Tag Archive for alumni books

Davis ’17 Pens Debut Novel, “Everything Must Go”

Jenny Fran Davis ’17

Jenny Fran Davis ’17 recently published her first novel, Everything Must Go, with St. Martin’s Press. 
(Photo by Taina Quiñones)

Since graduating just last May, Jenny Fran Davis ’17 has become a published author with the fall release of her debut novel, Everything Must Go. The story revolves around Flora Goldwasser, a teenager from New York City who has just transferred to a rural, Quaker boarding school in her junior year. Through a collection of journal entries, e-mails and other archived materials, Flora pieces together her experience and lets readers into her tumultuous period of adjustment.

Davis wrote the book in her freshman year of college and spent the next few years editing, before landing a contract for two novels with St. Martin’s Press in 2016. In this Q&A, Davis discusses how it feels to be a published author, in what ways her time at Wesleyan has impacted her writing and what readers can expect from her next book.

‘Very Fortunate’ Handler ’92 Featured on PBS Series Articulate

Daniel Handler ’92, featured in the PBS series Articulate, believes that children fare better by hearing the truth—rather than a sugarcoated explanation—about life’s difficult situations. (Photo by Meredith Heuer)

Author Daniel Handler ’92 enjoys a prolific career as a celebrated novelist, best known for using the pseudonym Lemony Snicket to publish A Series of Unfortunate Events. This 13-book series about three orphaned children and their increasingly tumultuous lives—which has been adapted for film, video games and, most recently, a Netflix series—established Handler as an appealingly sinister storyteller, a writer with a penchant for narratives without happy endings. The first episode of Articulate on PBS delves into some of Handler’s inspirations and how he came to develop his dark approach to children’s writing.

In the clip, titled “The Very Fortunate Daniel Handler,” he points out that one goal of his writing is to create worlds more exciting than the one we are offered. But while his stories teeter on the absurd and fantastical, they largely operate by exploring the tragic realities of the world we already inhabit—the kind of grim truths that children are already catching onto and, Handler argues, deserve to have addressed. As a young kid, with a father who had escaped Nazi Germany and a family that discussed war as a standard topic of conversation, it was made clear that the human experience could be dark and disastrous. A reflection of his upbringing, Handler refuses to sugarcoat misfortune or grief for his readers, regardless of their age.

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.

Fins ’82 on Civil Rights for Those With Brain Injuries: NYT Op-Ed

Joseph J. Fins ’82, MD, MACP, is a professor of medical ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury. He is the author of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times calling for deeper consideration of the civil rights for those with traumatic brain injury. (Photo: John Abbott, New York Academy of Medicine)

Writing in a New York Times opinion piece, Joseph J. Fins ’82, M.D., The E. William Davis, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, describes the startling case of a young woman thought to be in a vegetative state but later able to communicate through the movement of one eye.

In “Brain Injury and the Civil Right We Don’t Think About,” Fins says that many seemingly vegetative individuals are misdiagnosed and suffer a loss of personhood and civil rights when they do have some conscious awareness and are, in fact, in the minimally conscious state.

Because minimally conscious patients can feel pain while vegetative patients can not, a misdiagnosis of a patient’s brain state can lead to a lack of pain medication administered during a medical procedure, a horrifying possibility. So too, says Fins, is “segregating” these patients in “custodial care” facilities without offering them rehabilitative opportunities to foster their recoveries. He writes:

I use the verb “segregated” deliberately, to invoke a time when separate but equal was the law. In the wake of legal advances like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled, which call for the integration of people with disabilities into civil society, how is the pervasive segregation of this population justified?

Part of the problem is that when these laws were written, the notion of reintegration was focused on physical mobility … When we restore voice to these patients we bring them back into the room and the conversation.

I often speak to university students brought up in the era of L.G.B.T.Q. rights who can’t understand how my generation did not appreciate that people could love those they chose to love. … I caution against smugness, suggesting that their own children may well ask them how they allowed society to ignore conscious individuals and deprive them of their rights.

Fins, a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury, is the author of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the Solomon Center Distinguished Scholar in Medicine, Bioethics and the Law at Yale Law School. He spoke on these topics at Wesleyan in 2015 as the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer.  A trustee emeritus of Wesleyan, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the university in 2012.

