radio and television production in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories to show how Middle Eastern media producers are working to forge viable broadcasting businesses without straying outside the American-set boundaries for acceptable content.

“Although much of the U.S. power apparatus desires Middle Eastern media that will parrot American perspectives, this is no longer the sole, or even dominant, strategy in the region,” says Sienkiewicz in his introduction. “Instead, the encouragement of certain media forms serves as the organizing principle for a wide range of American projects.  More so than asking local agents to transfer specific, American-vetted messages to viewers, U.S.-funded projects have instead tended to demand that Afghans, Palestinians and others create programming the embraces the industrial and aesthetic conventions of for-profit, American-style commercial television and radio, while being constrained mainly by a basic set of ‘red lines’—words and ideas that are off-limits.”

Sienkiewicz is an assistant professor of communication and international studies at Boston College. In addition to authoring The Other Air Force, he is the coeditor of Saturday Night Live and American TV (Indiana University Press, 2013) and has produced several documentaries, including Live from Bethlehem (2009), which chronicled the shaping of the Ma’an News Network, the only major independent news source in the Palestinian Territories.

Breakfast with Brian

Breakfast at O'Rourke's (Wesleyan University Press)

Breakfast at O’Rourke’s, published by Wesleyan University Press.

A Wesleyan alumnus from Chicago. A faculty film aficionado. A martial arts teacher and that teacher’s teacher, a tenth-degree black belt visiting from Germany. Four elementary school students, here as a reward for good deeds, along with their principal and school nurse.

This is breakfast at O’Rourke’s, and the scene this morning is a lot like owner Brian O’Rourke’s namesake everything-and-the-kitchen-sink breakfast: an eclectic mix of ingredients combined in ways you would never expect. You never know what you’re going to get, but it always works, and it’s always delicious.

Poswolsky ’05 Pens The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

Quarter-Life Breakthrough by Adam Smiley PoswolskyAuthor Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky ’05 talks to News @ Wes about his new book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters (TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House, 2016). Learn more about Poswolsky’s work at smileyposwolsky.com.

What did you major in at Wesleyan and how did that influence your career path out of college? Did you always know (or at least think you knew!) what you wanted to do with your life? If so, were you surprised when that belief was challenged by your actual experience?
I majored in film studies at Wesleyan, so after graduation I moved to New York City and worked in film production for two years as a location scout and production assistant. I thought filmmaking was my calling, so I was surprised to find out that I actually wasn’t that inspired by film production. The hectic film sets, the massive trucks, the brutal hours and long nights, the stressful months of pre-production, the crew members chain-smoking on set; it seemed out of sync with why I loved studying film at Wes, which was my interest in film as a medium for social change. The film major at Wes teaches you how to make movies, but more importantly, it teaches you how to craft a compelling narrative; it teaches you about perspective and persuasion. Those are the lessons that continue to inform my work today as a writer and public speaker—it’s not the fact that I was a film major, it’s that I learned how to share my story.

Wesleyan Announces All-Star Hamilton Prize Selection Committee

Hamilton Prize Committee

Wesleyan University has announced the distinguished members of its inaugural Hamilton Prize Selection Committee. The all-star committee, made up of Wesleyan alumni, will choose the first-ever recipient of the university’s newly established Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity—a four-year full-tuition scholarship that will be awarded to the incoming Wesleyan student of the Class of 2021 whose creative written work is judged to best reflect the originality, artistry and dynamism embodied in Hamilton: An American Musical.

Wesleyan Thinks Big Dec. 8

Wesleyan Thinks BigOn Dec. 8, Wesleyan will hold Wesleyan Thinks Big, a biannual TED-talk style event featuring Wesleyan faculty and administrators giving 10-minute speeches on an experience, a personal passion, an existential question or another topic of their choosing. The event will take place at 5 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

This year’s event is being coordinated by Catherine Wulff ’18, with help from Rachel Godfrey ’19 and Kaiyana Cervera ’19.

“Wesleyan Thinks Big is a way to bring the community together outside of the classroom, by shedding light on the strength of personal testimony and human connection,” said Wulff. “Our main goal is for the audience to leave energized and hopeful.”

Wesleyan Thinks Big will feature:

  • Iris Bork-Goldfield, adjunct professor of German studies and chair of the German Studies Department: “Thank you for Smoking. The Unintended Consequences of Lucky Strikes;”
  • Danielle Vogel, visiting assistant professor of creative writing in English: “Narrative & Nest;”
  • Renee Johnson-Thornton, dean for the Class of 2018: “How to Excel in College by Cultivating Membership in a Community of Practice;” and
  • Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies: “Settler Colonial Blues: Musings from the Margins of Black and Indigenous History.”

