This Place in History: U.S. President Calvin Coolidge (Class of 1895) Historic Site

Submitted on Friday, 9/24/2021, at 3:39 PM

A local news segment takes viewers on a tour of the President Calvin Coolidge Historic Site in Coolidge’s birthplace and childhood hometown of Plymouth Notch, Vt., highlighting an exhibit called More Than Two Words

Regional Site Administrator Bill Jenney tells the story behind the exhibit’s title: “Vice President Coolidge often had to go to dinner parties as part of his obligations. He apparently was seated next to a woman who told him that she had a bet with someone that she could get him to say more than two words during the dinner. And his response to her was ‘You lose.’” He adds, “We hope though, however, after people go through this exhibit they realize that Coolidge had a lot to say on many different subjects.”

More Than Two Words features such artifacts as Coolidge family photographs, an ornately carved chair given to the president by the people of Hungary, and a humidor from the people of Cuba. There is also a ballot box from Northampton, Mass., where Coolidge studied law and served as mayor.

Kent Johnson ’91 Carries on Family Tradition at “Highlights” Magazine

Submitted on Friday, 9/24/2021, at 3:04 PM

An article in Schenectady, N.Y.’s Daily Gazette focuses on Johnson, current CEO of the children’s magazine company, which his great-grandparents founded in 1946.

The article, written by Indiana Nash, describes Johnson’s upbringing in Schenectady (where his mother was mayor), as well as his education at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., at Amherst College and at Harvard University. He holds both a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in physics. “So I ended up going to a bio-tech, medical diagnostics company outside of Washington D.C. and spent about six years there before joining Highlights,” he says.

But Johnson also had a summer internship at the magazine company while a college student in 1989—a job in which “I spent about half my time reading letters from kids and seeing how we responded.” He summarizes the company’s mission today: “We help children become their best selves by publishing content and creating experiences that engage, delight and foster joyful learning.”

“The Wild Party,” by Joseph Moncure March, Class of 1920: A Cautionary Tale for the New Roaring ’20s

Submitted on Tuesday, 9/7/2021, at 2:54 PM

“What does ‘The Wild Party,’ an obscure but chillingly prescient book-length poem from the twilight of the Jazz Age, tell us about our own era?” asks an extensive feature in The New York Times Style Magazine. March published the poem in 1928, after studying under Robert Frost at Amherst.

The article, written by Mark Harris and illustrated with contemporary fashion photos by Shikeith with styling by Alex Harrington, contextualizes and quotes March’s poem, which in turn tells a story “about the end of an era — the end of a long, louche, bacchanalian night of bodies twining together in lust and in violence; and the end of a life.” The poem (also available on the webpage as an audio recording) is credited with being prescient about the 1929 stock market crash, the 1990s AIDS crisis and the current desire of many to break free from COVID pandemic isolation, “to lose ourselves in a throng of sympathetic strangers.”

Harris also describes March’s appearance and personality, his writing style, his life in New York City, and his career as a writer and filmmaker. March lived until 1977.

Craving “a World Without Men,” Author Lauren Groff ’01 Found One in 12th-Century England

Submitted on Tuesday, 9/7/2021, at 2:16 PM

Jenna Ross of Minnesota’s Star Tribune writes about Groff and her new novel Matrix, which explores the lives of nuns—including “the real-life poet/nun/enigma Marie de France”—in a medieval English convent.

The article, based largely on a Zoom interview with the two-time National Book Award finalist from her home in Gainesville, Fla., touches upon the changing reputation of historical fiction within the literary world, Groff’s views on religion and contemporary political issues, and the fiction course she took at Amherst that set her on her vocational path. In addition, it mentions Groff’s previous publications, such as the bestselling novel Fates and Furies and “L. DeBard and Aliette,” “a 2006 short story set amid the flu pandemic of 1918.”

