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!
2018 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.
Allison: I 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.Read more
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.Read more
Member update: Cecil Williams II AB '19
With 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.Read more
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.
The 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.Read more
WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Q&A with 101 alum Karen Chee (LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS)
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.Read more
Exclusive Q&A with Judith Huang (Author, Sofia & the Utopia Machine)
Judith 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.Read more
Exclusive Q&A with Andrew Coles (Founder, The Mission Entertainment)
Andrew 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 life—I 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 academic—what I loved about the law was its utility as a tool or a weapon—in 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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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 in a private or a public place. These women are either permanently disfigured, permanently disabled, and/or killed as a result of these attacks. 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 victim’s close or extended family. To more intensely reflect on these acid attacks of immeasurable suffering, I created an artwork.Read more