Exclusive Q&A with Christian D'Andrea (Author, TOUCHING THE DRAGON)

By Terence O'Toole Murnin

CD_headshot.jpgWith a name as quixotically cool as Christian D’Andrea AB '94, it’s no wonder that this documentary filmmaker and writer lives a frenetic-paced life dedicated to telling stories that uncover the best moments of humanity. His latest project is Touching The Dragon: And Other Techniques for Surviving Life’s Wars, a book co-written with former special ops Navy SEAL James Hatch, and it has been profiled by CNN’s Anderson Cooper! Christian was previously a literary agent at ICM and VP of Production for Lawrence Bender and Quentin Tarantino at their Miramax-based company, A Band Apart.

Q. Touching The Dragon is such a cool title for a book. Can you tell us what it means? (Spoiler alert!)

A. (Laughs) The book presents a set of tools and techniques to deal with darkness and pain—something we can all use, not just members of the elite SEAL Team Six. It’s really cognitive behavior therapy. If something in your past gives you grief, it becomes a dragon in your mind, and the dragons will kill you, especially when we ignore them. Touching The Dragon means that if you can “walk up to it and touch it,” you’ll ultimately find that the dragon won’t incinerate you.

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Exclusive Q&A with Diallo Riddle (Writer, Producer, & Actor, MARLON, SILICON VALLEY)

By Brittany Turner AB '10

Riddle_2.jpgDiallo Riddle AB '97 is a writer, producer, and actor, currently appearing on NBC’s Marlon alongside titular star Marlon Wayans. He has also had recurring roles on Silicon Valley and Rise. His writing credits include Chocolate News, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Last O.G., and The Maya Rudolph Show; he has also developed two original pilots for HBO. Riddle is the co-creator (with Bashir Salahuddin AB '98) of Sherman’s Showcase, a musical sketch comedy series that will premiere on IFC in 2019. Photos by Leslie Alejandro Photography.

Q. What was your Harvard experience like? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

AThere were parts about being there that I absolutely loved. Everything that I did before Harvard truly was childhood. As much as I succeeded academically growing up, I don’t think I really grew until Harvard. I did the radio station, the Harvard Black Register, and gave tours. Freshman year, I played in the band and served on the undergraduate council. I campaigned on how to pronounce my name. All my posters said “Diallo: it’s like Diablo without the b.” That was a winning slogan.

But I’m kind of a weather wuss. Both Harvard and New York were hard for me. I didn’t figure out that I wanted to be a writer until much later.

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Exclusive Q&A with Shirley A. Rumierk (Actor, RISE, COLLATERAL BEAUTY)

By Nicole Torres AB '11

W-9.16.SHIRLEY.R-036_(1).jpgBorn in New York, Shirley Rumierk AB '99 is an actress known for Rise, Collateral Beauty, and 11:55. You can watch her most recent work on the NBC show Rise, in which she stars as single mom Vanessa Suarez.

Q. What inspired you to pursue an acting career? Tell us about your acting journey.

AActing started out as a hobby for me. Starting when I was 10 years old and all throughout high school, I was involved in a children’s theater program called The 52nd Street Project in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. This was before Hell’s Kitchen became known as Clinton and there weren’t many extracurricular opportunities available. It became my second home. The after-school program’s mission wasn’t (and still isn’t) about cranking out future actors. It was through exposure to different art forms and working side by side with theater professionals that The 52nd Street Project not only became my outlet for artistic expression; it was where I improved my writing skills and learned that my words really matter.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with HWP & HMP alum Julie Wong


In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood!


IMG_6074.jpgJulie Wong MPP '97 is currently staffed on Grey's Anatomy, though after attending Harvard Kennedy School, she first worked in campaigns and government at the local, state, and federal levels. She was selected to be a CAPE ("Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment") TV Fellow and a participant of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program. In addition, Julie has participated in the Harvardwood Mentorship Program and the Harvardwood Writers Program, in which she led multiple TV modules.

Q. You used to work in politics. What inspired you to shift career gears to TV writing?

A. I’ve always loved to write and I’ve always loved television, but I grew up in a small Northern California suburb and never really thought about being a TV writer as a career. Instead, I went into politics and helped elected officials and candidates tell their stories. But then I realized that I had stories of my own that I wanted to tell.   

Q. How do you think your years spent as a political communications director impacts your TV writing?

A. In politics, I worked with my bosses to write speeches, craft responses to media inquiries, and even answer constituent questions, so I’m comfortable writing in someone else’s voice. That’s been very helpful to me, especially joining a show with such established characters. I’m also pretty good about accepting notes and rewriting—I don’t get attached to my own words.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with 101 alum Tomi Adeyemi (CHILDREN OF BLOOD & BONE)

By Adriana Colón AB '12


In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood! 


2.jpgTomi Adeyemi AB '15, a Harvardwood 101 alumna, is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. Her debut West African YA Fantasy novel is Children of Blood and Bone (Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan). The Children of Blood and Bone movie is in development at Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions with Karen Rosenfelt and Wyck Godfrey (Twilight, Maze Runner, The Fault In Our Stars) producing!