Also quoted in the article is Katie Bugyis, a Notre Dame professor whose lecture about the work of medieval nuns as scribes and illuminators inspired Groff to begin writing Matrix

Jennifer Acker ’00: “Working From Home Helps Keep My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Under Control”

Submitted on Friday, 9/3/2021, at 4:24 PM

“The virtual space that has become a symbol of the distance between us has also been my shield,” writes Acker in an essay on Yahoo!Life. “That’s because so many of the workarounds that mark me as disabled have become normalized at a time when ‘Zoom fatigue’ is ubiquitous.”

Acker, author of the novel The Limits of the World and founder and editor-in-chief of Amherst College’s literary magazine The Common, has myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome. In her essay, she contrasts the accessibility of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic (“able to nap when I’m tired and lay down on the floor when my neck and back spasm”) with the complexity and strain of in-person public events (“engineering meetings so that others came to me ... skipping any activity that was not a high priority … need[ing] to carefully plan ahead” to ensure accommodations).

“Ultimately, I want the vaccine to make the world healthy and safe,” Acker says. “But when life in the slow lane comes to an end … [p]eople like me will again be disabled in the eyes of the world, unable to hide behind our screens.”

Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Harrison Blum Comments on Buddhism Among Gen Z

Submitted on Monday, 8/23/2021, at 4:53 PM

Blum is one of two college religious advisers interviewed on Facebook Live and quoted in an article on the website Lion’s Roar about how today’s teenagers and young adults are exploring Buddhist traditions and teachings.

“For me, Buddhism was tremendously appealing in that a belief in God was not a gatekeeper to participation,” Blum says, looking back on his own spiritual journey through college. “I see that same trend in students.” Of his work today, he notes, “I remind young people that the Buddhism they are interested in is not the only one, [and that] what we do with Buddhism today will impact what it means to be Buddhist in the United States in the future.”

The interview also includes remarks from the Rev. Sumi Kim, coordinator of Buddhist life at Yale, and is conducted by Josh Packard, executive director of the Springtide Research Institute. The article, by Kevin Singer, draws from the interview and cites statistics from Springtide’s 2020 survey The State of Religion and Young People.

Basileus Zeno: Trump May Be Gone, but the U.S. Asylum System Is Still Broken

Submitted on Friday, 8/13/2021, at 12:00 PM

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Zeno, a Karl Loewenstein Fellow and visiting lecturer in political science at Amherst, writes about the enduring problems in the U.S. asylum system, as exemplified by his own experience being rejected for asylum after fleeing from Syria.

Zeno and his wife, Katty, both pro-democracy activists, “landed in the United States in mid-2012, just before the Syrian government launched a vicious crackdown.” They applied for asylum, earned Ph.D.s and had a child while waiting eight years for a decision from the U.S. government. “The rejection notice was Kafkaesque, riddled with contradictions and outright falsehoods,” he writes. “The Biden administration has taken some steps to reverse Trump-era policies so far .... But if a straightforward case like mine is still slipping through the cracks, it is clear those changes have only scratched the surface.”

Zeno calls for the administration to “take steps to reduce the vast discrepancies in outcomes between adjudicators” and to “increase accountability and access to recourse within the system.” Though “any such changes might come too late for Katty and me,” he writes, “we are hopeful that sharing our story may inspire policymakers to address the failings of the U.S. immigration system .... People seeking refuge in this country deserve better.”

How Writer-in-Residence Min Jin Lee Is Taking a Stand Against Racism

Submitted on Tuesday, 8/10/2021, at 2:18 PM

“As a parent and college professor, I am deeply concerned about how we adults respond to the rise of Asian hate,” says Lee in a recent article in Tatler Asia. The piece describes Lee’s family history of immigration to the United States from Korea, the racism she finds in the publishing world and her efforts to combat anti-Asian attitudes through writing and media appearances.

