Just Write: The Amherst College Winter Creative Writing Residency

Submitted on Friday, 1/29/2016, at 11:47 AM

Jan 27, 2016

by Bill Sweet

One might think that after a semester of writing papers for courses, grappling with that blank computer screen might be the last thing an Amherst College student would want to do.

But for one group of students, the Interterm provided an opportunity to take the writing experience to a new level. Participants in the Amherst College Winter Creative Writing Residency spent eight mornings in Frost Library with only one goal in mind: keep writing.

“Here, we’re not instructing people. This is setting up an environment to really write,” said Roy Andrews, a writing associate for the College’s Writing Center.

During the academic year, the Writing Center helps students and faculty with their writing, in the form of one-on-one support throughout the research and writing process, as well as a series of workshops.

For the residency, however, Senior Writing Associate Michael Keezing, Andrews and fellow associate Emily Merriman worked to create a space that would resemble writers’ and artists’ colonies such as MacDowell, Yaddo and the Provincetown Fine Arts Workshop. Each morning they held a warm-up session, complete with coffee and snacks at the Frost Cafe, with participants taking turns leading writing prompts or other mind-waking exercises. Around noon each day the group met to check in and wrap up the day’s work. In between, the students spent three hours devoted to writing, which the associates did as well.

“We’re modeling,” said Andrews.

Students Reading

At the end of Interterm, the residency concluded with afternoon reading of what students had accomplished. The work included plays, poems, fiction and nonfiction, all in various states of completion, in keeping with the casual and supportive atmosphere of the week.

About half of the students began the residency with a project they had already started, with hopes of finishing it or refining it. Others showed up with nothing more than the desire to write. Several are not English majors, and many have not done creative writing for classes.

“I have so many fun little stories from my life I’d like to explore,” said Alisa Bajramovic ’18, an admirer of nonfiction humorist David Sedaris. “Last week, I made a character that was based off of myself in order to think about my whole life in more objective sense. Every single time I sit down to write, I get to think about my own experiences, and I get to take myself less seriously.”

Katherine Pedersen ‘19 said she was working on a book that she’d long put off completing. The book is based on her experiences working abroad in Canada, Europe and Monaco. Having daily three-hour stretches to write started the transformation of lists and notes into a coherent narrative.

“This forced me to actually sit down and write. It's been great,” she said.

Criminals or Enemies of the State?

Submitted on Tuesday, 12/8/2015, at 3:20 PM

Should suspected terrorists be treated like criminals or like enemy combatants? It’s a dilemma that has occupied legal minds since the invocation of the “war on terror,” and it’s the subject of a yearlong lecture series at Amherst College.

The “Criminals and Enemies” seminar series examines the changing distinction between criminal and enemy, which is often limited to policy decisions involving the jurisdiction of the courts prosecuting terrorists.

“These policy concerns have been there, but we are facing more theoretical questions, a way of thinking about the role of law and the conduct of war,” said Austin D. Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and chair of the College’s department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought (LJST). “Liberal arts colleges like Amherst have an important role to play” in placing these questions in a wider scope than mere policy, he said.

Here are a few of the questions explored in the seminar series:

  • In an age of global legality and universal human rights, are any people beyond the protections of the community? 
  • Should citizenship define how a nation-state treats a person or group committed to violently disrupting social order? 
  • What assumptions about persons and law inform the distinction between enemy and criminal?

Each academic year, the LJST department identifies the most important issues in an emerging field and invites prominent scholars to campus to lecture about them.

Shima Baradaran, associate professor in the  College of Law at the University of Utah, presented a paper entitled “Bail and Enemies of the State" Dec. 2.

This was the third presentation in the “Criminals and Enemies” series, which started Sept. 23 with Jennifer Daskal, assistant professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, presenting a paper on “The Terrorist Crenemy.”

Shima Baradaran Shima Baradaran

Upcoming speakers in the series include:

  • Devin Pendas, associate professor of history at Boston College, speaking Feb. 10 on “Criminals, Enemies and the Politics of Transitional Justice”
  • Stephen Clingman, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, speaking March 9 on “Prisoners are Prisoners: Criminals and Enemies in South Africa”
  • Annette Weinke, professor of history at Friedrich-Schiller University, Berlin, speaking April 20 on a topic to be determined

Sarat said that, as in years past, the lectures will be collected into a volume to be published by a leading scholarly press.

Amherst’s Literary Journal Celebrates 10th Issue and 5th Anniversary

The Common transports readers to unknown and inaccessible parts of the world—real and imagined.

The Common, Cover of Issue 10
The Common Issue 10 is now available for purchase.

