Richard Stengel ’77 (David Shankbone/ Wikipedia)
Richard Stengel ’77’s career in journalism included a recent run as managing editor of Time magazine, several years as a correspondent covering international news and U.S. politics, and a memorable stretch as Nelson Mandela’s biographer (discussed in a January interview with PAW). Last week, Stengel officially began a new chapter in the public sector when he was sworn in as the State Department’s under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Stengel explained that his new role is one of “soft power” — communicating the ideas and actions of the United States to audiences around the world. It’s a competitive environment, in many cases: Stengel and his colleagues have to go head-to-head with counterparts from other nations. He spoke specifically about Russia’s “propaganda machine” and its role in the turmoil in Ukraine, as well as American countermeasures, such as launching a social-media platform to engage Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population in its native language.
Stengel’s new position, first announced in September 2013, was delayed by the Senate confirmation process, which concluded with a 90-8 vote in his favor in February. At his swearing-in ceremony April 15, Secretary of State John Kerry, a Yale graduate, could not resist a few jabs at Old Nassau. “I think you all can tell that I am an equal opportunity hirer, because we’re hiring another guy from Princeton,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve elicited a promise from him [that] he is not going to institute any eating clubs in the State Department.” But that was just a prelude to a generous introduction outlining Stengel’s distinguished career to date. Kerry said that he and President Barack Obama “could not have found a better person to help the United States tell its story to the world in a way that people can understand and believe in.”
Akhil Sharma ’92 (Bill Miller)
Akhil Sharma ’92’s new novel, Family Life, earned front-page billing in this week’s New York Times Book Review — a notable distinction for an author whose only previous novel was published more than a decade ago. Reviewer Sonali Deraniyagala’s generous praise for the “riveting” and “brilliant” semi-autobiographical story stood in stark contrast to Sharma’s experience writing it, which he described in an essay, also published in the Sunday Times:
“Seven years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind. … I would sit at my desk at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, and drink pot after pot of tea and try to write. The panic attacks came then. I would be staring at the screen, examining a paragraph that I had already rewritten 170 times. Suddenly the screen would start to ripple, as if I were peering through water, and I would feel a pain like a punch in the chest. Months passed this way. My chest felt constantly bruised.”
Sharma went on to explain how a cathartic ride with a friend helped to change his outlook and enable him to eventually finish the novel, which deals with a family tragedy similar to the one that he endured when his brother was paralyzed after diving into a swimming pool as a teenager.
While the specific events in the novel are drawn from personal experience, Sharma also tries to connect with universal themes. “I tend to think that we are all pretty much alike,” he explained in a Q&A for Guernica magazine, with friend and fellow novelist Mohsin Hamid ’93. “We all feel despair. We all have problems with relationships. We all become afraid. We all look at others and think these other people are more fortunate than us.”
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Hobart Earle ’83 (Courtesy Hobart Earle)
Hobart Earle ’83 has conducted in concert halls around the world in a career that spans three decades. But his latest performance was a decidedly different experience: With a small collection of musicians, he led a flash-mob performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in a fish market in Odessa, Ukraine, the Black Sea port where Earle has led the city’s philharmonic orchestra since 1991. “The idea was to bring the music — and bring this uniting spirit — to the people,” he told PAW.
The ensemble, featuring strings, brass, and percussion from the Odessa Philharmonic and singers from the Odessa Opera Chorus, played and sang portions of the fourth movement, including the iconic “Ode to Joy,” for an unsuspecting and appreciative group of Saturday morning shoppers on March 22, the day after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Since then, the official video of the event (see below) has drawn more than 80,000 views on YouTube, as well as media attention ranging from a national TV program in Ukraine to WQXR, New York City’s classical music radio station. Other Ukrainian orchestras and choirs, inspired by the performance, have staged their own flash-mob renditions of Beethoven’s 9th at several of Ukraine’s major airports. Continue reading
Bruce Yankner ’76 (Courtesy Bruce Yankner)
Last week, the Harvard Medical School lab of Bruce Yankner ’76 added a key finding to the research on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, identifying the role that a protein called REST (repressor element 1-silencing transcription factor) plays in a normal aging brain.
In studies published March 19 in the journal Nature, Yankner and his co-authors found that REST may protect the brain from stress, and that declining REST may contribute to the degeneration of neurons in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment.
As Yankner, a professor of genetics and neurology at Harvard Medical School, told The Boston Globe, “One very positive, optimistic note from this study is that it suggests that dementia can be resisted by some people, and it provides the first molecular inklings of how that might occur.” Continue reading
Mike Brennan ’94 celebrated with his team in Boston March 12. (Courtesy American University Athletics Communications)
Of the seven Princeton alumni who are Division I men’s basketball head coaches, only one will appear in the NCAA tournament this week — the group’s newest member, Mike Brennan ’94. After spending four years as a Georgetown assistant coach under John Thompson III ’88, Brennan was hired by American for the 2013-14 season, guiding the Eagles to an expectations-defying 20-12 record. Last Wednesday, American won the Patriot League Tournament with a 55-36 victory at Boston University, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Eagles were given a No. 15-seed when the brackets were revealed Sunday; they will face No. 2-seed Wisconsin on Thursday at 12:40 p.m. ET. Continue reading
David E. Kelley ’79 speaks at the Lewis Center in 2010. (M. Teresa Simao/Courtesy Lewis Center for the Arts)
Writer and producer David E. Kelley ’79 has left his mark on a string of influential television shows, from L.A. Law, where he got his start as writer, to his own hour-long drama creations, including Picket Fences, The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal, and more recently, the half-hour Robin Williams comedy series The Crazy Ones. On Tuesday night, he added another line to his impressive credits: “inductee, Television Hall of Fame.”
Kelley was part of a six-member hall-of-fame class that included Jay Leno, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Fox Broadcasting founder Rupert Murdoch. Frequent collaborator Bill D’Elia presented Kelley for induction. The Television Hall of Fame is run by the Television Academy, which also oversees the Emmys. Continue reading