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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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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