Wesleyan Exceeds Giving Tuesday Goal

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On Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, members of the Wesleyan community joined together to support Wesleyan students. This was Wesleyan’s fourth year participating in the global campaign, which encourages people to support their favorite organizations during the holiday season.

This year, Wesleyan’s Giving Tuesday goal was 3,000 gifts received between Nov.1 and Nov. 29. By the end of the day on Giving Tuesday, Wesleyan had received a total of 3,674 gifts.

“Our sincere thanks to everyone who gave in support of students this year, including the Frank-Kim Family—John Frank ’78, P’12, Diann Kim P’12, and Peter Frank ’12—who generously inspired others to give with their gift of $300,000 to financial aid,” said Chuck Fedolfi, director of annual giving for the Wesleyan Fund. “And a special thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who continue to humble us with their dedication, their time, and their passion for Wesleyan,” he added.

Wesleyan Students, Staff Participate in Middletown Community Thanksgiving Project

On Nov. 21, Wesleyan students and staff helped stuff 1,000 boxes with everything families will need for a Thanksgiving dinner celebration.

On Nov. 21, Wesleyan students and staff helped stuff 1,000 boxes with everything families will need for a Thanksgiving dinner celebration.

This fall, Wesleyan students and staff took part in the Middletown Community Thanksgiving Project, an annual collaborative effort to provide Thanksgiving meals for families in need. Wesleyan was one of 70 community partners for the project, led by Fellowship Church in Middletown. The university’s involvement in the project was coordinated by Cathy Lechowicz and Diana Martinez, director and assistant director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.

MCTP 3For this year’s project, the Wesleyan community donated stuffing, gravy, pies and other foodstuffs; students and staff from the Allbritton Center helped register families at Amazing Grace Food Pantry from Oct. 31 to Nov. 18; students and staff, including the men’s crew and women’s lacrosse teams, helped with packing almost 1,000 boxes of food at Fellowship Church on Nov. 21; and staff from Wesleyan’s Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development helped distribute the food to Middletown residents in need on Nov. 22. The women’s lacrosse team also collected more than $600 to contribute to the project.

Horwitz ’02 Documents Hamilton for PBS

hamilton1On Saturday, Oct. 29, members of the Wesleyan community gathered at the Goldsmith Family Cinema during Family Weekend 2016 to watch a screening of Hamilton’s America, directed by Alex Horwitz ’02. While Horwitz was not able to attend the screening, we were able to catch up with him for an exclusive Q&A. If you missed the screening, Hamilton’s America is streaming on PBS through Nov. 18.

Hamilton’s America was several years in the making. When did you approach Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 and Thomas Kail ’99 with the idea to document the making of what became Hamilton: An American Musical—and what prompted you to do so?
I approached Lin and Tommy about rolling cameras on Hamilton in 2012, and we were rolling by 2013. Really, all I needed to hear was a demo of that first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” and my interest was piqued. I’m a history nerd and a musical theater nerd, so Lin was scratching a lot of itches for me. I told him that it didn’t matter to me if he was making an album or a show; I just wanted to make a movie about him dramatizing history. That was the angle from the beginning.

What kind of access did you have to Hamilton: An American Musical when filming the documentary? What was most interesting or surprising to you about the process?
The focus of Hamilton’s America was always going to be on history-as-told-by-the-show, rather than on the behind-the-scenes aspect of show business. That meant that we would lean on the words—on the writing process and the finished product—rather than on backstage access. I invaded Lin’s space as he wrote, but only because he was open to it. The only thing I bothered the cast for was interviews and the field trips to sites of historic significance. We did film a little backstage material, but the drama of history was always of more interest to me than the “five, six, seven, eight . . .” of rehearsals. What delighted me was how deep the cast wanted to get into the history. I think they were happy to get out of the theater.

Hamilton’s America, Directed by Horwitz ’02, Debuts on PBS Oct. 21

On Friday, October 21, at 9 p.m., PBS will debut Hamilton’s Americaa behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the smash musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02. The documentary is directed by Miranda’s Wesleyan roommate, Alex Horwitz ’02, and features footage from the Broadway show along with interviews with Miranda, Hamilton director Thomas Kail ’99, and an array of others, including President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Questlove, Black Thought, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Sondheim, and more.