How do Penn professors spend their summers?

You may have wondered what Penn’s illustrious English professors are up to when school isn’t in session. The short answer is plenty. The longer answer, at least in the case of Kenneth Goldsmith, is showing up on popular TV shows and websites to discuss all kinds of interesting stuff.

Last Tuesday, we spotted Goldsmith—who we previously wrote about here and in the magazinecalling himself a “dumb writer” on The Awl. That evening, he turned up again, this time sparring with Stephen on The Colbert Report while promoting his new book and giving us a sudden craving for watermelon:

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You can watch Goldsmith’s full interview with Colbert on the show’s website (make sure you watch until the end, as things really heat up around the 4:30 mark), but here’s a taste of the conversation:

Colbert: You are the poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art. You’ve got 10 books of poetry. You teach writing at the University of Pennsylvania and you’ve got a new book called Seven American Deaths and Disasters. Did you write this?

Goldsmith: Absolutely not. I never write any of my books.

Goldsmith: You see, artists are dumb.

Colbert: Artists are dumb?

Goldsmith: Artists are dumb. We do things that you shouldn’t do. What I’m doing is too easy for an investigative reporter to do, and by doing something that is that simple, we’re uncovering something that nobody else has actually ever thought of.

Come fall, Goldsmith will be teaching a course focused on the Institute of Contemporary Art’s 50th anniversary called Writing Through Art and Literature.

The merrily attired Goldsmith wasn’t the only Penn writing professor we found in the spotlight this summer. Beth Kephart C’82, Lorene Cary C’78 G’78 and Diane McKinney-Whetstone CW’75 are honored in a new exhibit at the Philadelphia International Airport and were all on hand for the July 2 unveiling. Under the lengthy title Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy: Selected Authors, Playwrights and Poets — from Writers of the Declaration of Independence to Present Day, the exhibit also celebrates Benjamin Franklin, W.E.B. DuBois, Lisa Scottoline C’77 L’81 and L.A. Banks W’80.

Kephart passed along these photos from the opening ceremony:




For those who are curious, here’s the full 50-name list of those honored in the exhibit, on view in Terminal A-East:

Louisa May Alcott, Lloyd Alexander, L.A. Banks, Berenstains, Ben Bova, Sandra Boynton, Charles Brockden Brown, Rosellen Brown, Pearl S. Buck, Bebe Moore Campbell, Lorene Cary, Noam Chomsky, R. Crumb, Gardner Dozois, W.E.B. Dubois, Ben Franklin, Charles Fuller, David Goodis, Carolyn Haywood, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Solomon Jones, Ken Kalfus, Beth Kephart, George Lippard, Alain Locke, Diane McKinney-Whetstone, Margaret Mead, James Michener, Katherine Milhous, Karen E. Quinones Miller, Thomas Paine, Richard Powell, Tom Purdom, Joe Queenan, Anna Quindlen, Deborah Kogan Ray, Agnes Repplier, Sonia Sanchez, Judy Schachner, Lisa Scottoline, Sara Shephard,  Jerry Spinelli, I. F. Stone, Michael Swanwick, Jennifer Weiner, David Wiesner, Owen Wister,  Teri Woods.

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Check out these Penn acts from the Make Music Philly festival


Penn joined the rest of Philadelphia in a new annual tradition late last month: Make Music Philly. The free, citywide, “do-it-yourself” music festival marks the summer solstice and World Music Day, with Philly joining more than 500 cities around the world in a day of tuneful celebration. On campus, that meant performances at the Penn Museum, the Rotunda, WXPN and the Music Building’s patio.

We arrived at the sunny patio just in time to see Classical Revolution Philly, featuring Veronica Jurkiewicz C’04, performance coordinator of the Penn Music Department. Here’s a video from Penn Arts & Culture:

And here are the videos we shot of alumnus singer/songwriter Matt Chylak C’13

…and “art-rockers” The Chairman Dances (featuring Andrew Ciampa C’13 and Penn Libraries staff members Ben Rosen and Eric Krewson):

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Caren Lissner C’93 hopes to ‘kickstart’ Carrie Pilby movie

carriepilbycoverTwo weeks ago, Variety announced that Caren Lissner’s novel, Carrie Pilby, was “headed for the big screen.” That same day, the Women in Film Institute proclaimed that “Susan Cartsonis, Chair of the Women In Film Foundation is producing an adaptation of the young-adult novel Carrie Pilby…[and] working with her Storefront Pictures colleague, Suzanne Farwell who is a long-time collaborator of Nancy Meyers and co-producer of Something’s Gotta Give.”

While both articles mentioned that the producers were “planning to fund the project via a Kickstarter campaign,” no further details were given. We recently spoke with Lissner C’93, who explained that director Susan Johnson of Braveart films and producers Cartsonis and Farwell are trying to raise $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to “show investors that there’s a fan base out there. If they can’t reach that goal, the movie” — which would cost about $2.5 million to produce — “wouldn’t get made,” she added.

