Piper Kerman, “Orange is the New Black” author, speaks at Chatham University

On Thursday March, 20, Piper Kerman stepped onto the stage of the Campbell Memorial Chapel to greet an enormous crowd. Author of “Orange is the New Black”, a bestselling novel that spread like wildfire and spawned a show, Kerman was a huge celebrity guest for Chatham University and even people with no affiliation to Chatham came by to see her speak.

Kerman’s story began when she graduated from Smith College in 1992. During her visit on campus, Kerman noted that she was happy to be back at a women’s college. She said, “I consider my educational opportunities at a women’s college to have been very unique and the network of women both at school and coming out into the world is very powerful in many ways. I really value that. I think that women’s communities are really important regardless which form they take, and it is important to foster and create women’s communities.”

However, after Kerman graduated, she admitted she, “walked into a sort of uncertain future.” Although she had been very fortunate growing up, she floundered, not knowing what her next move would be.

She ended up waiting tables until she got involved with an older woman, who, it turned out, was involved in drug trafficking. Eventually, the woman asked Kerman to carry a bag of drug money from Chicago to Brussels.

After doing so, Kerman realized what she had done was wrong and she ended the relationship and came back to the United States, living in California and rekindling friendships from college. She moved on. She forgot.

“It was like that thing that’s in the back of your drawer sort of hidden away,” said Kerman. “Not something I would talk about, that’s for sure.”

A while later, Kerman met her then boyfriend, Larry Smith. They moved to New York City and were settling into life there when she was indicted in a federal court in Chicago. There was a six-year delay after that, but in 2004 Kerman walked through prison gates—almost 10 years since her crime had been committed.

She was sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut to serve her sentence. Looking around the Chapel, Kerman said, “An amazing institution of learning like [Chatham] gets built very intentionally with certain people in mind and an institution like a prison or a jail gets built very intentionally with certain people in mind.”

Kerman spent 11 months in Danbury out of the 13 she served (of her 15 month sentence). “If you have to do prison time,” she said, “a minimum security federal women’s prison or prison camp is pretty much your best case scenario.”

She covered prison life briefly, talking mostly about what got her through it all. She explained prison cheesecake and the notion of prison recipe books. She said,   “A meal made with love and shared between equals is a very powerful way of claiming your humanity in a setting that is designed to take it away.”

Another point she made was about work in prisons. Kerman worked in Danbury first as an electrician and then as a construction worker. She noted the “dignity of work” and that she never knew prisoners took pride in their work until she insulted the woman who ran the kitchen and “had a lot of making up to do.”

As far as entertainment goes, Kerman said crocheting is actually very popular in prison. She even showed a picture in her presentation of women who crocheted for charity. Another important thing Kerman brought up were books—“the only legitimate form of escape when you’re locked up in prison.” She adamantly suggested that people donate books to prisons.

However, Kerman said that most important thing about prison was the people, and it was the people that inspired her to write the book. She told a story about a young woman named Pom-Pom who was incarcerated with her. Pom-Pom got out before Kerman and sent letters to her, telling Kerman that things were tough outside of prison. Pom-Pom was in a bad situation, sleeping on the floor of a relative’s home where she wasn’t welcome; she did not even have a winter coat.

“What I wanted in my book was for people to care as much about Pom-Pom and the other women that I did time with as I did,” said Kerman. “What I tried to accomplish with the book was just to invite the reader to walk in my shoes or identify with either my predicament or the situation of the other women who were depicted in the book.”

During the last two months of her imprisonment, Kerman was incarcerated in a federal jail in Chicago, which was much worse than Danbury. She said this made the last two months the hardest. Luckily, when she was released, Smith was waiting for her. “I often say [Larry] is the hero of the piece,” she said.

Kerman had luck on her side. When she was released she was 800 miles from home with only $28 and a windbreaker—in March. Most women aren’t so lucky to have someone waiting for them.

Since her experiences in prison, Kerman has fought for women’s rights in the criminal justice system as a board member of the Women’s Prison Association. During the event, Kerman shared horrifying statistics about women in prisons and the abuse they suffer.

