Alums and Creative Writing

Delighted to see that a graduate from the class of 2017 has recently published her debut novel with St. Martin’s Press. Jenny Fran Davis’s ’17 Everything Must Go has recently come out — the first of her two book deals with the prestigious publisher. In a recent interview Jenny says that:

“Most of the literary analysis that Flora does in the book comes out of work that I’ve done in classes at Wesleyan and in high school. It’s a really neat thing to be a student while writing a book, because you can slip into these modes of double-thinking, thinking as both a literary analyst and a writer. Suddenly everything you read is applicable and pertinent. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) and Emily Dickinson are foundational and contribute to a particular canon of writing by and about women, but I found myself thinking about more contemporary novels as I wrote, as well as media texts like newspaper and magazine articles (I read a ton of Rookie) and e-mails and texts from friends. I loved studying Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar), Jacqueline Susann (Valley of the Dolls), and Toni Morrison (Beloved and The Bluest Eye) with Sally Bachner in my Women’s Lib, Women’s Lit class, and reading Roxane Gay in a Writing through Trauma student forum was very exciting and momentum building.”

You can read the full interview here.

Jenny’s book is on the YA shelves, not far from that of another Wesleyan alum, Daniel Handler ’92. The creator of Lemony Snicket has a new novel out, All the Dirty Parts. Daniel’s “raunchy and original” novel is on my reading list for winter break, and it promises to be provocative and thoughtful.

Readers can also look forward to Shapiro-Silverberg Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Amy Bloom‘s new novel, White Houses, to be published in the spring by Random House. Amy ’75 re-imagines the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok — friends, lovers and participants in a grand historical moment. The novel is steeped in that history, and shines with beautiful, deeply felt prose.

I’ll just note one more work in progress: Quiara Alegria Hudes, Wesleyan’s Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater, is away from campus working on a number of projects. Her plays, Water by the Spoonful and The Happiest Song Plays Last, are currently being staged in Portland. She wrote the book and lyrics for Miss You Like Hell, which will premiere at New York’s Public Theater in March.

There are PLENTY more alums doing great things in this sphere…. Add your favorites to the comments, if you’d like.

Welcome Back!

It’s great to see students back on campus despite the bad weather, and I’m looking forward to the start of classes – as I always do! The cold over these next days will doubtless provide an encouragement to stay indoors and get a good start on the kind of highly productive work that distinguishes faculty and students at Wesleyan.  🙂

Over the break the Wes community has surely done some celebrating, but faculty have also been preparing their classes, doing their research, and working on various educational projects. I’d like to extend a special thanks to those faculty who have been spending some time on camera to help us prepare our new Coursera class: How to Change the World.

Some students got an early start to the semester with our Winter Session and Winter on Wyllys programs. The interest shown by students augurs well for the future of these programs. And of course many of our athletes have been here competing vigorously.

Great teaching makes Wesleyan the outstanding liberal arts institution that it is, and in that regard I’m so pleased to announce that Quiara Alegría Hudes, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, will be the new Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater for three years beginning in the fall of 2014. Quiara served as a visiting playwright in 2012, and I have no doubt those of you who met her then will share my excitement about the return of this gifted artist. Also, noted New York Times film critic A.O. Scott will be teaching this semester in our brand-new College of Film and the Moving Image, a marvelous opportunity for the students selected for his criticism class.

Last week I joined leaders from 100 universities and 40 nonprofit groups at the White House to discuss improving access to higher education. There is no greater challenge facing higher education because research has shown that far too many highly capable students from lower-income families are not enrolling in selective universities and colleges. It’s essential that we do a better job of finding and enrolling these students if we’re going to make progress in addressing the growing economic divide in this country.

Wesleyan will do its part. We are committed to increasing the number of QuestBridge scholars on campus – low-income and first-generation students who receive full scholarships.

We will work to expand efforts to retain students from under-represented groups in STEM fields, including development of a summer bridge program and more introductory science courses revamped to support retention, as successfully demonstrated by the biology department. We’ve also partnered with the Posse Foundation to enroll 10 military veterans each year, and last week I celebrated with our first “posse” in New York. These students will join the class of 2018 in September, adding to the rich diversity of our student body.

As the new semester begins, Wesleyan renews its commitment to boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.  Welcome back!