If you love a good story—one with the power to transport you to a world other than your own—chances are you’ll love the newest issue of Amherst’s award-winning literary journal, The Common

With stories, essays and poems by 34 authors from countries around the world (China, France, Lebanon, Nigeria and South Africa, to name a few), Issue 10 takes us to the front row of a Lady Gaga concert, on a hitchhiking journey around Hungary and 1,000 years into the future.

Issue 10 marks The Common’s fifth anniversary. (The first issue officially debuted in April 2011, but its production began in fall 2010.) Since its debut, the biannual journal has published more than 560 authors from 25 countries and garnered international attention for its selections, editorial vision and design, efforts to bring place-based literature into classrooms around the country, and winning of two nationally competitive grants.

According to Jennifer Acker ’00, founder and editor-in-chief, The Common serves as a vibrant common space for the global exchange of ideas and experiences and, in doing so, aims to help launch the careers of young writers and editors around the world.

The Common Celebrates

The Common, pictures of panelists
From left to right: Jennifer Acker, Major Jackson, Jim Shepard, Karen Shepard and Ilan Stavans

At a time when some colleges and universities are closing down long-running literary journals or switching to online only, the continued success of a literary magazine at Amherst and its commitment to print is cause for celebration!

The Common hosted Discovery: New Writers, New Places, a celebratory event on Wednesday, Nov. 11, in the Amherst College Center for Humanistic Inquiry (Frost Library, second floor).

Acker moderated a panel conversation with esteemed authors Major Jackson, Jim Shepard, Karen Shepard and Ilan Stavans (an Amherst professor), focusing on the mentorship of creative talent, the development of literary careers and the discovery of the world around us through literature.

More about The Common »

Theater and Dance Presents Bittersweet Chekhov Comedy

Kirby Theater transforms into pre-revolutionary Russia for 8 p.m. performances ThursdaySaturday and a Sunday matinee.

October 28, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

The Cherry Orchard
In Amherst's production of The Cherry Orchard, acting and
design work by students and faculty takes center stage.

In the early morning hours of a crisp spring day, at the turn of the 20th century, sunlight creeps across the branches of blossoming cherry trees in the orchard of the Ranevskaya family’s estate.

So begins Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, a four-act play about one family’s effort to save their home and celebrated orchard, presented by Amherst’s Theater and Dance department Thursday, Oct. 29, through Sunday, Nov. 1.

Setting Amherst’s production apart from other revivals of Chekhov’s classic play is what director Ron Bashford calls “intimate seating.” Constructed in a theater that usually seats an audience of nearly 400, The Cherry Orchard set features specially built seats for 65 spectators placed directly on stage.

The play also includes live sound effects. Jaime Sandel ’17 plays violin for scenes requiring musical accompaniment, and actors and backstage crew produce live-action sound as needed. “We want the audience to feel as close to witnessing something as possible,” Bashford says.

Breathing Life into Chekhov's Characters

Chekhov’s plays are propelled by the inner desires of his characters, an idea that Bashford says sets Chekhov apart from the more plot-driven playwrights that came before. The Cherry Orchard script, in particular, makes numerous references to characters’ pasts, and hints at their inner, and often subconscious, motivations.

Hampshire College student Ginny Chesson ’16, who plays the family matriarch Lyubov Ranevskaya as part of her senior portfolio in acting, says taking her character’s past into consideration has been the biggest challenge of bringing her to life on stage: “She has had so many things happen to her and so many different people in her life. There is always something to remember about her… I'm dealing with that by writing a character biography and drawing pictures of events in her life.”

Johnathan Appel ’16, who plays the role of the merchant Yermolai Lopakhin, says he’s focused on simply “playing moments” and “allowing the audience to paint the emotional picture on that character themselves.”

Appel is currently taking Bashford’s course “Plays in Play: The Ensemble and the Playwright,” which offers students an investigative journey into Chekhov's life and work. “Looking at this play from both an academic and performative standpoint has really helped me understand the intent of the author more clearly,” he says. “The biggest thing I’ve learned has been how to simply be in the moment and react without thinking too far ahead.”

The Cherry Orchard opens Thursday, Oct. 29, and continues through Sunday, Nov. 1, in Kirby Theater. Tickets are free, though all seats have been reserved as of this writing. A waiting list will be started 45 minutes before each performance, and any unclaimed reservations will be distributed just before showtime.

WAMH Goes 24/7 With NEPR Partnership

Submitted on Friday, 10/16/2015, at 2:26 PM

Bob Neel '16 at the WAMH studio

Amherst College radio station WAMH 89.3FM recently added New England Public Radio's NEPR News Network to its eclectic mix of news and music, thanks to a recent partnership inked with the public radio network.