However, Kerman believes that women are much more powerful than they think. They do not inevitably need saving. “I think if I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, what I would impress upon her is that you’re much more powerful than you realize,” Kerman said, “Young people don’t necessarily feel endowed with a lot of power. They may not have a massive sense of consequences. They don’t always understand that their actions in the world are really powerful and make a big difference.”

Chatham students play a life-sized game of “Clue”

On Saturday, March 22, the Fickes Hall RHC took over the Mellon Board Room to create a life-sized game of “Clue”.

The evening began when the last guests filed in and sat at the tables set up in the room, each of which was labeled with a different location concurrent with the beloved board game. Students ate a delicious eggplant and lasagna dinner provided by Parkhurst dining.

By the end of their meal, however, participants began to notice something odd as those in costume began moving around suspiciously. The movement culminated with a scream from the next room, followed by the characters carrying in an unknown “corpse” (this proved to be more of a comedic event than a dramatic event).

Participants in the evening were then asked to disperse themselves among the six characters (Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, and Professor Plum). Each team was then given the task of finding the clues that were hidden around each table/location, and eventually finding out whom the murderer was.

The rest of the evening proceeded as if it were a regular game of “Clue”, with life-sized characters and locations. The game brought out the competitive side of each of the participants, and proved to be a lot of fun when two teams ended in a tie.

When asked about why the Fickes RHC decided to host this event, member Indigo Baloch said, “It began that we were interested in doing a murder mystery dinner theater…but then when we were trying to think of a theme, we came across ‘Clue’ and it was something that we were all familiar with and that we all liked, and it became the event.”

At the beginning of the evening, the RHC asked if anyone had not played “Clue” in the past, and were surprised by the number of people who were not familiar with the game.

One of those participants was first year Alice Shy, who said, “it was educational because I had never played ‘Clue’ before, so it was fun to be able to participate in a life-sized version of it. That was a very fun and interesting twist on the game.”

Seeing the classic board game brought to life was an exciting experience regardless of whether or not players had played the game previously or not. While the performance of the murder did illicit more laughs than gasps, the event was overall a success.

With a great sense of friendly competition and camaraderie, everyone in attendance (and even those who arranged the event) had a blast, and the “Clue” Murder Mystery dinner became an instant hit.

Chatham transitions bathrooms to non-gender specific in hopes of inclusivity

On March 6, in efforts to make Chatham a more inclusive space for all members of the community, 11 bathrooms across the University’s three campuses were changed from single-sex to non-gender specific.

This change took place, according to Zauyah Waite–Dean of Students–in efforts to “demonstrate the institutional value of inclusivity as demonstrated by our non-discrimination policy”, which promises equal opportunity and affirmative action to everyone, regardless of personal differences. “As a result of this statement we are committed to creating a safe space for all members of our community which include community members who identify as transgender on the gender spectrum”, Waite said.

As of now the signage outside of the bathrooms is the only thing that has changed, and the transition has had no impact on the contents or structure of the bathroom interiors.

When asked whether or not all of the bathrooms would eventually be transitioned to non-gender specific, Waite explained that that would definitely not happen, saying, “This number is adequate to serve the expected need we currently have on campus. Not everyone would feel comfortable using a non-gender specific restroom and the needs of those individuals need to be respected and served as well.” She further explained that this should not impact students’ daily routines, as “there are sufficient restrooms for all to utilize regardless of gender.”

To offset any concerns that this transition was in in preparation for Chatham College for Women’s possible co-education future, Waite emphasized the fact that the future of the undergraduate program–whether it be all women or co-educational–had no impact on the bathroom decision whatsoever.

She explained that Chatham has considered making this change before, and that they simply felt that this was a good time to move forward with it. She additionally pointed out that nine of the bathrooms in question were men’s rooms before the transition occurred, as further evidence of this point.