 

Bloom ’75, Sawhney Explore the Elm City’s Underbelly in New Haven Noir

New Haven Noir, edited by Amy BloomA star-studded cast of contributors curated by Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing Amy Bloom ’75 fill the pages of New Haven Noir, featuring original stories from Michael Cunningham, Stephen Carter, Roxana Robinson, Assistant Professor of English Hirsh Sawhney and many others. The book is the latest addition to an award-winning series of original noir anthologies published by Akashic Books, founded by publisher and editor-in-chief Johnny Temple ’88.

“I’m a big fan of noir,” says Bloom, editor of the anthology, which has garnered praise from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. “When Johnny called me and said, I don’t know if you’re from New Haven, but I know you’re connected to New Haven and I’d love you to edit the anthology, I jumped at the opportunity,” she said.

Bloom worked with Temple to select contributors for the anthology, with Bloom choosing to invite several writer friends who hadn’t written noir before, including Alice Mattison and Michael Cunningham. “I told them, it’s conflict and it’s mystery. Bleak. Snappy outfits. Great dialogue,” Bloom said. “And they said, count us in.”

In addition to serving as editor of the anthology, Bloom also is a contributor. Her story, “I’ve Never Been to Paris,” set in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood, is actually an excerpt from a mystery she wrote years ago, tailored specifically for New Haven Noir.

Albertalli ’05 Prepares for Big Screen Release of Debut Novel

Becky Albertalli ’05

Becky Albertalli ’05

Clinical psychologist and YA novelist Becky Albertalli ’05 is the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, an award winning coming-of-age story published by Harper Collins in 2015. It follows Simon Spier, a junior in high school struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity without coming out, before a leaked email threatens to compromise his secret and his comfort zone. This past October, Fox 2000 Pictures and Temple Hill Entertainment began developing a movie adaptation of the book. The major motion picture will feature a star-studded cast––including Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford and Jennifer Garner––and is set to be released in March 2018.

Directed by Greg Berlanti, the comedy-drama film of the same name as Albertalli’s debut novel is currently in post-production. Fans of the popular book and members of the cast, like Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller and Josh Duhamel, are excited to see an underrepresented, LGBTQA-centered story told on the big screen.

Dubler ’97 Awarded Carnegie to Research, Write on Prison Abolition

Joshua Dubler, ’97 assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester, New York, is studying and writing about prison abolition with a Carnegie Fellowship. (University of Rochester photo by Brandon Vick.)

Joshua Dubler ’97, assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester, is one of 33 national recipients of a 2016 Carnegie Award. With this fellowship, Dubler is studying prison abolition. His book manuscript, Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the End of Mass Incarceration, presents abolitionist logic to make the case. Co-authored with Vincent Lloyd, it explores the ways that religion has underwritten and sustained mass incarceration. Currently under peer review, it has an expected publication date of 2018.

While an advocate of both ending mass incarceration and offering educational programs for those imprisoned, Dubler is seeking something further than these revisions to our current system—a true revisiting of the concept of prison.

“Right now, our vision of bringing people to justice is to put them in cages,” he says “That’s a really impoverished notion of justice. It doesn’t serve the person who has been convicted of the crime, does very little for the person who is the victim of the crime, and it perpetuates the destruction of the community. Abolitionists are looking to reconceptualize how it is that we do justice.”

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.

Poet Reece ‘85 and Honduran Orphans Are Subject of James Franco Documentary

Episcopalian priest and poet Spencer Reece ’85 taught poetry to the children of Little Roses, an orphanage in Guatelmala, the "murder capital of the world."

Episcopalian priest Spencer Reece ’85 and his poetry students, the children of an orphanage in Honduras, were the subject of a documentary executive produced by actor James Franco.

The film, Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World, documents the experiences of poet, priest, and teacher Spencer Reece ’85 in the year he spent teaching poetry at Our Little Roses, a home for abused and abandoned girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Executive produced by Hollywood actor James Franco and directed by Brad Coley, the film had its world premier at the Miami Film Festival in March. Sherri Linden, in the Hollywood Reportercalled it “eloquent,” adding that “[i]t captures an inspiring connection between Reece and his students, whether they’re discussing love and loss or exploring meter through Auden and salsa dancing. It’s the connection between language and life.”