As of this morning, the Carrie Pilby Kickstarter was almost halfway to its goal, with 11 days of fundraising left.

It’s been 10 years since Lissner’s first novel, Carrie Pilby, was originally published, and three more years since it was re-released. It’s sold more than 50,000 copies and editions have been published in France, Italy, Mexico, England, Australia and Indonesia.

Here’s how Carrie Pilby is described on the Kickstarter page:

Carrie Pilby‘s eponymous main character is a 19-year old genius who graduated from Harvard early and has no idea how to fit in, date or talk to people.  She believes the majority of her hometown, New York City, to be sex-obsessed, immoral hypocrites.  Despite her father’s “Big Lie” about meeting like individuals at college, she felt the same way about her college peers, and an affair with her college professor only left her more isolated and alone.  Her therapist gives her a five-point plan to test her very black-and-white beliefs. Ultimately, Carrie faces the universal coming-of-age (at any age) question: Which tradeoffs, if any, are acceptable in order to “fit in”?

“The women involved in this are really interested in getting this quirky, nerdy character onto film,” Lissner said. “I think it would be great to see this story on the big screen. This isn’t a character you normally see as the star of a movie.”

Is there an actress she would love to see play Carrie? “A lot of people on the web have been suggesting Emma Watson and Chloë Moretz,” Lissner said, “but I’d be happy with any actress who could get [Carrie’s] particular brand of nerdy enthusiasm right.”

Lissner published her second novel, Starting from Square Two, in 2005. She said she’s working on another book right now called In for the Winter and hopes to finish it by this fall. “Readers who liked Carrie Pilby will probably like this one, too,” she added.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter campaign has surpassed its fundraising goal. Carrie Pilby will indeed become a feature film.

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‘High art’ from Penn fine arts professor and astrophysicists


Photo by B.Doherty/PennDesign

An unlikely trio of Penn faculty and researchers recently joined forces to create the highest-altitude art installation on record. The work covers a polarization-sensitive receiver upgrade (ACTPol) for the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, which sits 17,030 feet above sea level in northern Chile.

ACTPol itself is a collaboration between researchers from Penn and more than 25 other institutions on five continents. One of those researchers — Benjamin L. Schmitt, a Penn Ph.D. student in physics and astronomy and a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow — said the group wanted their telescope to have “significant cultural impact,” so he turned to PennDesign’s Fine Arts department for help.

There he found Jackie Tileston, an associate professor of painting who, according to the artist’s statement on her website, aims to create “a stronger, weirder, and more complex pictorial version of the world” in her abstract works.

Tileston and her sculptor husband Kirk McCarthy worked with Schmitt and Mark Devlin, the University’s Reese W. Flower Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, to come up with ideas for an abstract, mixed-media mural. Courtesy of PennDesign, here are the results of their collaboration, including the 48 x 120” painting Radical Measure (Not Entirely Random) that Tileston created to cover the camera’s body. Check it out for yourself next time you’re atop the Cerro Toco stratovolcano in Chile’s Atacama Desert.


Photo by B.Doherty/PennDesign


Detail shot of Jackie Tileston’s 48 x 120″ painting “Radical Measure (Not Entirely Random). Photo by Evan Robinson Photography.


Jackie Tileston and Mark Devlin. Photo by B.Doherty/Penn Design.

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Tukufu Zuberi: Penn professor, TV show host, documentary filmmaker and curator

tz_headshotIt’s been a whirlwind year of arts-related activities for Tukufu Zuberi, a professor of sociology and Africana studies at Penn and the University’s Lasry Family Professor of Race and Relations.

First an exhibit he curated for the Independence Seaport Museum opened May 4. Then on June 2, Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster — an exhibit of wartime propaganda posters that Zuberi both collected and curated — opened at the Penn Museum.

On top of all that — and while hosting the tenth season of PBS’s History Detectives TV show — Zuberi somehow also found time to write, direct and produce the feature-length documentary film African Independence. It won Best Director and Best Documentary at the San Diego Black Film Festival in January.

While we can’t claim to know how Zuberi finds time to sleep, we can give you this overview of his recent arts-and-culture projects:

Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River
On view at the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing through 2015.

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Spanning 300 years of African-American history along the Delaware, Tides of Freedom explores the concept of freedom through the museum’s collection and four major moments in Philadelphia’s history: enslavement, emancipation, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era. Zuberi himself recorded introductions to each section of the exhibit, which is the first in the Seaport Museum’s new “Freedom” series.