Waite also pointed out that Chatham is not alone in this shift towards non-gender specific restrooms, as many neighboring institutions have been moving in the direction for years.  Additionally other public entities, like the city of Philadelphia, have recently made efforts to provide more gender-neutral options to fulfill the needs of all citizens.  According to Waite, “It is just time and right for Chatham to do the same.”

When asked, several members of the Chatham community declined to offer comments or opinions regarding the transition. Despite this, the general attitude among the student body towards this change seems to be a neutral one.

Any students or other members of the Chatham community who do have who concerns about this change can direct their questions to Dean Waite at ZWaite@Chatham.edu.

However, Waite emphasized that this was not an effort to make anyone feel uncomfortable. “The primary purpose of doing this now is that we have community members who identify as transgender on the gender spectrum” Waite said. “Their needs are important [and need to be addressed] and this is Chatham’s way of doing so.”

A night of magic: Spring 2014’s final Spit Reel

The final Spit Reel of the year was a huge splash with the audience of students, instructors, and fellow writers who came to the Mellon Living Room on Thursday, March 7 to hear the featured readers. In the adjoining room were trays of brownies, cupcakes, pita chips, and more, which the audience happily snacked on, chatting with their friends before heading to their seats.

Lorena Williams, a creative writing professor at Chatham, took the podium–lit by small electric lights–first. She spoke of the enormous success of the Creative Writing Club and the growing popularity of Spit Reel, congratulating all the club members. Once her speech was completed, Professor Ian Riggins–the night’s MC–took the microphone.

He spoke of his excitement about being there to help present the readers and then introduced the first speaker: Kaitlyn Lacey. Reading an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Silverblood, she told the story of a family of supernatural creatures, including a vampire and a werewolf, struggling to survive in a dangerous town. The audience was captivated by her imaginative world and entertained by her humorous dialogue.

Next was Melissa Garrett, a self-published author and sophomore at Chatham University, who read five poems: “1.53,” “What I’ve Grown to See as Love,” “Jane’s Angel Recounting,” “All About Alice,” and “Water and Wine.” Telling of tragedy, life and love, each poem–which hearken back to 19th century writings–was moving, shifting the tone of the evening to a more somber yet beautiful atmosphere.

Once she concluded her poetry, senior Courtney Druzak (also a member of the Minor Bird Literary Magazine) took the podium to read an excerpt from her Creative Writing tutorial which tells of newly born gods and humans–a gripping fantasy novel that has all the captivating sensory description of authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

After a brief intermission, the Open Mic began and almost ten readers decided to dive in and share their creative work with their Chatham sisters. Rachael Owen began with a poem on the art of writing itself, and was followed by Spit Reel veteran Meaghan Clohessy who read “The Rise and Fall of Innocence”, a hilarious excerpt from her tutorial on travel writing.

Stephanie Vituccio composed a powerful piece on the process of healing and Bertie Yarroll came next with his fiction piece on a robot doctor that had the audience in stitches. Other highlights include when Maryann Fix performed “To the Girl with Golden Hair,” a poem about lost love, and the excellent audience response received by Rebecca Pell when she read her clever poetry.

Although it was the Creative Writing Club’s final Spit Reel of the Spring semester, audiences can look forward to the event’s return in Fall. The Creative Writing Club encourages undergraduate students of all majors to submit.

Alumna Janel Diven makes cross-cultural connections

Directly after high school, Janel Diven chose to dive directly into the workforce.  She then decided to go back to school after some time off, since she did not enjoy her current job. Diven made the brave, inspiring choice to change her life, as she knew it when she chose to attend the university.

Since Diven was over the age of 23 when she entered Chatham’s hallways, she was considered a, “gateway student.” Gateway students are students that have decided to go back to school, but it’s more than a label. As a Gateway student, specific events are held in order to allow off-campus students to maintain involvement on campus.  It also allows for all-gateway student events to be held, which can serve as a support system and a great way to meet new friends.

Photo Courtesy of Janel Diven

Photo Courtesy of Janel Diven

Despite any nervousness about her change in career path or in life, Diven created a wonderful change for herself. In 2012 Diven, graduated from Chatham’s undergraduate program with a degree in cultural studies. Now 37, she works for a relocation company, which means she utilizes her cultural studies degree often.