Reese, whose debut collection, The Clerk’s Tale, (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) was chosen for the Bakeless Poetry Prize, had been ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2011, and first visited Our Little Roses as a three-month-long Spanish language immersion program to help him serve his community. He told Joan Crissos of the Washington Post (The Priest Who Healed Orphans with Poetry) that over the course of these months he was struggling to learn Spanish and did not spend much time with the girls. But the night before he returned to America, he noticed one of the girls outside his room. Speaking in a language he was just beginning to understand, she told him, “Don’t forget us.”

And he didn’t. Back in the States, he applied for a Fulbright to return to teach poetry to the girls, “using the lines of meters and verse to help them excavate the layers of emotional scars left behind after their parents abandoned them.” The Fulbright, he admitted to Crissos, might have seemed an unlikely stretch: “’The whole thing didn’t look very good on paper…. I hadn’t taught before, I wasn’t a priest that long, and I hardly spoke Spanish.’

“‘But poetry was what I knew…. It gave me a place where I could find solace, feel that I was loved.'”

With the grant—and a film crew to help tell his story—Reece returned in 2013. His curriculum included a variety of English language poets such as Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, and Langston Hughes, and he encouraged the girls to write their own poetry, which they would translate from Spanish into English. He had planned to publish these poems, and the book, Counting Time Like People Count Stars (Tia Chucha Press), will be published in time for Christmas, he notes on the Little Roses Facebook page.

 

Wildman ’96 Speaks on ‘Paper Love’ for Annual Frankel Lecture

Emil Frankel ’61 congratulates Sarah Wildman ’88, who presented the 36th annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture, which honors his parents.

Emil Frankel ’61 thanks and congratulates Sarah Wildman ’96, who presented the 36th annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture, which honors his parents.

Sarah Wildman ’96, an award-winning writer and regular contributor to the New York Times, presented the 36th Annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture on April 5, in the Daniel Family Common at Usdan University Center. The event was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and organized by Dalit Katz, director of the center.

Wildman spoke on what she’d learned about the Holocaust in writing Paper Love: Searching for the Girl my Grandfather Left Behind (Riverhead Penguin, 2014).

The story began for her, she recalled, when, after her grandfather’s death, she came across a box that had been his, containing dozens of letters from a woman named Valy—or Valerie Scheftel—addressed to her grandfather. It was clear that the two, who had been medical school students together at the University of Prague before World War II, were sweethearts. When Wildman’s grandfather and family fled Europe, Valy had remained behind.

“Oh, that was your grandfather’s true love,” her grandmother told Wildman when she’d asked.

Wildman realized then that the comforting story she’d heard as a child—that their family had all escaped together—was not entirely true, and she began searching for this woman whose story remained only in a box of letters.

Wildman detailed the search with her Wesleyan audience—the libraries visited, the letters read and researched, and the visit to the International Tracing Service in the far western point of Germany. At this repository of everything the Allies had gathered when they liberated Nazi territory, Wildman found that someone else had been looking for Valy, as well. She finally meets the youngest daughter of this searcher in England, and learns much more of the context.

“As naive as it was to think my grandfather had escaped with everyone, it was also naive to think I could tell a story about a single person without trying to understand the community she was living in,” Wildman said.

When asked about Valerie’s fate, Wildman demurred. “I don’t like to talk about her fate when I talk about the book. I find that we flatten the experience of the war into the final outcome,” she said.

“What I really wanted to do with this book is actually look at the day-to-day and really dig in to what it would mean to be a woman, a professional, someone who doesn’t necessarily want to get married, who sounds completely modern, who just wants to be recognized as a doctor….

“There are a lot of letters out there that are not considered ‘interesting to history’ and I wanted to reconsider what we think is important and why. What did it mean to be a regular person, upon whom this happened? These are voices we don’t hear. Letters tell us a huge amount; they are an important source to learn about women and about daily life.”

