Brazile Calls on Amherst Students to “Find Out What Unites Us”

Donna Brazile began her talk at Amherst College on Feb. 18 by noting that, while she has appeared as an extra in The Good Wife and House of Cards, after a long career as a Democratic insider, she probably belongs on a different type of show.

“After all these years in politics, I’m probably best suited to Game of Thrones,” she said, referring to a fantasy HBO series known for the bloody machinations of its characters.

grid of 4 photos of Donna Brazile gesturing

“The only problem with being an actress,” she added, “is that I have to play myself and resist telling the director, ‘That’s not what Donna would say!’”

Equal parts humorous and sharp-witted, Brazile’s remarks at Stirn Auditorium included a vein of astute political observations. Throughout her talk, the capacity audience laughed with her and applauded with snapping fingers.

Brazile—an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, syndicated columnist, best-selling author and on-air contributor to CNN and ABC—has worked on every presidential campaign from 1976 through 2000, and is now a Democratic superdelegate.

From such a high political perch, Brazile formed a host of metaphors about the Republican side of the presidential race, from sports (“politics is like watching pro football, except in politics, there’s no penalty for an illegal formation or encroachment or a late hit”) to the Olympics (“there’s more striving for the bronze than the gold medal”) to a highway (“Trump and Cruz are driving by everybody by ignoring the rules”).

Brazile characterized Donald Trump as a “virtual carnival barker,” arguing that he’s created a new normal in both politics and media coverage.

“We try to fact-check Donald Trump,” she said. “The problem is, it’s like trying to test the moisture content of the ocean.”

But just when it seemed that Brazile would maintain a comic flair throughout, she pointed to the huge disparity between the hundreds of millions spent on campaigns and lackluster voter turnout.

“We live in a moment when we as citizens somehow abdicated the right to choose politicians,” she said. “It’s our duty and responsibility as citizens of this country to get out there and be a part of it.”

Audience during question and answer session

She called the Flint water crisis “immoral” and asked if no one had learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina.

“If we’re going to be citizens and feel the full extent of what that means, we’re all going to have to pay attention to each other,” Brazile said.


In the question and answer session, Brazile elaborated on that theme, noting that Amherst students are of a generation that has “an incredible opportunity to shape the future.”

“We have to find ways to heal,” she said, “to find out what unites us, not only as Americans, but also as human beings.”


Video: Mead exhibit and accompanying catalogue celebrate 20th-century American artist Josef Albers

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On view at the Mead Art Museum through Jan. 3, Intersecting Colors: Josef Albers and His Contemporaries celebrates the juncture of art and science in the work of 20th-century American artist, teacher and color practitioner Josef Albers. Watch the video to see footage from the exhibit and peek inside pages of the accompanying catalogue, available now from Amherst College Press.

Get your copy of the catalogue:

Featuring five essays by scholars in the sciences and humanities, the exhibition catalogue presents a unique combination of disciplinary perspectives that offer a new appreciation of this noteworthy artist and teacher. The catalogue is edited by Vanja Malloy, with contributions from Brenda Danilowitz, Sarah Lowengard, Karen Koehler, Jeffrey Saletnik and Susan R. Barry.


Not Your Typical College Orchestra

December 17, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Amherst Symphony Orchestra  

This year, 80 Amherst students—nearly 5 percent of the student body—play in the Amherst Symphony Orchestra (ASO), making it one of the largest all-student orchestras among liberal arts colleges in the nation.

“Outside of a conservatory setting, this is probably the largest all-student orchestra among liberal arts colleges that plays at such a high level,” says conductor Mark Swanson. Since 2001, Swanson has transformed the ASO from a small college orchestra half composed of hired local professionals to an orchestra ranging in size from 60 to 80 student musicians.

Surprisingly, almost all of the students in Amherst’s orchestra are non-music majors. Leonard Yoon ’18, a chemistry major who plays principal clarinet, says having opportunities to play music, but not necessarily major in it, factored into his college decision-making process. 

“I did music through high school and I wanted to go to a college that had a strong music program,” Yoon says. “That was a big draw for me coming here.” He’s currently enrolled in the ASO for class credit, and also takes clarinet lessons for class credit through the music department.

In October, Yoon traveled with fellow student musicians for a milestone performance in New York City, where all 80 students presented a vibrant French program at the multi-disciplinary performing arts center Symphony Space. “Being there with the orchestra was a great experience,” Yoon says. “I think it speaks to Mark’s dedication to make the trip happen, and that everyone envisioned it to be a big concert, and I think it turned out that way.”

Now in his 15th year with the ASO, Swanson says he decided to devote the entire 2015–16 season to French musical masterpieces of the late 19th and early 20th century. “Part of my job is to choose music [the students will] really enjoy, but also challenge them,” he says.

On Dec. 12, Amherst alumni singers joined current orchestra students for a musical rendition of Les Misérables, the Broadway musical created by the French team of Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg based on Victor Hugo’s novel. In the spring semester, they'll perform works by French composers Francis Poulenc and César Franck, in addition to selections from the opera Carmen (1875) by Georges Bizet.

For more information about the ASO's spring performances, visit

Images from the Dec. 12 performance of Les Misérables:

Amherst Symphony Orchestra

Amherst Symphony Orchestra

Amherst Symphony Orchestra

Amherst Symphony Orchestra

Amherst Symphony Orchestra

Amherst Symphony Orchestra


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.