Essentially, the company services other companies, when an employee needs to be moved globally.  Her job entails working cross-culturally with families new to the United States.  Diven not only aids new families to get acquainted with the land, but with the right people as well.

Following her love for culture, one of her favorite experiences at Chatham was her time abroad.  Looking for a way to spend Maymester, Diven decided Greece sounded like just the place to be. During her stay in those three weeks, she connected with the country in an amazing way. “I felt a strong connection [there],” said Diven. “I loved the art, the history, and the culture.”

Given the strong connection and lovely experience in Greece during her Maymester field experience, Diven gave Greece another shot.  She chose to spend an entire semester next. Diven’s time abroad seemed extremely important to her and her Chatham career, commenting, “I loved both semesters!”

Greece wasn’t the end all of connections during Diven’s stay Chatham though.  Diven also spoke fondly of Chatham’s own Anissa Wardi.  Dr. Wardi works as a literature, writing, and cultural studies professor. During her time with Dr. Wardi, Divens again spoke of connections that impacted her in a special way.

Diven also remembered the beginning stages of her experience at Chatham.  There was one major influence on her decision to attend the university.  First and foremost, she referenced Chatham’s environment. A key reason she attended Chatham was due to the all-women atmosphere it provided, noting: “I think it should stay that way.”

After completing the entire process, Diven advised any and all students, “If you can, study abroad and travel as much as possible.”


Little Red Riding Vogue: Feeling “Clueless”

Anyone that knows me knows that it has been my lifelong dream to be Cher from the 90s classic “Clueless”. She was beautiful, popular, and above all fashionable. Every decade has its own style and people will almost always regret the fashion choices they made as a teenager—I know I do. Naturally, plenty of people look back on the 90s with dread. I, however, happily embrace its wild fashion.

The 90s was the decade to get away with anything fashion-wise. If it was crazy and unique, it was suddenly a trend. I fell in love with the fuzzy crop tops, plaid mini skirts, and glittery everything of the 90s. It was the only decade where you could go out dressed up like a Spice Girl or Zenon Girl of the 21st Century and get compliments.

So you have to imagine my delight when one of my favorite rappers decided to make a music video entirely based on “Clueless”. If you aren’t familiar with Iggy Azalea, she’s a fearless young recording artist with a fashion sense that absolutely pulls from the 80s and 90s. Her music videos are vivid and colorful and her songs are catchy enough to send you to the dance floor. And the most charming thing about her? As loud and outspoken as she is as a performer, in interviews she’s just a shy, quiet Aussie with a big smile. She’s only 23 so it’s no surprise she’s a fan of “Clueless”. Still, the results were even better than expected.

The song, “Fancy”, had Iggy Azalea partnering with fellow recording artist Charli XCX who played the Tai to Iggy’s Cher. The video featured many of Cher’s classic outfits (as well as some improvised ones—all clothes she would approve of though). The most prominent of course was the unforgettable yellow plaid ensemble that introduced Cher as a 90s icon. Iggy Azalea picked it out like any modern Cher would—by viewing her closet on her smart tablet.

If I had to pick a favorite piece, it would be a pink Chanel polo that Iggy Azalea wears during a lunch scene with her respective Tai and Dionne. Also I couldn’t help but notice all of the pieces from one of my favorite stores: UNIF—most notably a smiley face backpack with three eyes shaped like sixes. Ah, UNIF.

And, of course, I can’t pass up covering the classic Dionne hat. If you remember Cher’s yellow plaid getup, you have to remember Dionne’s similar black plaid outfit, accessorized with a great hat, since you’ll rarely find Dionne without some fabulous headgear.

If you’re like me and you’re always looking to get your fix of “Clueless” (beyond religiously re-watching the movie), another thing to check out is Wildfox Couture’s old SS13 lookbook, which, like Iggy Azalea’s music video, was entirely inspired by “Clueless”. If the outfits and famous poses didn’t give it away, their Tai’s Marvin the Martian covered notebook certainly did. Personally, my favorite finishing touch to the photo-shoot was the retro phones as props. Nothing says “Clueless” like a huge black flip-phone.

