July 2019 | Maggie Shipstead AB '05
Novelist (Seating Arrangements, Astonish Me)
By Emily Oliveira AB '18
Maggie Shipstead AB '05 chuckles as she describes what it means to be a novelist in Los Angeles: tell anyone you’re a writer in L.A., and they’ll assume you write for the big screen. She can certainly hold her own in the face of Hollywood glamour: In addition to her two New York Times-bestselling novels, her travel writing has appeared in Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, and Departures. She has the distinction of being twice named as a National Magazine Award finalist for fiction.
For years, her “primary obligation” was to attend workshop—Shipstead is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—but afterwards found herself suddenly faced with the task of choosing where to live in the world without having a scheduled, round-the-clock job. L.A. was a natural choice of home city for Shipstead, a Mission Viejo native whose parents live in San Diego, and she says there’s something energizing about living in a city of creative people in the constant process of making something.Read more
June 2019 | Dan Mintz AB '02
(Stand-up Comic, Voice Actor, and Writer, Veep, Bob's Burgers, Son of Zorn)
By Daniel Gale-Rosen AB '10
When he was growing up in Alaska, Dan Mintz AB ‘02 had a number of pretty unrealistic ambitions. He thought he might like to be a spy, or a professional athlete, or any number of other careers that seemed totally unmatched to what he felt was his personality. Being in Hollywood was, to him, the same kind of unrealistic ambition, but now, as a writer, voice actor, and stand-up comic, he’s certainly proved his younger self wrong. Although he’s probably best known for being the voice of Tina in the animated series Bob’s Burgers (“that’s the only thing it’ll say in my obituary,” he jokes), he’s been a writer on many television shows, from his first official gig on Crank Yankers to, most recently, the latest seasons of Veep. And he’s been doing stand-up comedy since his sophomore year at Harvard, which he credits with giving him his break into the industry.Read more
May 2019 | Kelley Nicole Purcell AB '02
(Senior Director of Member Outreach, The Recording Academy)
By Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18
Kelley Nicole Purcell ‘02 let her love for music guide her path to be a singer, artist, and champion for the artistic community—including our own Harvardwood community! (She served as the Executive Director of Harvardwood from 2009 to 2013). Now the Senior Director of Member Outreach for the Recording Academy, Kelley has toured in Africa with the band Soulfege, released multiple EPs as a solo artist, and now attends the GRAMMYs annually. She also performs in Shattered Glass, a musical-poetry hybrid performance piece surrounding the healing power of art.Read more
April 2019 | Susan Morris Novick AB '85
Past HAA President; Writer featured in the NYT, Food Network
By Cristina Slattery
Susan Morris Novick’s great passion has been the arts for many reasons, not least of which is “its role in creating empathy,” she shares. This former president of the Harvard Alumni Association from 2017-2018 has spent her professional life in and around theater, film, and the arts.
Morris Novick began her career as a talent agent for actors and writers at The Gersh Agency, eventually creating the book department in the New York office. She then chose to return to writing herself, working as a writer/producer on a restaurant travel show called Dining Around at the Food Network.Read more
March 2019 | Grant Thompson AB '98
Actor, Writer, & Producer (McFarland, USA, Up at Noon with Greg Miller)
By Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18
The career of Grant Thompson AB '98 is varied and broad, much like his interests. A native of Gainesville, Florida, Thompson grew up playing sports, writing and acting in his high school drama club, and contributing to sketches for homecoming. While well-rounded, he didn’t consider himself a TV or film buff, and until he took Math 21A, he was planning to study math at Harvard. Instead, he studied history.
Meanwhile, he played basketball from freshman through junior year, in addition to being a member of the Phillips Brooks House Association. Thompson recounts his first year at Harvard living on the fifth floor of Weld, where he and his roommates, with whom he remains friends, had a water balloon launcher that they'd use to fire projectiles collected from the dining hall out their window onto the steps of Widener.Read more
February 2019 | Nicholas Britell AB '03
Film Composer (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Big Short, Vice, 12 Years a Slave)
by D. Dona Le
“If it feels good, keep going. If it doesn’t, stop.”
That is a “very obvious… but groundbreaking” lesson that film composer Nicholas Britell AB ‘03 discovered at Harvard while collaborating with friend and fellow band member, Jake Rubin AB ‘03. The two were part of a hip-hop group, The Witness Protection Program, comprised of six instrumentalists and two rappers. They were discussing a track that Britell was writing for the band—whether the track was working, going in the right direction—and Rubin’s words struck a chord that lingers with the composer today.
