Feel-good Friday to kick off your holiday weekend!

Five more Harvard folks and Harvardwood program alumni—Helen Estabrook AB '03, Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18, Allison Kiessling EdM '05, Emily Oliveira AB '18, and Eli Russell AB '20—have thoughtfully shared their experiences in the arts, media, and entertainment with us. We hope you enjoy reading these as much as we did!

DSC05116_copy.jpegIt took me a while to finally figure out (or admit to myself?) that I wanted to be a writer. But that was a great day because someone immediately wrote me a check and my career was launched!

No wait. In fact, what I quickly discovered was that a career in the arts can be lonely and shitty. It’s an endurance game. And what keeps you in the game is community—a place where you belong, where you can learn, and commiserate, and connect, and grow with other people who are trudging that same, long path. For me, that community was Harvardwood. My first internship, learning from mentors, workshopping my first script, the first time I heard actors read my work—all of that happened with Harvardwood. Even now, almost every day, I talk to a friend that I met in the writing modules, or get advice from a Harvardwood mentor, or a colleague that I served with on the board.

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Member Update: Emily Oliveira AB '18

I participated in Harvardwood 101 during winter break of my senior year, feeling like my degree in Comparative Literature could lead to a host of different careers. The program gave a hands-on look at what living and working in L.A. would be like, and what would entail finding the first industry job. I really enjoyed interning for a writer/showrunner who genuinely took stock in us college-age interns’ opinions on material he was seriously evaluating. Native to New Jersey, I was pretty sold on the novelty of mountains next to city, ocean, and palm trees, so I found an internship at Heyday Films through the Harvardwood Summer Internship Program and moved out a month after graduation.

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Celebrating Harvardwood's 20 years, celebrating Harvard alumni in the arts!

We're excited to kick off our 20th Anniversary Season with a special series of posts that bring you stories of Harvard alumni working in the arts, media, and entertainment. These snapshots, spanning careers from entry to senior levels, reflect the diversity in both talent and perspective of our membership.

Enjoy these snapshots from the lives and careers of Nick Baker AB '07, Ryan Halprin AB '12Ruiqi He AB '19Gregg Hurwitz AB '95, and Valerie Weiss MMS '97PhD '01.

I wanted to say thanks again for how life-changing my Harvardwood experience was. Not only was Harvardwood 101 a fabulously-run program with an amazing director, but it shed light on the career path I'd now like to pursue, which I was so confused about before. I feel incredibly blessed and thankful every single day for the Harvardwood 101 week, as well as my internship at MRC Studios. If it weren't for either, I wouldn't have found out what [is now] my career goal, which is to start out in investment banking and use this finance and valuation knowledge to use my MBA as a pivot into producing and financing films in Hollywood. Forever grateful for Harvardwood, which basically changed and shaped the rest of my life.

Ruiqi He (Analyst, J.P. Morgan)


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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with 101 Alum Writer-Director Tiffanie Hsu

By Joel Kwartler AB '18

hsu1.jpgTiffanie Hsu AB ‘09 is a writer-director whose recent award-winning short, Wonderland, led to her selection as an HBO APA Visionary, and she’s currently developing it into a feature. Her short film Sutures won awards at both the Asian American International Film Festival and in AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women showcase. She also directed the feature documentary Waterschool, which premiered at Sundance in 2018 and is available on Netflix. Hsu has an MFA in screenwriting and directing from UCLA, where she was a recipient of a Soros Fellowship, and is also an alumna of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women and Sony Pictures Television’s Diverse Directors Program.

Q. In prior interviews, you’ve mentioned that you started college as a premed; how did you end up as a writer/director? 

A. So my brother and sister are both doctors—medicine had been the only real path that I knew. But violin and piano were a huge part of my life until I was 18. I knew I wasn't going to be a professional musician, so when I got to college I stopped playing, and that left this huge vacuum in my life. So I took a photography class freshman year and I loved it. At the end-of-semester show, someone had done a comic-book-style project with pictures, and I was like, "Telling stories with pictures—that's amazing!" I didn't know anything about film or theater, so I clung to the premed as a stabilizing thing as I jumped off the deep end with all this other stuff.

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Exclusive Q&A with José Olivarez (Author & Poet, CITIZEN ILLEGAL)

Olivarez_-_photo_by_Marcos_Vasquez.jpgJosé Olivarez AB ‘10 is a poet and author from Chicago, IL, whose debut collection of poems, Citizen Illegal, was named a top book of 2018 by NPR and the New York Public Library, in addition to winning the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. Last year, Olivarez was awarded the Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), and his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and more. The son of Mexican immigrants, Olivarez is currently based in New York. (Photo by Marcos Vasquez)

Q. When did you first start writing poetry?

A. [High school] was the first time that I started writing beyond school assignments. We’d have a poetry unit and I might write a poem, or a short story unit and I’d write a story, but once I was introduced to the poetry slam team in high school, I started pursuing writing on my own time. I developed a lot of close friendships with writers and we traded poems even as we started to go in different directions.  

But I did not know that I wanted to be a poet. Frankly, I did not know that it was possible to be a poet as a career. Up until 2005, 2006, I had never met a living poet. So if you had told me that all the poets had gone extinct like all the dinosaurs, I would have believed you.