As of Sept. 21, the station has added broadcasts from the NEPR News Network, to air from 2 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, unless otherwise specified in the schedule.

Amherst College students will continue to program the station for the remaining evening and overnight hours, with the news network filling in at other times when there may be no student programs being broadcast.

As part of the arrangement with Amherst College, NEPR will provide technical assistance to the college station, along with new training opportunities for students and the WAMH student club.

Students are already feeling the effects of reaching a wider audience, said Bob Neel '16, executive director for WAMH.

"Listener mail and website traffic have quadrupled, and students are reporting the most on-air callers in recent memory," he said.

The partnership has apparently increased student interest in radio, Neel added. The station has added 26 new DJs this semester, possibly a record for WAMH.

"Students truly seem excited in exploring new avenues of broadcasting and working side-by-side with the professionals at NEPR," he said. "Partnering with NEPR will add another dimension to the on-air experience that should allow students to cultivate an even more robust learning and creative experience."

The arrangement means that, for the first time since WAMH began broadcasting in 1942, it is able to offer programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week. WAMH operates from the second floor of Keefe Campus Center.

"We think public radio listeners in Hampshire County will embrace the ‘mash-up’ of the NEPR News Network and the often experimental nature of college radio," said NEPR's Executive Director of Programming John Voci.

The Springfield-based New England Public Radio has provided news and talk programming for over 19 years. In recent years, the network has expanded into Franklin County and Berkshire County, and most recently to WFCR 88.5FM HD3 (for listeners who own home or car HD radios), as well as streaming via the Internet and smartphone apps.

The NEPR News Network's lineup features a mix of national call-in programs, cultural programs and international news programs.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin said, "We are delighted that our student programming and NEPR's programming will serve a much wider community of listeners across our region."

Neel said that the arrangement promises to "diversify and amplify the voice of public radio in the Pioneer Valley."

Music at Amherst Series Kicks Off with Sold Out Performance, Performer Interview

October 1, 2015

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Saxophonist Archie Shepp in conversation with Assistant Professor of Music Jason Robinson

Playing to a sold-out Buckley Recital Hall on opening night of the Music at Amherst 2015–16 series, revered saxophonist Archie Shepp and Moroccan musical group The Dar Gnawa of Tangier presented an exciting fusion of musical ideas from as far as Morocco and Paris, and as near as Louisiana and New York City (photos below).

Considered the U.S. debut collaboration for Shepp and The Dar Gnawa, the performance at Amherst combined Shepp’s electrifying saxophone with elements of the Gnawa’s Moroccan ritual lilas, including ceremonial songs, dances, costumes and healing rites based on the folk traditions of their home country. Performing under the guidance of master musician Abdellah El-Gourd, The Dar Gnawa of Tangier descend from West African slaves and civil servants of the Arab empire.

The night before the performance, Shepp spoke with Jason Robinson, assistant professor of music at Amherst, during a public interview (video above). Their discussion focused on Shepp's work with The Dar Gnawa, as well as his long and influential career composing music and performing around the world. Ranging from comical anecdotes to thoughtful reflections, Shepp's answers offered personal insights into many of his musical relationships and experiences touring throughout North Africa.

Near the end of the interview, Robinson invited the audience to ask questions of their own. One audience question sparked a particularly poignant moment for Shepp. Now 78 years old, he was asked to think back on his long and varied career and pinpoint moments or recordings that still inspire him today. “I always looked at my recordings the way I look at my children,” Shepp answered. “At each instance, I tried to do my best.... I've always sought to bring a message or to look at it from a different perspective.”

The Music at Amherst series continues with a performance by the Artymiw-Keefe-Smith Piano Trio on Sunday, Oct. 4. Composed of three dynamic and highly esteemed artists—Lydia Artymiw, Erin Keefe and Wilhelmina Smith—the trio combines a shared musical heritage from the Marlboro Music Festival and a love of performing great masterworks. Their Amherst performance will feature works by Beethoven, Schoenfield and Brahms.

All Music at Amherst performances take place in Buckley Recital Hall in Amherst's Arms Music Center. Subscriptions for multiple performances are always available. Single tickets go on sale two weeks prior to performance dates:

Images from Archie Shepp's performance with The Dar Gnawa of Tangier:

Archie Shepp 1

Archie Shepp 2

Archie Shepp 3

Archie Shepp 4

Archie Shepp 6

Archie Shepp 7

Alumnus Returns for Powerful Performance Highlighting the Realities of Racism in America

September 21, 2015

The Lower Frequencies

Racial injustice. Social inequality. Black stereotypes. White privilege. These and other issues are at the heart of The Lower Frequencies, an original play written and performed by Amherst graduate Bryce Monroe '15 that is as captivating as its subject matter is difficult.

