Beyond Vassar

Way To Go, Vassar!

By Debbie Swartz

Professor Marc Michael Epstein Wins National Jewish Book Award

Professor Marc Michael Epstein
Professor Marc Michael Epstein

Religion professor Marc Michael Epstein’s new book, Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts, recently won the National Jewish Book Award in Visual Arts.

The book investigates almost 1,000 years of Jewish manuscript art—from the Middle Ages to present day—touching on history and iconography. It includes hundreds of illustrations.

Books have always been a passion, Epstein says, noting that he’s also fascinated by the people who created them. The collaboration and sometimes conflict between the Jews who commissioned the works and the non-Jewish artists they often hired are of interest, he says, as is the context in which each particular manuscript was created.

Epstein says the book was a collaborative effort that had several other notable contributors. Also vital to its publication are his Vassar student research assistants, colleagues in the Religion Department and Jewish Studies Program, and Vassar’s administrative and technical staff, he says.

“This book is anything but gray and ponderous—it is full of all manner of color—a delight for both the eye and the mind. It is to my colleagues in this enterprise that this book owes its soul and its verve,” Epstein says.

Alumna/us Honored With NEA Fellowships

Kevin Haworth '92
Kevin Haworth '92

Kevin Haworth ’92, an author and director of Carlow University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and Meghan Daum ’92, an author, columnist, and adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, both received 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships.

The fellowship program provides $25,000 to each winner, giving writers the freedom to focus on creating, revising, conducting research, and connecting with readers. Haworth and Daum, who were both in Professor of English Frank Bergon’s senior creative writing seminar during Vassar’s 1991–92 school year, are two of the 37 fiction and creative- nonfiction writers to receive the award this year.

Haworth has written three books: Famous Drownings in Literary History, The Discontinuity of Small Things, and Far Out All My Life. He has co-edited Lit from Within: Contemporary Masters on the Art & Craft of Writing. In addition, Haworth’s essays have appeared in several publications, including Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, and the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row.

Haworth says he will continue to focus on essays about parenting, literature, and Israeli and Palestinian culture, as well as his narrative biography of Tel Aviv graphic artist Rutu Modan.

Meghan Daum '92
Meghan Daum '92

Daum is the editor of the New York Times bestseller Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, and author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, the winner of the 2015 PEN CENTER USA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction. She is an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times, covering cultural and political topics, and has written for several publications including the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, and Vogue. Daum, who teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Columbia, is also the recipient of a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship.

“I was taken by complete surprise and incredibly honored and grateful to be the recipient of an NEA grant. But I was downright delighted when I saw that my senior comp classmate, Kevin Haworth, was also a recipient this year! Paging our professor, Frank Bergon! He must have been doing something right,” Daum says.

Madison ’74 Lauded for Heritage Project

Paula Williams Madison '74 with Fritz Friedman '74
Paula Williams Madison '74 with Fritz Friedman '74

Each year, the Chinese American Museum honors notable individuals at its Historymakers Awards Gala. At its most recent celebration this past fall, the group presented its Chinese American Heritage & Legacy Award to Paula Williams Madison ’74.

Madison was honored for her work as executive producer on the documentary Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China, which chronicles her search for her family history and information about her grandfather, Samuel Lowe, who had emigrated from China to Jamaica.

Details of her family’s search, which led to her grandfather’s homeland in China, were captured in an award-winning film shown at several film festivals. Madison also retold the tale—which she describes as a universal story of “loss, and discovery, and love”—in the memoir Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem. (An article about Madison’s project appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Vassar magazine.)

A New Leader for Transylvania University

Seamus Carey '87, right, with Professor Emeritus Michael McCarthy
Seamus Carey '87, right, with Professor Emeritus Michael McCarthy

Seamus Carey ’87 was inaugurated as president of Transylvania University in Kentucky this October, a milestone in a career that took root while a student at Vassar.

It began when Carey took a philosophy class with Professor Michael McCarthy, now retired.

“Just watching how he did his work and how he carried himself, I was inspired,” Carey says. “I wanted to have a life where I could wake up being as enthusiastic every day as he is.”

The professor would become Carey’s mentor and lifelong friend. McCarthy even served as a guest speaker at Carey’s inauguration.

After Vassar, Carey’s love of philosophy and teaching led him to Fordham University, where he received his master’s degree and PhD in philosophy, and then to Manhattan College, where he would become a full professor.

Carey began an administrative post as dean of the College of Arts and Science at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut in 2010. Shortly after, Sacred Heart’s president nominated Carey for a program for future college presidents run by the Council of Independent Colleges, which sent him to Harvard’s Management Development Program and Executive Leadership Academy. As a result, he received two offers to head universities.

Carey says he settled on Transylvania University because it is a small liberal arts college with a rich history. The college does an excellent job in teaching students, and it’s in a city that has amenities—art galleries and music venues—that aid in education, he says.

Since arriving, Carey has spearheaded several projects, including 100 Doors to Success, a program he created to match first-year students with local alumnae/i who serve as mentors for the entire four years students attend. It’s been a success, Carey says. Within six months of creating the program, more than 200 mentoring partnerships were established.

Alumnae/i-Driven Film Rakes in Awards

Lightning Bugs in a Jar, a film by screenwriter and co-director Ian Simpson ’05, co-director Sara Wolkowitz ’05, and editor Sophia Betz ’05, recently won several awards, including the Award of Merit: LGBT from the Best Shorts Competition.

In addition, the Hollywood International Motion Picture Film Festival awarded the film four awards: Best LGBT Short, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Musical Score.

Lightning Bugs in a Jar tells the tale of a young man at odds with his mother over an agonizing childhood tragedy.

The film has additional Vassar connections, including the actors who played the two leading roles, Ethan Slater ’14 and Devin McDuffee ’14, and art production assistant Caroline Symons ’13. It was filmed in the summer of 2015 at Catslair, a venue for artists and filmmakers in Upstate New York owned by Purcell Scheu Palmer ’62 (profiled here in the Winter 2015 issue).