Foodie on the Half Shell: A taste of Mexico

Mexican night at my house is never complete without guacamole. The recipe is from my dad who grew up in Southern California, where Mexican food is a prominent genre of cuisine. He gave me vague directions the first time I made it, and I was left to improvise. It wasn’t until only about a year ago that I was given a cook- book put together by my late grandmother on my father’s side.

My grandma liked to take pictures and do arts and crafts, the way grandparents do, and so in the nineties, she put together one of those family recipe books. She got a hold of some close friends and family members, got some pictures together, and put all of the recipes and pictures into a binder. I believe she gave them out to a group of the family members.

My dad and his sisters were pretty busy people, and this sort of weird crafting wasn’t exactly their cup of tea. My Aunt Kim (the cookbook was orginally hers, and was given to me when she passed away), told my grandma that she’s “just too busy”, so my grandma put a lovely picture of Aunt Kim in the binder anyhow along with that quote, and wrote next to it “with those looks, who wouldn’t be busy?!”

The funny thing about this cookbook, is that it is a union of a bunch of family members who normally, would not be united in any other way. So it’s a tiny bit of normalcy that I like to look at from time to time.

Now, honestly, none of the recipes are spectacular. My dad grew up on pretty basic things like meatloaf and fish sticks, but being from Cali he also had taco night. In the binder, my dad actually offered a recipe and it is his guacamole! My dad always has critiques about my guacamole, so I thought I finally found the key to perfect guacamole.

Well, the story ends with the fact that I will never make the “perfect” guacamole for my dad, but he loves it all the same. I never said I was a perfect cook anyhow. I prefer the word “rugged”.

My guacamole is many of my friend’s favorite guacamole, and it is so flavorful and perfect on top of tacos, chips, or even in your favorite sandwiches! Make this and I promise that you will impress anyone who tastes it, even if it’s only you!

What you’ll need:

3 avocados

¼ finely chopped red onion

½ finely chopped tomato

½ finely chopped green pepper

A bunch of chopped cilantro

½ lime

A scoop of your favorite salsa

    This is the easiest recipe because all of the ingredients go into a bowl, and get mashed together. Don’t mash too much, because a nice chunky guac is the best kind of quac. Finish with a sprinkle of salt and a nice bit of freshly ground pepper, and there you have it: a delicious bowl of guacamole!

“The Johnstown Girls” : a mystery novel with a Chatham connection

Very soon, local Pittsburgh mystery author, Kathleen George, will release a new novel, “The Johnstown Girls”. The book combines George’s mystery skills along with undertones of historical-fiction, and contains a special Chatham connection.

George, a theatre and writing professor at University of Pittsburgh, is known for her critically acclaimed novels such as “Taken”, “Fallen”, and “The Odds”, all part of her thrillers set in different areas of Pittsburgh.

The story focuses primarily on three characters: Ben, Nina, and Ellen. Ben and Nina, both journalists for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, return to Nina’s hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania to interview one hundred and three-year-old Ellen, one of the few survivors of the Johnstown flood of 1889.

Photo Courtesy of Kathleen George

Photo Courtesy of Kathleen George

The story takes an interesting turn when Ben and Nina find out that Ellen holds onto the belief that her twin sister, Mary, is still alive. While Ben simply finds it interesting, Nina becomes invested in trying to help Ellen find her missing sister.

The Chatham connection comes into play through the schools former name, Pennsylvania College for Women, which is referred to numerous times throughout the novel. Ellen was a student at the college. There is even the mention of the name change that occurred, “sometime in the fifties” as Ellen put it.

George also has a personal connection to Chatham. Not only does she, “love the setting”, she also says that she, “once directed “Sleuth” for a summer theatre there. And [she has] taught fiction in the MFA program several times.”

Kathleen George says that the inspiration to write the book came from “the feeling of fear that a family member is lost”–a theme that is prevalent in many of the conversations throughout the story.