The show debuted at Amherst in April 2015, riveting students with its powerful and timely commentary on what it means to be a black man in America, and is back by popular demand for three nights only, Thursday, Sept. 24–Saturday, Sept. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in The Powerhouse.

Created by Monroe for his senior thesis in theater and dance, The Lower Frequencies depicts a nameless narrator's confrontation with the American dream. His story is brought to life through powerful vignettes—told through poetry, song, dance, impersonation, multimedia and gripping drama—on race, media, violence against black bodies and the search for justice.

Monroe says he found inspiration for his piece through a close reading of the "battle royal" scene of Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel Invisible Man, in which "young black men are placed in a boxing ring, blindfolded with one arm restrained behind their backs and forced to fight each other for the enjoyment of a white audience." Building on Ellison's imagery, Monroe's performance highlights past and present social and intellectual issues facing black Americans, which he hopes will be "relatable for some" and "eye-opening for others."

A psychology and theater and dance double major, Monroe began creating The Lower Frequencies in Professor Wendy Woodson's fall 2014 course "Performance Studio," in which students incorporate original choreography, text, music, sound and/or video into performance pieces of their own creation. "At the time I was creating this particular scene," Monroe says, "the most prevalent racial issue in America was police brutality against young and unarmed black men." In the showcase event description, Monroe explained the piece as "a solo monologue and dance commentary on the social injustices caused by enduring institutional systems that have muted the voices, camouflaged the bodies and denigrated the lives of the black community in the United States."

Soon after the show's initial three-night run (which sold out after opening night), Monroe received an Amherst College fellowship for continued/graduate study in theater and dance. He used the funds to develop The Lower Frequencies into a professional production. After performing at Amherst this fall, he'll take the show to Central Connecticut State University in the spring, and then to other academic institutions, theaters and festivals that celebrate diversity, social and racial harmony, tolerance and the breaking of stereotypes and socioeconomic barriers.

See The Lower Frequencies, written and performed by Bryce Monroe '15, Thursday, Sept. 24, through Saturday, Sept. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in The Powerhouse. Admission is free, but seating is limited.

Tickets will be available at the door. 


Amherst’s Theater and Dance Season Kicks off with Shakespeare, Reimagined

September 7, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Photo by Scott Treadway

In the earliest years of the 17th century, Shakespeare wrote a little-known play called Pericles, Prince of Tyre. This Wednesday through Saturday, Sept. 9–12, Amherst’s Holden Experimental Theater transforms into Pericles’ world, complete with shipwrecks, assassins, pirates, romance and the heartbreaking story of a family torn apart.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre kicks off Amherst’s Theater and Dance 2015–16 season. Even if you’ve seen a production of Pericles before, chances are you haven’t seen it like this.

Amherst’s production is “a bold, imaginative, playful interpretation of a Shakespearean adventure story,” says director Ron Bashford, a professional director of Shakespeare and a faculty member at Amherst. The production first ran in 2014 at North Carolina Stage Company, where Bashford met and collaborated with five professional actors to create an innovative version of Shakespeare’s epic tale they’re now bringing to Amherst.

Because Pericles was originally written with nearly 30 speaking characters, Bashford says paring it down to five actors was a challenge that he and the cast found an innovative way to solve. “Every character has one item that identifies them,” he says. “People don’t go offstage to change costume.” Instead the props are carefully hidden onstage. But you’ll have to see the show yourself to find out how they pull this off.

Though most of Amherst’s Theater and Dance performances directly involve students, this first production of the season is for students—along with faculty, staff and members of the larger Amherst community—to sit back, relax and enjoy. “It is an especially fun, understandable and touching rendition of a rarely-performed play,” Bashford says. “We also hope that new students in particular will see the show and come to know, by example, that there are many options for them to attend weekend arts activities on campus throughout the year.”

In addition to these performances, the Pericles cast—which includes Willie Repoley, Charlie Flynn-McIver, Laura Fortuna, Rebecca Morris and Catori Swann—met with new students as part of Amherst’s Creative Arts and Performance orientation program, and will attend upcoming classes as guest lecturers. “By learning about how professional actors work to bring a play like Pericles to life,” says Bashford, “students will be able deepen their comprehension when reading Shakespeare, or other playwrights, in the future.” 