It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I realized, “Oh, there are pathways to having a career in literature right now.”

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Q&A with Harvardwood Leaders: Reflecting on 20 Years

This year's celebration of Commencement and Reunions in Cambridge is extra special because it's also Harvardwood's 20th birthday! We recently caught up with Mia Riverton Alpert AB '99 and Adam Fratto AB '90, two of Harvardwood's three founders, and President Allison Kiessling EdM '05. They shared their thoughts on Harvardwood, then and now—and twenty more years into the future! 

everyone___joey_and_dona.jpg2018 Holiday Party, L to R: Adam Fratto, Mia Riverton Alpert, Joey Siara (Board member),
Dona Le (Executive Director), Stacy Cohen (Co-Founder), and Allison Kiessling 

Q. You have all remained deeply involved with Harvardwood! What are the most exciting or standout changes you've seen the organization undergo in the last two decades?

Mia: I am most excited about our evolution into an organization that works toward positive changes in our industry and our society—by providing resources to bolster the talents of our wonderfully diverse membership, by using our network and platform to amplify traditionally underrepresented voices, and by engaging in programs designed to support people who are making a difference in communities in need.

Adam: The hiring of paid staff has made a massive difference.

AllisonI came in through the Writers Program, so it is really moving to me to see all the new writers come through and the motivated, amazing volunteers that have taken on each successive iteration of the program. It’s very difficult for an organization to not get entrenched in its own ways, but our volunteers have kept the program nimble—it keeps evolving and getting better every year. 

Q. Does Harvardwood today match the vision you had for the organization's future when you founded it 20 years ago? 

Adam: No. It is way bigger, better, cooler and smarter than I ever imagined.

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Congrats to Juliette Boland, Recipient of the 2nd Annual Harvardwood Prize

Join us in congratulating Juliette Boland, currently a junior at Orange County School of the Arts! Founded last year, the aim of the Harvardwood Prize is to recognize and celebrate the artistic accomplishments and potential of high school students who exemplify our mission. Given Harvard University's robust arts communities and arts education opportunities, the Prize is meant to encourage high school students to apply to Harvard College and is awarded annually to a high school junior (rising senior) who will apply for admission to Harvard in the upcoming fall and who has demonstrated excellence in their dedication to the arts/media/entertainment and its power to enact positive social change.

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Member update: Cecil Williams II AB '19

cwilliams.pngWith a couple semesters of film courses under my belt, I decided to take a leave from school this year to pursue my passion for storytelling. I told everyone I came across that I hoped to work in the film industry. I asked if they knew anyone who they could connect me with, but that amounted to nothing. I cold-called studios, hoping to get someone on the line who’d be willing to help me, to no avail. I learned firsthand that the industry is very relationship-based—some might even call it nepotistic.

My problem was simple. I had no ‘family’ in Hollywood, until I discovered Harvardwood.

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Harvardwood recognized by the HAA at the 2019 Alumni Leadership Conference!

Harvardwood was honored to receive the Harvard Alumni Association's annual award for Outstanding Club & Shared Interest Group Contribution, in recognition of exceptional efforts resulting in outstanding and innovative programming.

Officially founded in 1999 by Mia Riverton Alpert AB '99, Stacy Cohen AB '89, and Adam Fratto AB '90, Harvardwood is especially excited to receive this HAA award during the celebration of our 20th anniversary. Today, Harvardwood runs on the volunteer manpower of President Allison Kiessling Ed.M. '05 and our Board of Directors.

HAA_certificate.jpgThe award was presented to Harvardwood at the 2019 Alumni Leadership Conference awards dinner, and Executive Director D. Dona Le AB '05 was in attendance to accept the award on behalf of Harvardwood.

We share this honor with all of the hardworking, dedicated Harvardwood Board of Directors, Chapter Heads, and volunteers who keep our programs thriving. In addition, the vibrant and nurturing Harvardwood community we've built would not be possiblew without the passion and participation of all of our members and supporters.

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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! 

Ever since graduating less than two years ago, Harvardwood 101 alumna Karen Chee AB '17 has been making waves in the comedy world. Last week, she joined the writers' room for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and last month, she was a writer for the Golden Globes Awards Ceremony. Currently based in Brooklyn, Karen is also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, as well as The New York Times, McSweeney’s, Reductress, and Shondaland. Karen also performs throughout New York as a stand-up comedian, recently opening for The Daily Show's Ronny Chieng at Caroline's on Broadway.

Q. When did you know you wanted to become a comedy writer and stand-up comedian? Did attending Harvard come into play in that decision?

A. I think I quietly knew I wanted to be a comedy writer since eighth grade, when I first learned that TV comedy existed. I watched The Office and The Daily Show, and I remember those shows just blowing my mind. My parents were very strict about screen time, so I’d never watched a sitcom or seen political satire before. I got immediately obsessed. I had a notebook where I’d write down my favorite jokes and the structures of various episodes, and I’d research the names of comedy writers to see what other shows they wrote on to keep finding new stuff to watch. By the time I got to college I was pretty certain I wanted to do comedy. I think I told myself I was considering other careers, like political speechwriting or something in math, but I don't think I really was.

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