Q. You share a wealth of information online with aspiring writers about yourself and your process. So I’m curious: do you see yourself as a teacher or as a leader in the community? Does that fuel your writing practice at all?

AI actually started that blog when I was a junior in college, because I was told having a blog—having a platform—would help me get published. “I’d do anything to help me get published. Getting published is really hard!” Blogging doesn’t help you get published for writing fiction—it’s all about the book, I didn’t know that then—but I was getting a sense of gratification. Knowing that things I had worked hard to learn I was making accessible to other people to understand.

At that time, I was working on my first book, and that whole process from starting from a blank page to being rejected enough to know that book wasn’t going to get me published was three and a half years. It’s really long, looking at the thing over and over again. Whereas with writing a blog post, it’s a lot shorter and it’s something I could check off my list. It was helping me feel that I was moving forward and it was helping other people and that was making me feel good.

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Exclusive Q&A with Roberto Patino (WESTWORLD, SONS OF ANARCHY)

By Michael Robin AB '08

Patino_Head_Shot.jpgRoberto Patino '06 is a writer and executive producer on HBO's Westworld. He has written and produced Prime Suspect, Sons of Anarchy, and The Bastard Executioner. His feature Cut Bank, starring Michael Stuhlbarg, John Malcovich, Liam Hemsworth, and Billy Bob Thornton, came out in 2014.

Q. How did your experience at Harvard inform your path? Were there any professors or instructors who pushed you to pursue writing?

A. Brighde Mullins, who was teaching Screenwriting in the English department when I was an undergrad, was the first person to take my scriptsand me as a screenwriterseriously.

The first thing she read was my application to write a creative thesis when I was a junior. I had written a couple scripts by that point but I'd never really shown them to anyone. For the application, I took the first ten pages of one of my scripts, and reworked them obsessively. Submitting that was the first time I took something I'd written for me alone, as opposed to, say, a class assignment, and showed it to someone. It was the first time I put myself out there and said in some kind of official way that this is what I really want to do. I was terrified.

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Exclusive Q&A with Michael Colton (A FUTILE & STUPID GESTURE)

By Henry Johnson AB '18

Michael Colton '97 is a humorist and screenwriter, most recently of A Futile and Stupid Gesture, which tells the story of National Lampoon’s founding. The film will be released on Netflix on January 26 following a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. With writing partner John Aboud ’95, Colton also scripted Penguins of Madagascar and The Comebacks, as well as episodes of Childrens Hospital and Newsreaders. He has appeared as a commentator on several VH1 shows, including Best Week Ever and I Love the ‘90s.

Colton_headshot.jpg

Q. When did you realize you wanted to go into comedy?

A. Like almost every comedy writer I know, I wrote a humor column in my high school newspaper. (Our faculty adviser, paranoid about lawsuits, insisted the column be called “Just Kidding,” which is a horrible name for a column.) I fell in love with crafting jokes and getting a reaction from people. But it was a long time before I thought I could be a screenwriter. I interned at newspapers all through college and wrote for the Washington Post for a couple years after graduation. It was a fantastic job and I was lucky to have it. And I will always be a newspaper addict (print subscriber for life!). But I realized that what I loved about journalism was the writing aspect, not the reporting. I wasn’t a great investigator and didn’t care about landing scoops. I wanted to tell stories and make people laugh. So being a screenwriter was ultimately a better fit.

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2017 Heroes Update: Sara Lynne Wright AB '09

2017 Harvardwood Hero Sara Lynne Wright AB '09 volunteers with Living History, a UCLA Student Volunteer Program at UCLA Medical Centers, by interviewing long-term patients and writing one-page biographies for their medical files to help doctors care for them as people rather than only as medical cases.

Thanks to the Harvardwood Heroes grant, the Living History Program at UCLA was able to provide its volunteers with better tools to write up one page biographies of patients in the palliative care, geriatrics, oncology and med-surg units at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. Those biographies have not only helped treatment teams get to know their patients as people rather than only as medical cases but also provided each patient with a valuable keepsake: a written life story to share with their families and whomever they like.

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2017 Heroes Update: Betsy Storm AB '14

Betsy Storm AB '14 describes how she put her 2017 Harvardwood Heroes grant to use in her work with Better Angels, a Los Angeles organization that guides low-income high school students through the college admissions process.

Since receiving Harvardwood’s generous grant this spring, Better Angels has continued to guide our Scholars on their college applications, and as they share and refine their stories of hardship, resilience and hope through their essays. Our Scholars have opened their hearts about their challenges – from being abandoned by both parents at age eight, to enduring verbal and physical abuse, to unsuccessfully attempting to revive a sibling after her sudden death. As Scholars have revised their stories week after week, not only have they become stronger writers in preparation for college, but also light has overshadowed darkness as they recognize the power and hope they carry for themselves, their families, and their communities....

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2017 Heroes Update: Shaun Chaudhuri AB '15

In Spring 2017, 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 2017 Heroes to share their program updates with the Harvardwood community and to express our gratitude for their inspiring impact on their communities.Lucafilm.jpg

First in the spotlight is Shaun Chaudhuri AB '15, co-chair of the UN Women Global Voices Film Festival, which promotes female filmmakers, producers, and writers.

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