See Pericles, Prince of Tyre in the Holden Experimental Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 9, through Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m., with an additional matinee performance on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are free, but reservations are strongly recommended. Call the box office to reserve yours today: 413-542-2277.

5 Free Things to Do on Campus This Summer

By Elaine Jeon ’17

The newest season of Game of Thrones has ended, and you’ve already binge-watched all of Orange is the New Black. And you can’t keep frequenting restaurants in town or your credit card will surely explode. Whether you’re a student, professor, staff member, alum or visitor, here are five free things to do on the Amherst College campus to keep you busy and financially solvent this summer.



The Mead Art Museum

1. Cool off in the air-conditioned comfort of the Mead’s galleries

Escape from the New England heat by visiting the Mead Art Museum for “It’s Cool at the Mead” gallery talks. Held every other week on Thursdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., the gallery talks feature topics ranging from Hudson River School landscape paintings to avant-garde baroque paintings. Specific themes of the gallery talks can be found on the online event calendar.



The telescope at Wilder Observatory

2. Explore the night sky at the Wilder Observatory

Tucked away on Snell Street is the College’s Wilder Observatory, open to public for free every Saturday starting at 9 p.m. from April through October. Cross your fingers for excellent weather, as the telescope can open your eyes to the moon, planets, stars, asteroids, galaxies and more. If you feel extra adventurous, ask Tom Whitney, who operates the telescope, to find specific things in the night sky that you’ve always dreamed about.



The view from below in the Wildlife Sanctuary

3. Hike a trail in the Wildlife Sanctuary

Avoid the honking cars and the never-ending red lights by checking out the trails in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Located southeast of campus, the 500-acre wooded paradise offers a peaceful getaway. Check out the Emily Dickinson Trail for a short run or the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which extends all the way to Northampton. (Here’s a map of the trails.) Or you could even opt for a romantic walk instead of a typical movie or restaurant date.



A member of the Buckley Chamber Players

4. Listen to the Buckley Chamber Players perform piano quartets

Enjoy a high-class performance by the Buckley Chamber Players on Friday, July 31, at 8 p.m.

The group began back in 2007 with Professor of Music David Schneider and pianist Alissa Leiser. Since then, many musicians from the Five Colleges and other parts of the country have collaborated in the group. For this concert, Leiser will accompany violinist Joel Pitchon, violist Ronald Carbone and cellist Volcy Pelletier as they perform piano quartet masterpieces by C.P.E. Bach, Robert Schumann and Gabriel Fauré.



The Beneski Museum of Natural History

5. See one of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur footprints

Even if you’ve visited the Beneski Museum of Natural History before, come again to ask the student docent to guide you on a personal tour. Or print and complete field guides to learn even more about the collection on your own. The Beneski, the third biggest natural history museum in New England, boasts about 8,000 objects on display and approximately 200,000 in its collection. Be sure to save plenty of time to explore the dinosaur footprints from the Connecticut Valley on the lower level of the museum.

Price Papers Joining the Archives

Submitted on Tuesday, 6/2/2015, at 11:44 AM

Hugh Price by Bill Sweet

Hugh Price '63, a nonresident Senior Fellow for the Brookings Institution and former president of the National Urban League (1994-2003), recently donated numerous records from his multiple careers to the College's Archives and Special Collections at Frost Library.

After more than a half-century of working for the causes of racial justice and education, Price is saddened to see how much more work remains with these issues, but he is impressed with the new generation of activists and future policy makers.

Price said he decided to donate the papers to Amherst because of family ties to the College, and because of the opportunity to provide student and faculty researchers with unpublished material concerning the civil rights movement and other significant causes.

"I was dealing with police brutality, excessive use of deadly police force 50 years ago," he said. "It's important to understand for people who are researching this today, who are advocates today, to understand how the issues have evolved."

The donation includes papers dating back to the 1960s, covering numerous careers up through his stints with the National Urban League and the Brookings Institution.

In particular, there are documents that deal with Price's work with the civil rights and antipoverty movements.

  • Correspondence (though only photocopies of the letters from Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush)
  • Keynote speeches
  • Strategic memos
  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Book manuscripts
  • Position papers
  • Recordings of television appearances

The summer after graduating from Amherst, he served as a marshal for the March On Washington. After earning a law degree from Yale in 1966, Price began his legal career representing poor clients in New Haven, Conn., later becoming the first executive director of the Black Coalition of New Haven.

Upon moving his family to New York City in 1978, he spent four years as an editorial writer for The New York Times, and then six years as senior vice president of WNET/Thirteen in New York, the nation’s largest public television station.

Appointed to the Rockefeller Foundation in 1988, he oversaw its domestic investments improving educational opportunities for minorities and at-risk youth.