As for whether Valerie had been her grandfather’s true love, Wildman said the question might not be the right one:

“I believe he loved my grandmother,” she said. “I came to believe that the idea of ‘true love’ in this sense was not just Valy, but also stood for the life he had lived until age 26, which literally ceased to exist after that point. His ‘true love,’ then, was really everything of his past; it was that whole world. And Valy, in some ways, represented that world.”

White ‘93, Greenidge ‘04 Win Whiting Awards for Writing

Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 (Photo by Syreeta McFadden)

Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 (Photo by Syreeta McFadden)

This month, two Wesleyan alumnae writers, Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 and Simone White ’93 received the prestigious Whiting Award. Given annually to only 10 emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry, the award provides recipients with a $50,000 grant and is the largest of its kind. Previous winners have gone on to receive the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships. Some Whiting Award winners include Jeffery Eugenides, Colson Whitehead, Tracy Smith and David Foster Wallace.

Greenidge’s 2016 novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman is her most recent work and was published by Algonquin Books. The unconventional story chronicles a family of color fluent in sign language that travel to western Massachusetts to participate in a research experiment. There, they live with a chimpanzee named Charlie and attempt to teach it sign language.

The Whiting Award committee wrote that Greenridge “is at work on a broader underlying story: our inability to find a common language for a discussion of race in America. The sense you get is that she’s nowhere near her full powers yet, and the prospect is thrilling.”

Simone White ‘93 (Photo by Pat Cassidy Mollach)

Simone White ‘93 (Photo by Pat Cassidy Mollach)

White, program director at The Poetry Project and visiting assistant professor of literary studies at The New School, Eugene Lang College, has published several collections of poetry. Her most recent collection, Of Being Dispersed, was printed in 2016 by Futurepoem Books.

The Whiting Award selection committee praises White for “[deconstructing] our ideas of Americanness and the failure of language to be the transparent scrim we sometimes mistake it to be.” Dear Angel of Death, a book of criticism and poems also by White, is forthcoming with Ugly Duckling Press.

Manaster ’01 Exposes the Messiness of Life in New Book

the-done-thing-book-jacketIn The Done Thing (Tyrus Books, 2016), author Tracy Manaster ’01 introduces us to Lida Stearl, a newly retired widow growing more obsessed each day with her ex-brother-in-law Clarence, on death row for the murder of her sister almost 20 years earlier. We watch as Lida strikes up a correspondence with Clarence while posing as a naïve twenty-something in need of a friend. We witness the rawness of Lida’s pain when she realizes that her niece Pamela, whom she raised as her own, has been in contact with the man she has despised for all these years. And we stand by helplessly as we observe Lida’s obsession, once kept in check by her marriage and her career, spiral out of control—setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the one thing that matters most: her relationship with Pamela. Library Journal, in a starred review, says, “Manaster has written a deeply human and morally saturated novel, with captivating language. Don’t miss this sympathetic examination of how a tragic incident can irrevocably change a life’s course.” While Publishers Weekly says, “In this engrossing story about the effects that vengeance can have on love, Manaster refuses to take the happy, easy way out, instead leaving her strikingly relatable characters with just enough room to breathe.”

In this Q&A, Manaster talks about the characters she brings to life in The Done Thing.

Q: Where did the idea for The Done Thing come from?

A: The Done Thing had its inception in the worst short story written in the 80-year history of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  In an attempt to settle a pretentious bar argument about whether or not a piece could have both a twist ending and emotional heft, I had a proto-Lida—I think her name was Joan—puttering about her house in a state of focused fury, knowing that miles away in Arizona a proto-Clarence was being executed for the death of her sister. The twist was that because Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, she misses the actual moment of his passing.

It was a terrible story. I lost the argument. The twist robbed the narrative of emotional resonance. But the premise was a good one, meaty enough to carry a book, and I began to hone in on Lida: her voice, the world she navigates, the impossible resolution she craves. It took nearly a decade—and everything I learned from writing, editing, and publishing my debut, You Could Be Home by Now—for me to become an adept enough writer to be equal to that voice.

Q: Was it always your intention to create a character like Lida, with whom we empathize, even when she’s at her worst? Was it a creative struggle to keep that balance in mind—the fine line between righteous anger and going too far—as you moved through the story?

A: After the initial “hey, wow, this could be an actual book” inspiration, Lida’s essential character gave me very little trouble.