“There are a lot of elements to the creative process. When you’re writing a lot of music, constantly trying to feel what you think works, sometimes there’s a belief that [even] if you’re not feeling something, you just have to trudge through it,” explains Britell. “But I’ve always found that that’s not the case. If you’re not feeling something, stop and do something else. And when it’s working, just keep doing it.”
Here, Britell is describing his work process on a micro level. But even a cursory overview of his career on the macro level proves that everything is working for Britell right now. The young composer is behind the scores for acclaimed films Moonlight, The Big Short, Vice, and If Beale Street Could Talk, to name but a few. He was first nominated for an Academy Award for his score to Moonlight in 2017. He is currently nominated for a Best Score Academy Award for his work on If Beale Street Could Talk. Also the composer for HBO’s drama series Succession, Britell has been described as “the composer with a growing fan club among directors” (NPR) and hailed as “the sound of money in Hollywood” (TheRinger.com).Read more
January 2019 | John Bowman AB '80, MBA '85
Emmy Award-winning Writer and Producer (Saturday Night Live, In Living Color)
By Terence O'Toole Murnin
As the world rings in 2019, John Bowman AB ’80, MBA ’85 makes a bold New Year’s prediction: “I think we’ll be hearing a lot about Trump,” he says wryly.
Another certainty is that this Emmy award-winning writer and producer will continue to explore the boundaries of sketch comedy, as he's done brilliantly for more than 25 years. If sustained buzz is the toughest thing to accomplish in any creative endeavor, this comedic master’s resume rivals that of James Brown, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business!” Bowman's IMDB profile also reads like the evolution of TV comedy: Saturday Night Live, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, In Living Color, Martin, Murphy Brown, and Frank TV, to name just a few. In fact, if James Brown were still alive today, this would be a mic drop moment—and he’d be covered in capes.Read more
December 2018 | Danny Chun AB '02
(TV Writer & Producer, Speechless, The Office, The Simpsons)
By Adrian Horton AB '17
For some, the path to a Hollywood career is circuitous—full of left turns, doubt, and reconsiderations. Not so for Daniel Chun AB '02, a TV writer and producer who has worked for some of Hollywood’s most beloved comedies, including The Simpsons and The Office. For Chun, comedy writing has always been the game (with a degree in biological anthropology on the side).
Chun, who is Korean-American, grew up in a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania not far from The Office’s fictional home of Scranton. He first realized his interest in creative writing around seventh or eighth grade. As a teenager, he and his school friends were “pretty obsessed with comedy”—Saturday Night Live, The Kids in the Hall—"so we would write and shoot stupid little sketches late at night in my basement.”Read more
November 2018 | Milan Popelka AB '01
COO of FilmNation & Producer (Arrival, Life Itself, The Space Between)
By Stephanie Ferrarie AB '18
In high school, Milan Popelka ’01 wanted to pursue a career in movies. He recounts watching marathons of James Bond movies on TBS as a teenager, remarking that “if I could watch the same movie shown three times a week and still love it, there must be something to this media.”
That captivating nature of storytelling through film stuck with Popelka throughout his undergraduate years at Harvard and remains ever-present today in his professional life. Now COO of FilmNation, a powerhouse in the financing, production, and distribution of independent films such as Arrival and The Big Sick, Popelka revels in the creativity required to put movies together from conception, to financing, to production, and beyond.Read more
October 2018 | Tayari Jones RAE '12, RF '12
Author (Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, An American Marriage)
By Dayna Wilkinson
“I was driving in Las Vegas when the call came. She said ‘hi, this is Oprah.’ I pulled the car over in a not-so-great part of town. People were tapping on my windows, and I was like ‘Go away, I’m trying to have the biggest moment of my life.’”
Before she wrote An American Marriage, Tayari Jones RAE '12, RF '12 had never been in the running for a major literary prize. “I never thought I would be, and that didn’t bother me,” she says. Now, An American Marriage is a New York Times bestseller, a 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Selection and a longlist selection for the National Book Award.
“I had a neighbor in Las Vegas who spoke very little English. We liked each other but communicated mostly with gestures,” Tayari says, “but after she saw the photo in Oprah’s magazine, she was banging on my door saying, ‘You know Oprah?!’ Part of the joy of being chosen for Oprah’s Book Club is that it’s an honor that’s legible to everyone.”Read more