According to George, “tons” of research went into making sure the novel was accurate. Not only did she have to make sure that the specifics of the flood of 1889 were accurate, she also had to do plenty of research to ensure that the details about twins, nursing, and memory were accurate.

While this research was extensive, George did include a disclaimer at the opening of the novel saying that the details of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball season of 1989 were altered to fit the storyline. She also stressed that the settings are all real, but the details are fictitious.

As for the novel, George does an amazing job of maintaining the focus and heart of the Johnstown mystery, while also including the complicated romantic interests of Ben and Nina, among other subplots.

“Johnstown” will be particularly interesting for those readers in the Pittsburgh area, who can expect colorful descriptions of such places as Kennywood, Homestead, and, of course, Johnstown. However, those readers outside of Pittsburgh or even Pennsylvania can look forward to the fascinating history lesson that George presents in such a creative new way.

Each character is developed and well-rounded, and increasingly complicated as the story unfolds. Similarly they all add to the intrigue, mystery, and excitement that is carried from beginning to end.

The novel is truly a triumph for George, as well as a source of interest for the Chatham University community. “The Johnstown Girls” will be available on April 1, 2014.

Waiting for Intermission: Review of “The Wind Rises”

Animated films contain the power of the visceral experience. These films manipulate color, sound, and texture to fully immerse audiences within a new world. They provide understanding to events through a different form of literacy.

When it comes to animated films, there is no better master than Hayao Miyazaki. He ends an illustrious forty-year career with the film “The Wind Rises”. This fictionalized history follows the life of Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a Japanese aeronautical engineer.

He strives to create beauty in the rapidly industrializing world of interwar Japan. In the midst of successes and failures, he falls in love with the beautiful Nahoko Satomi (Emily Blunt). With sensational animation and a refreshing portrayal of Japanese history, “The Wind Rises” becomes a kind of “Tempest” performance for Miyazaki, employing imagination to create an intense visceral experience for its audiences.

Miyazaki conveys visceral experience largely through the cyclical theme of wind. Wind reflects the film’s sense of timelessness. Miyazaki displays incredible pacing by establishing only a few time codes throughout the film. Inconsistent time coding physicalizes the slipperiness of time, where whole years can pass in moments.

Any historical context then becomes an invasive force intruding on Jiro’s desires to create airplanes for his people as opposed to warfare. Visceral animation strengthens these themes by making the wind its own character. The wind shimmering through the grass takes on an aqueous quality that instills texture within the film, grounding audiences in both spatial intimacy and time. Even Nahoko is drawn with wind constantly flowing through her hair and dress, making her very presence part of the wind itself.

Animation also provides literacy to events outside western memory. The most prominent example is with the depiction of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The beautiful animation shows the Japanese landscape reverberating in thick defined vibrations. Debris floats down from an ashen sky.

Clear transitions from the initial tremor to the aftershock place audiences in this horrific moment. Coupled with nuanced dialogue, animation becomes a platform for western audiences to understand Japanese history. To understand the world of Jiro/Miyazaki’s creation, one must be first welcomed into it.

Unfortunately, a couple elements of the film may turn away some American audiences. Pacing may come off as slow for those fans of the fast-paced action film. More pressing are the quiet allusions to the atomic bomb. Some moments seem to foreshadow the brutal end of Japanese involvement in the war, including a German engineer’s snide remark that “Japan will blow up.”

Although Jiro muses that his airplane designs—which would be used as Japanese fighter pilots—“fell apart at the end,” no specific references were made to the end of the war. It retains the timeless feeling of the movie, but it just misses what seems to be one of the central messages of the film: imagination can provide escape from the horrors of reality.

If reality becomes destructive, then creative minds are needed to rebuild that society. Even a simple clarification of that societal context, which they mention in detail throughout the film, would have been enough to advance that them without demonizing Jiro or ruining the film’s cultural influence.

For the best enjoyment, watch the film in the original Japanese. Even with English subtitles, this tale carries the most agency in its native language.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.