Exclusive Q&A with Judith Huang (Author, Sofia & the Utopia Machine)

judith_2016_pro_cropped.jpgJudith Huang AB '09 is a Singaporean poet, writer, editor, illustrator and translator. Her first novel, Sofia & The Utopia Machine, was shortlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2017 and is available now here. Named a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2001, 2003, and 2004, her writing has been published in various journals, including Prairie Schooner and Asia Literary Review, as well as anthologies such as In Transit, Journeys, Singpowrimo 2014, Ayam Curtain, and Body Boundaries.

Q. You must have begun writing at a young age, given that you received an award in 2002 from the Singapore Youth Festival for original play! How did you get your start?

A. I’ve been telling stories as soon as I was born, really—as soon as I was verbal, I was telling stories. I used to tell stories about the Berry Bunnies, who live in your nose when in an urban environment and in toadstools when they’re in a rural environment, and I’m in the middle of codifying that into children's books for kids.

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Exclusive Q&A with Andrew Coles (Founder, The Mission Entertainment)

Andrew_Coles_Headshot__photo_credit_Dania_Graibe.jpgAndrew Coles AB '09 is the founder of The Mission Entertainment, a management and production company representing storytellers with unique and distinct voices. He first began his career at CAA in the Motion Picture literary department, before moving to Overbrook Entertainment, where he started off as Franklin Leonard’s assistant (founder of The Black List) before becoming his junior executive. From there, Andrew moved to New York to run development for Scott Rudin, where he worked on Top Five and Ex Machina, among other film, TV, and theatre projects. (Photo credit: Dania Graibe)

Q. You originally wanted to pursue a career in law! What inspired your move to entertainment, and did Harvard play a role in that decision?

A. My original plan was to be a civil rights criminal defense attorney. I read To Kill a Mockingbird in 7th grade English class and it changed the way I look at the world. At a young age I was forced to confront, through the power of storytelling, our country’s history of systematic and institutional inequality—and was made very much aware of the privilege I was born into by virtue of the access and opportunities my parents were able to provide. It set the course for my lifeI decided that I had to live a life in service to amplifying the voices and protecting the rights of those who the system was not designed to advantage. I wanted to be an advocate for those who came from traditionally underrepresented and undervalued communities.

Harvard definitely played a role in my career transition, haha!after a semester of Gov 30, I clearly understood that law school was not in my future. It was too dry, too academicwhat I loved about the law was its utility as a tool or a weaponin the right hands, it could be used for liberation and justice, in the wrong hands, a bludgeon of oppression. I realized through my critical cultural theory studies (a lot of AfAm and VES courses), that storytelling and image making could similarly be used as a tool or a weapon, and that people who looked like me were too often staring down the barrel of weaponized imagery.

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2018 Heroes Update: Priten H. Shah AB '19

Priten H. Shah AB '19, founder of United 4 Social Change, tells us how the Heroes grant was used to expand his nonprofit's workshops to over a thousand students in the past six months. 

Thanks in part to the Harvardwood Heroes grant, we were able to greatly expand our workshop offerings and presented to almost 1,250 students since May 2018! We were able to keep our budget-low by partnering with other nonprofits and educational institutions to host our workshops. Students participated in a variety of interactive workshops that centered on building student skills in public speaking and argumentative writing. We taught students about various topics on persuasion including delivery, ethos, pathos, logos, cognitive biases, Aristotle, arguments, and structure. We also worked with students on practice exercises and received widespread feedback that the work helped them overcome hurdles in their ability to advocate for themselves and others.

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2018 Heroes Update: Laura Kanji AB '19

Laura Kanji AB '19 describes how the PBHA's Mission Hill After School Program utilized the Heroes grant to fund clay-based art workshops for its students this fall.

This fall, Mission Hill After School Program has been implementing clay-based art workshops with the funds provided by the Harvardwood Heroes award. These workshops have been wonderful opportunities for our students to use clay as a unique medium for their artistic creations. Out of the 5 classrooms that make up our program, 3 have had the opportunity to participate in these workshops. We are excited to purchase materials in the spring for the final two classrooms to be able to participate. The Harvardwood Heroes Grant has helped make these workshops a reality, as it has allowed us to purchase materials like air-dry clay, clay sculpting tools, and paint. Previously these materials were inaccessible to our program due to their high cost and our constrained budget.

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2018 Heroes Update: Farah Art Griffin EDM '08

Visual artist Farah Art Griffin EDM '08 shares how the Heroes grant helped her create a new art piece entitled "The Burn of Acid is No One’s Honor.”

Over the course of many years, there have been a great number of acid attacks in India against Indian women. Sadly, these acids are very easily purchased, with sulfuric acid being one of the most common acids used in these acts of suffering. The attacks are done both in a private or a public place (very often for the intention of humiliation). These women are either permanently disfigured, permanently disabled, and/or killed as a result of these attacks by the oppressors. The attackers see this as a type of honor violence in which they believe they are carrying out an act that upholds the honor of a family or a community. They believe these women have brought permanent dishonor to their family or community, and they believe that a permanent physical punishment should be carried out as a consequence. Very often, these attackers are members of the victims close or extended family. To more intensely reflect on these acid attacks of immeasurable suffering, I created an artwork for my service project.

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2018 Heroes Update: Jeanie M. Barnett MPA '02

In Spring 2018, we awarded four $500 grants through the annual Harvardwood Heroes program in recognition of Harvard alumni performing outstanding work at the intersection of the arts and service. This Thanksgiving weekend, we're catching up with the 2018 Heroes to share their program updates with the Harvardwood community and to express our gratitude for their inspiring impact on their communities.