Under his urging and consultation, the National Guard launched its Youth ChalleNGe Corps, a 22-week residential program conducted at selected U.S. military bases that teaches academic and life skills to high school dropouts. This program is the subject of Price's latest book, Strugglers Into Strivers, which argues that the social-emotional elements of the military model could help U.S. public schools.

Many of the papers are related to his days as president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League (1994 − 2003), the nation's oldest and largest community-based movement empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream.

Most recently he was a visiting professor in public and international affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.

"I've had about 13 careers," he said. "One of the blessings of having had a lot of careers is you move offices a lot, and stuff gets boxed up. If you don't unbox it, it stays put."

"It's like offering a child for adoption," he said. "But I feel that's public space and public property."

At the Brookings Institution, the nation’s oldest think tank, he specializes in education, equal opportunity, civil rights and urban affairs.

Price received an honorary doctorate from Amherst in 1995.

Price credits his continually-evolving professional life to his Amherst education.

"Amherst made me curious about everything, and I tried to sate it," he said. "It gave me the confidence to try lots of different things, in a lot of very different fields."

Price has four generations of Amherst connections. His sister-in-law is the eldest daughter of Dr. Charles R. Drew '26 and his wife is niece of Dr. William Montague Cobb ’25. A nephew is Dr. Kendall Drew Price ’92 and a grandniece is Rachel Abernethy ’16.

"I guess I'd say Amherst owns a big piece of us, and we own a little piece of Amherst," he said.

Future Food: Students are “Hooked on Aquaponics”

Submitted on Tuesday, 5/12/2015, at 9:15 AM

Plans for the greenhouse by Bill Sweet

Right outside of Amherst College’s dining hall, a new student club is exploring what just might be the future of food.

This spring, the Hooked on Aquaponics club has been constructing a greenhouse outside of Valentine Dining Hall. Their ultimate goal is to have a self-sustaining, soil-free aquaponics operation raising fish and plants.

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (farming of aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil). The greenhouse setup collects waste from the fish and converts it into plant food.

The project began as a collaborative effort, with individual aspects drawn from the interests of founding members Peter Suechting ’15, Jim Hall ’15, Thais Correia ’16 and Eli Mansbach ’18. Hooked on Aquaponics now boasts about 10 core members and attracts twice that at meetings.

“We have a very strong base of underclassmen,” said Hall. “When it comes to building projects, everyone wants to get involved, even people who aren’t official members.”

Correia is a computer science major who’s taken several environmental studies classes. She’s interested in how technology can be used for the betterment of the Earth’s health. “I thought this was a cool way to do something on campus and work on both of these interests,” she said. She and Henry Laney ’17 have assembled an electronic system that keeps the moving parts of the greenhouse running and collects data on pH, temperature and more. Suechting's involvement comes from his original plan to build a greenhouse as part of his environmental studies senior thesis.

The greenhouse, funded by the Office of the President, contains two 300-gallon fish tanks, which drain into a filtered tank. The water will then be pumped into six tubs containing plants and bacteria which assist in converting the fish waste into usable fertilizer.

“Once the water reaches a certain level, it gets dumped back into the [fish] tank,” said Correia. “By this point it’s been mostly filtered out by the plants themselves … so the only water that we lose is through evaporation.”

In theory, hydroponic systems conserve 90 percent more water than traditional agricultural methods, and aquaponic systems, in turn, conserve 90 percent more than hydroponics. Depending on the plant, aquaponics can make it possible to grow twice as many plants per square foot as in traditional agriculture.

“You can grow it year-round. You can produce more in less space using fewer resources,” Hall said. Outside the Val

The club is starting with 200 baby koi, being fed fish food as the operation gets going. Future plans include raising edible fish such as tilapia, carp or bass, Suechting said.

The group hopes to sell the produce and fish to Valentine Dining Hall, especially during the winter, when the campus’s Book & Plow Farm doesn’t operate. “We wouldn't be able to provide the whole school with enough fish, but it could supplement,” Suechting said. “Things grow a lot faster in these types of systems, and it’s easier for us to switch between different types of plants.”

The implications for a hungry planet are significant if this technology can be implemented on a large scale, students said. Abandoned buildings could be converted into greenhouses, bringing fresh, organic produce and jobs back to urban dead zones. As produce could be made year-round potentially anywhere, there would be no transportation costs.

Hooked on Aquaponics intends to pass the campus greenhouse down from class to class. As it involves a potentially wide array of technologies and species, the club’s founders are optimistic that the greenhouse can thrive and evolve.