“It has always been challenging to write and publish about Asians in the English language,” says Lee, who was a National Book Award finalist for her 2017 novel Pachinko. “Anglophone Asians have struggled to represent ourselves and our respective communities of origin with accuracy.” She shares her thoughts on the “root causes of Asian hate,” internalized Asian stereotyping and the need for anti-racist educational reforms.

Reporter Zabrina Lo—who interviewed Lee as part of a Tatler cover story on Asian Americans’ struggles against racist violence—notes that “Lee has been even more active in the last year in drawing attention to Asian hate, appearing on shows such as Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk and MSNBC’s The Last Word, as well as publishing works in publications like The New York Times and across her own social media.”

Geoffrey Cantor ’84 Is One of TV’s Busiest Character Actors

Submitted on Monday, 8/9/2021, at 12:15 PM

“Prolific actor and acting coach Geoffrey Cantor has captivated audiences of both the stage and screen,” begins an entry in Collider’s recent list of seven character actors whom TV viewers are sure to recognize. 

The entry notes that Cantor studied at Amherst College and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. It lists some of his theater credits, “including Side Man on Broadway, Death of a Salesman with Judd Hirsch, and Tony winning director Julie Taymor’s Titus Andronicus.” Cantor’s television projects include The Sopranos, The Americans and Damages, to name just a few. “You can spot Cantor in numerous films as well, such as the Cohen [sic] brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, Public Enemies, Man on a Ledge, The Wizard of Lies, and American Pickle.”

The Collider list, compiled by Emily Bernard, also features character actors John Carroll Lynch, Lennon Parham, Michael K. Williams, Bill Camp, Hong Chau and Stephen Root.

Two Operatic Brothers Tell Their Story in “My Evil Twin”

Submitted on Friday, 8/6/2021, at 2:51 PM

An Amherst Bulletin article highlights a musical cabaret that will be staged at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building Aug. 13–15. My Evil Twin’s composer and lyricist is Eric Sawyer, Amherst’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music, and its director is Associate Professor of Theater and Dance Ron Bashford ’88.

The show, written by UMass theater instructor Harley Erdman, stars identical twin singers Jim and John Demler and tells the true story of their lives. “Using humor and some more poignant moments, the production looks at the special bonds identical twins can have—as well as the intense sibling rivalries those relationships can bring—as the Demlers, now in their mid-60s, revisit their high school years, their work to become professional singers, and the reckoning both must face when their plans don’t work out exactly as imagined,” writes reporter Steve Pfarrer.

Erdman and Sawyer first got to know the twins while working on an original opera called The Scarlet Professor. Before that, the two professors had also collaborated to produce The Garden of Martyrs.

Ralph Johnson Makes the Grade at Amherst College

Submitted on Tuesday, 8/3/2021, at 2:25 PM

Johnson, the College’s first director of procurement and shared services, is featured in Profile magazine. He and his team “see measurable results in terms of how we are improving things for the college,” he says. “I do it because I love it.” 

The article, by Don Liebenson, focuses mainly on Johnson’s work at Amherst. “I make sure from a customer service perspective that business transactions operate seamlessly and ensure that employees and business partners are paid on time,” Johnson says. It describes his role in the implementation of the Workday ERP system and a travel portal for College staff, as well as aspects of the College’s culture that he appreciates, such as “the diversity of the student base” and his colleagues’ willingness to listen and collaborate.

The article also delves into the influence of Johnson’s parents, who were schoolteachers; his education in electrical engineering at Howard University; and his years as the inaugural procurement officer at Morehouse College.

Professor Rowland Abiodun: "My Upbringing Shaped My Foray into the Study of African Art"

Submitted on Tuesday, 8/3/2021, at 12:18 PM

In an interview for the Nigerian blog CompassNG, Abiodun, the John C. Newton Professor of the History of Art and Black Studies, discusses "new, holistic perspectives for the critical interpretation of African art as exemplified by the interrelationship of the visual and verbal arts among the Yorùbá of West Africa."