CHIhwty.pngFirst in the spotlight is Jeanie M. Barnett MPA '02, who  volunteers with The Chicago Help Initiative (CHI), which provides meals, social services, and life-enriching programs to people in need and experiencing homelessness. Jeanie leads CHI's weekly photography workshops. 

Our photo workshop, which was launched in the fall of 2017, uses the power of photography and social media as tools for self-expression and creativity, and for bringing people together. Follow us on Instagram.

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Exclusive Q&A with Peter Rader (Author, PLAYING TO THE GODS, MIKE WALLACE)

PeterRader.jpgPeter Rader AB '82-'83 began his career as a screenwriter, penning blockbuster Waterworld on spec and developing projects for the likes of Steven Spielberg and Dino De Laurentiis. Since then, Rader has directed episodes of hit series Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan and produced several documentaries under the banner of CounterPoint Films, the TV/film production company he runs with his wife, Paola di Florio. Rader is also the author of two non-fiction books, Mike Wallace: A Life (St. Martin's Press) and—published earlier this year—Playing to the Gods (Simon & Schuster), an account of the longstanding rivalry between legendary actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse.

Q. It’s been over 10 years since Harvardwood last chatted with you, and so much has happened since then! You’ve worn many different creative hats throughout your career: you’ve written movies, directed for TV, produced documentaries, not to mention your numerous credits as an editor and cinematographer… and you’re also a nonfiction author of two books! Aside from the obvious common thread—storytelling—can you talk about the skills, passions, or knowledge one needs to accomplish all of the above?

A. It really does just come down to the storytelling aspect. There’s a quote by a French Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “We aren’t human beings having spiritual experiences. We are spiritual beings having human experiences.” This quote has haunted me the past few years.

All the things we do as creators of arts are a little hint of what it means to be a spirit having a human experience. Our bodies do not have owners’ manuals. The human condition is quite daunting and confusing. Narrative storytelling is a way for us to come to an understanding of a shared humanity—you have your experiences, and your experiences can actually inform how I navigate through this life.

That is really my passion: playing around with the idea that we need to create, share, and disseminate narratives that help us navigate this human condition.

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Exclusive Q&A with Lillian Yu (Writer, POWERLESS, SINGLES DAY)

Lillian_Yu_Headshot_1.jpgThis past summer, Lillian Yu AB '11 sold her spec feature, a romantic comedy entitled Singles Day, to New Line! In addition to being staffed on NBC's sitcom, Powerless, Lillian was also part of the writers' room for upcoming series Warrior. The period drama is set to premiere on Cinemax in 2019. Photo credit to Ashleigh Cahn Photography.

Q. What inspired you to become a screenwriter? Did you already plan on becoming a writer when you were at Harvard?

AI've been extraordinarily lucky in that I kind of always knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was in high school when I decided to pursue it for real. I was an enormous nerd back then (and still am)—my favorite show was Futurama—and after some light internet sleuthing in ninth grade, I found out that most of the writers had written for the Harvard Lampoon. I thought, "Huh, maybe I can do that too." Before that point, my hypothetical career path was a bit more first-generationally binary: doctor or lawyer. It was mind-blowing that there might be a real, blazed trail to get to where I wanted to go. So anyways, I got my academic act together, made no friends in high school, and was fortunate enough to get into Harvard and the Lampoon.

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Exclusive Q&A with Tracey Bing (Producer, NAPPILY EVER AFTER)

Bing.jpgThe latest movie from producer Tracey Bing MBA '01Nappily Ever After, will be released this month on Netflix! Starring Sanaa Lathan, Ernie Hudson, Ricky Whittle, and Lynn Whitfield, the film is adapted from a novel of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour. Stream it on Netflix beginning September 21st! (Harvardwood also caught up with Tracey to talk about her career previously—read her full alum profile!)

Q. Congratulations on the upcoming release of Nappily Ever After! This project was previously in development by Universal Pictures fifteen years ago, before being revived more recently. How did you first become involved with this project?

A. In 2005, when I was VP Production and Acquisitions at Warner Independent Pictures, an executive from Marc Platt Productions at Universal submitted the project to me. At that time Halle Berry was attached to the project as both an actress and producer. I fell in love with the material because it so resonated with my own experiences. As a little girl, I was never happy with my hair, and having been influenced by European notions of beauty that proliferated society through advertising and images that were prevalent (and one blond-haired Barbie), I begged my mom to straighten my hair. My hair was never the same. And this issue continued throughout my life. We didn’t end up making the film at WIP, but the story always stayed with me. And now and again, I would ask what happened with the project and whether it was made.

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Exclusive Q&A with Marielle Woods (Director, DO NO HARM, SPIN)

Woods.jpgMarielle Woods AB '08 is a filmmaker from New Jersey who concentrated in Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. Right after graduation, Marielle first worked as a director and producer for docudrama shows on Discovery, History, A&A, and Animal Planet. Marielle has since transitioned into scripted and directed award-winning shorts Mi Corazon and Do No Harm. This year, Marielle was selected to participate in the AFI Directing Workshop for Women.

Q. When did you decide to become a director, and did your experience at Harvard play a role in that decision?

A. I actually came to Harvard planning to be a Classics major (I took 10 years of Latin and still love it) but taking a few VES classes solidified what I already knew deep down – that filmmaking was my future. I had previously directed some theater (including a rousing stage rendition of 101 Dalmatians one summer) and growing up I would often try to convince teachers to let me make a movie in lieu of writing a paper, which led to some hilarious early work. So on some level, I think I’ve always known I wanted to direct but I didn’t have the tools or verbiage to say so until I got to college. 

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