“I hope that every year people just keep adding more and more complexity to the system, and eventually we can get a bigger greenhouse,” said Correia. “This is just the beginning.”

Finding Inspiration: Studio Art Majors Share the Stories Behind Works on View

May 4, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Darrow and Brathwaite in the studio Darrow and Brathwaite in the art studio they share with Blackmore and Rothkopf in Fayerweather Hall

After a year spent sharing an art studio on the bottom floor of Fayerweather Hall, Natasha Blackmore, Shannon Brathwaite, María Darrow and Emma Rothkopf are slowly beginning to pack and clear the space for next year’s studio art seniors.

It’s here that they’ve collectively created more than 45 works of art—including collage-style paintings with sculptural elements (Blackmore); large and small abstract paintings (Brathwaite); sculptures made from welded steel and scraps of fabric (Darrow); and intimately rendered large-scale photographs (Rothkopf)—that are on display in this year’s Studio Honors Exhibition at the Eli Marsh Gallery through May 24.

Read on to learn more about their inspirations for the works on view and a bit about the artistic processes they’ve developed while at Amherst.

Shannon Brathwaite

Shannon Brathwaite, Records of Entropy

Brathwaite says her senior thesis, a collection of 16 abstract paintings, was inspired by an exhibit she saw in her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y.: Kara Walker’s sphinx-shaped sugar sculpture exhibited in an old sugar factory.

“I was actually inspired by the building itself, which was super-rusty, super-grungy and painfully smelled like sugar,” Brathwaite says. “It was terrible, but it looked really cool, so I took a bunch of pictures of the walls and decided to do paintings of them.”

Constructed with canvas, ink, acrylic paint, wood and scraps of paper, her paintings are a mix of “squares like [Piet] Mondrian’s,” “Jackson Pollock-y drips,” and “the feeling of gravity, decay, rust, aging and things falling apart but still being beautiful,” she says.

Though she dabbled in art in high school, Brathwaite says she didn’t actually come to Amherst to be an artist. In her first year, she says she was on the med-school track and didn’t take a single art class: “I was miserable!” So she signed up for an art class, decided to take on an art major in addition to her pre-med classes, and never looked back.


Emma Rothkopf

Emma Rothkopf, Bathrooms and Bedrooms

Inspired by her friends at Amherst and at home in Harvard, Mass., Rothkopf’s senior thesis is a series of 14 photographs depicting intimate scenes of young women ages 14–26. “They’re psychological in a way,” she explains. “You enter into the psyche of a young woman.”

Her thesis title, Bathrooms and Bedrooms, refers to where she took the photos, in spaces most people consider private. This allowed her to capture what she calls “moments that you don’t normally see photographed.”

Before coming to Amherst, Rothkopf considered herself a painter. It wasn’t until her sophomore year, in Professor Justin Kimball’s intro photography course, that she tried her hand at photography. “I love painting, but when I took photography, I felt like for the first time I was forced to really think about what I was making, not just how I was making.” And that new line of thinking is what inspired her to choose photography over painting for her senior thesis.

Rothkopf says photography has given her a new way to make work that she finds more flexible than painting: “It’s a way for me to make the things I’m interested in, and if it doesn’t work out, I can try it again, and tweak it slightly, and it’s a faster process in that way than any other medium that I’ve ever done.”


Natasha Blackmore

Natasha Blackmore, Transcendence and Affliction

Working in large-scale collage with paper pieces and watered-down acrylic, Blackmore created five paintings for her thesis that she says are like “imprints” of her body. “I work on the floor,” she explains, and instead of using paintbrushes, “I use my hands,” she says while moving her hand to mimic the circular shape that appears in most of her paintings. 

Inspired by Zen Buddhist philosophy, many of Blackmore’s paintings incorporate the ensō, a hand-drawn circle used to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. In addition to being inspired by the universal elements the ensō embodies, Blackmore says her work is about dualities: “It’s about the private and the public, lightness and heaviness, earth and sky.”

Her paintings are also simultaneously personal and collaborative. For instance, Circle of Thoughts is an interactive painting installed on the floor of Eli Marsh Gallery and accompanied by paper, pens and an invitation to the viewer to add “any thought or burden, wish, hope, secret, etc.” The idea in adding a small piece of paper to the larger work, says Blackmore, is that “the sum is literally greater than its parts.”


María Darrow

María Darrow, Winds of Change/Freak Flags/Onward

Darrow’s thesis features six sculptures on view in Amherst’s newly renovated Powerhouse, dozens of email printouts haphazardly stapled to a wall in the Eli Marsh Gallery and five paintings that hang in the stairwells of the social dorms.