Abiodun talks about “the quintessential role of language in understanding and teaching Yorùbá art – in particular, the interdependence of the verbal and visual arts through oríkì.” He continues: "While oríkì has been generally translated as 'praise poetry' or 'citation poetry,' broadly speaking, all verbal and visual invocations qualify as oríkì in Yorùbá culture." He points out that colonialism and racism have caused scholars to "drift more towards studying African art solely through the colonizers’ languages ... [and] there is a real danger that Africa’s intellectual contributions through African languages to the study of art in the world might be lost forever." Therefore, in his own scholarship, he seeks to center oríkì and other African linguistics as a key to understanding African art.

Other topics addressed in the interview include  the 80-year-old professor’s upbringing among "artistically gifted relatives and knowledge practitioners"; his cultural education in many different Nigerian towns and cities; his teaching at the University of Ifẹ̀ starting in the 1980s; and his thoughts on Nigeria's "brain drain."

Professor Sonya Clark ’89 on the Confederate Truce Flag and Creating a Collective Work of Healing

Submitted on Tuesday, 7/27/2021, at 3:31 PM

A PBS NewsHour segment features Clark, the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and Professor of Art and the History of Art, and her exhibits Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know and Heavenly Bound, currently on view at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass. 

One exhibit centers on the plain white towel that Confederate troops used as a truce flag to signal Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in 1865. “My thought was, what would this nation be like if that was the image of the Civil War that had endured, that something was surrendered?” says Clark. “But, instead, we have the Confederate Battle Flag in our consciousness.” Museum visitors are invited to help weave a replica of the truce flag.

The other showcases a sky dotted with stars made from Clark’s own hair, “honoring the guidance [the stars] provided enslaved people escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad,” says reporter Jared Bowen. 

Caelen McQuilkin ’23 Reports on Young Neighbors’ Views on Independence Day

Submitted on Thursday, 7/22/2021, at 1:39 PM

Writing for The Mammoth Times of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., McQuilkin interviews diverse young residents of her hometown of Bridgeport about the town’s famous Fourth of July celebration and the holiday itself. Their answers challenge the simplistic image of Bridgeport as a predominantly white, conservative, patriotic community. 

The article, and several of the interview subjects, acknowledge the importance of the annual celebration to the town’s economy. However, McQuilken writes, “[n]ot everyone believes in the ‘hyper-patriotism’ exhibited by so many on the Fourth of July. Instead, many believe that the holiday represents much of what flaws our nation, and they say, the day should instead be a day focused on education about the violence and oppression that are also part of the history of America, as well as what a path towards a more just and equal future could look like.”

“Layered and complex, these reflections on the Fourth of July overlap and diverge, and present a multitude of paradoxes,” McQuilken continues. “For the newest generation of Bridgeport locals who grew up within that paradox, radically rethinking the very purpose of that celebration, I think, provides many with something like hope.”

Blair Sadler ’62 is “Flunking” Retirement as He Helps Students Through Squash

Submitted on Wednesday, 7/21/2021, at 1:57 PM

California’s La Jolla Light profiles Sadler as a co-founder and board chair of the nonprofit Access Youth Academy, through which middle and high school students from underserved communities receive academic mentorship and coaching in the sport of squash to help them succeed in college and careers.

The article, by Elisabeth Frausto, notes that Sadler “learned squash at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where his team was rated fourth in the country.” Sadler is quoted as he reflects on his love for the game, the skills it taught him and the advantages it can convey to young players, especially as “an in-demand sport” among East Coast colleges.

About 15 years ago, “Sadler started Access with co-founder Greg Scherman after Sadler retired from his 26-year position as president of San Diego’s Rady Children’s Hospital,” the article says. “So far, the program’s graduates have attended a variety of colleges and universities, among them UCSD, Princeton, Amherst, Dartmouth and Columbia. ‘It gives me joy’ to see where the students have ended up, Sadler said.”