Inspired by the college’s ongoing conversations about sexual assault and the representation of women on campus, Darrow says her senior thesis subtly encourages viewers to talk about issues of gender in a public setting. 

Her sculptures, designed to hang in front of the Powerhouse windows, incorporate translucent fabric that includes bits of her own clothing and some donated from friends. “I wanted them to be personal and have belonged to someone,” she says. Darrow worked with gender-specific clothing, such as bras and men’s underwear, and purposefully deconstructed them so that at first glance their gender specificities are hardly noticeable.

In thinking about the representation of women on campus and wanting to make work that sparks conversation, Darrow says, “I think a big part of it is just taking women more seriously.”

See their collective works in the Studio Honors Exhibition, on view in the Eli Marsh Gallery in Fayerweather Hall through Sunday, May 24.

Eli Marsh Gallery Hours: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.4 p.m.
Special Hours for Commencement: Saturday, May 23, & Sunday, May 24, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.


Amherst Glee Club Celebrates Sesquicentennial

April 28, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Glee Club circa 1880
Amherst College Glee Club, circa 1880

Founded by students in the spring of 1865, the Amherst College Glee Club is now celebrating its 150th anniversary.

To commemorate the sesquicentennial, they've produced the first new college songbook since 1940; created memorabilia, including mugs and nylon backpacks; performed for alumni in Boston at Old South Church; held a song competition; and sponsored the two-day Amherst Today alumni program that culminated in a live performance (two selections from which are posted below). In May, they'll take a 10-day trip to Costa Rica with the Amherst College Women's Chorus and perform four full-length concerts while touring San José, La Fortuna and Guanacaste. And upon returning to campus, they'll perform at the Commencement Concert on May 23.

Two Tracks from the 150th Anniversary Performance

Glee Club
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"Manly Men"
Words and music by Kurt Knecht
Performed by the Glee Club

Glee Club
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"Soon Ah Will Be Done"
Spiritual arranged by William Dawson
Performed by the Glee Club with alumni 

Directed by Mallorie Chernin, Amherst's Glee Club is the fifth oldest collegiate choir in the United States and the longest continuously running student organization at the College. "Mainly the Glee Club sings on campus," Chernin says, "but it has also sung at many other venues, including international tours in 58 countries." And, as noted in the the new songbook, "its members have performed for kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers and even a pope."

Chernin is the 13th conductor of the Glee Club and has been at the College full-time since 1986. "The Glee Club provides a place for people to come together in song and bond despite different backgrounds, religions, politics or any other differences," she says. "Music really is a universal language."

And music abounds at Amherst. Branded as "The Singing College" for its long and varied musical history, Amherst boasts a Choral Society that includes the Concert Choir, Madrigal Singers, Women's Chorus and Glee Club; a large Symphony Orchestra made up entirely of students; a jazz performance program with one large ensemble and several smaller combos; and six student-run a cappella groups, including the Sabrinas, the Bluestockings, the Zumbyes, Route 9, the DQ and Terras Irradient.

"Music gives us a common goal, and an opportunity to entertain, share our talents with others, make beautiful music and have fun," Chernin says. "I can’t tell you why the Glee Club has lasted 150 years," she continues, "but, as the editor states in the songbook, what is important to the singers is 'the songs, the camaraderie and the bonds they formed with their fellow singers in sharing this wonderful tradition.'"

To purchase a copy of the new college songbook ($20), a mug or a nylon backpack ($6 each), contact Chernin

Arts at Amherst Spring Festival, in Photos

Arts Festival photos

See more photos from the Arts at Amherst Spring Festival.

The second annual Arts at Amherst Spring Festival, April 10–19, celebrated the multitude of arts on campus. Organized by The Arts at Amherst Initiative—a collaboration among faculty from Amherst’s Departments of Art and the History of ArtMusic and Theater and Dance, as well as the Mead Art Museum—the festival featured:

  • live performances by student and faculty musicians
  • a hands-on "century camera" workshop with experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats '94
  • short film screenings with award-winning filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu
  • a faculty performance uniting jazz, dance, new opera and video 
  • and more! 

Ron Bashford, assistant professor of theater and dance and one of the festival's faculty organizers, says this year's festival was a success particularly among students: "One representative sophomore said to me how excited he was to attend a week of events involving so many people in the arts community here, and how much he looked forward to it happening again next year." 

Though planning for next year's arts festival hasn't yet begun, there are many arts events happening on campus in the weeks, months and year ahead. Bookmark amherst.edu/arts/calendar and sign up for Arts & Museums: Happenings Ahead, a biweekly email, to stay in the know.