The museum’s recovered “waste book” — a 250-year-old ledger that documents commercial transactions on the wharf — is one of the artifacts on display. Zuberi discovered more than 60 entries of bought and sold African slaves in the book, which is said to be the only document of its kind in Philadelphia.

You can see scans from the “waste book” online here.

Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster
On view at the Penn Museum through March 2, 2014.


From the collection of Tukufu Zuberi

Zuberi combed through his personal collection of propaganda posters to curate Black Bodies in Propaganda at the Penn Museum. The exhibit presents 33 wartime posters, the majority of which target African and African-American civilians. According to the Penn Museum, “these carefully designed works of art were aimed at mobilizing people of color in war efforts, even as they faced oppression and injustice in their homelands. The exhibition explores changing messages on race and politics through propaganda—from the American Civil War, to World War I, World War II, and through to the African independence movements.”

As Zuberi explained: “These posters tell a story about the dynamics of race. Black bodies are racialized in these posters as they capture defining moments in history. Race is always about second-class citizenship, it is always about a relationship between two groups and how one group is defined as superior and the other group is defined as inferior. These posters represent definitive moments in this historical process.”

Zuberi has done several radio interviews about the exhibit that you can listen to online, including:


Power99 FM


African Independence
Screening at select events and locations, including Penn’s State of the Field of Africana Studies Conference on Oct. 17, 2013.

Here’s the official synopsis for the 2013 feature-length documentary that Zuberi wrote, directed and produced:

The film highlights the birth, realization, and problems confronted by the movement to win independence in Africa. The story is told by channeling the voices of freedom fighters and leaders who achieved independence, liberty and justice for African people.  This film offers a unique presentation designed to enlighten and provide audiences with insights from Africans into the continent’s past, present, and future. Through the lens of four watershed events—World War Two, the end of colonialism, the Cold War, and the era of African Republics—AFRICAN INDEPENDENCE shows a unique side of Africa’s recent history.  

This is the trailer:

And here’s an interview Zuberi did about his academic career and making the film:

History Detectives
historydetectivesZuberi has been a host for all 10 season of PBS’s History Detectives, the most recent of which aired last June through October. (We’re told that Season 11 is being filmed right now.) He’s one of five “detectives” on the show who each travel the country delving into historical mysteries, local folklore and family legends.

In this video, Zuberi explains why he enjoys working as a history detective.

You can also watch full episodes from the show’s tenth season here.

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From finance to fine arts

Ray of Sunshine

Jill Krutick, “Ray of Sunshine.” Oil on canvas, 40″ x 30″

After more than 20 years in the corporate world as an investment analyst and media executive, Jill Krutick W’84 was ready for a change. Why not, she thought, give “full-time artist” a try?

Jill KrutickKrutick had been painting since childhood, initially copying the old masters —Van Gogh, Monet—but over time evolving her own style. She kept painting through business school and the jobs that followed, returning to her art during maternity leave or “whenever my job allowed a little extra time.”

Over the years, her work transformed from “geometric” to a “much more free-form” style, she says. “I’d describe my work as abstract expressionism, but each piece is different from the last. Depending on how the light, color and texture interplay, my paintings can range from fairly representational to truly abstract.”

Krutick now spends most days painting inside her bright Scarsdale home studio—or, when time permits, traveling the world to “collect colors.”

Stairway to Heaven

Jill Krutick, “Stairway to Heaven.” Oil on canvas, 36″ x 24″

“If we’re out on a family vacation to Antarctica, for example, I’ll be looking at the way the icebergs reflect the sun and each other and the water and the mountains,” she says. “All of that will be seared into my mind, and when I come home, I try to capture a lot of that feeling on canvas.”

She’s had several solo and group shows over the last few years, and was named a “trending artist” last year by the art gallery website Artsicle. “Of course, the ultimate dream is to have my paintings hanging in the Museum of Modern Art,” she says. “That is a lofty goal, but one I’d definitely love to achieve over time. I really want to develop this craft and this art, continue to grow as an artist and continue to broaden the public who enjoy following my work.”

This Friday, Saturday and Sunday (May 10-12, 2013), Krutick will open up her home studio to present a solo exhibit of nearly 100 works. “I see it as an opportunity to share my passion with the community and generate more interest and excitement,” she says. You can find more on that open house here.

Field of Dreams

Jill Krutick, “Field of Dreams.” Oil on canvas, 36″ x 36″

Oil Painting on canvas by Jill Krutick, 30 x 24 inches, 2012

Jill Krutick, “Lady Liberty.” Oil on canvas, 30″ x 24″

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Spotted on campus

As Penn has been preparing for the Time to Shine festivities tonight, we’ve been watching a chalk artist’s work take shape at the 34th and Walnut entrance to Locust Walk.

Here’s what we spotted on Tuesday morning:

By Wednesday, it had evolved into this:


And then yesterday evening, we finally got to see the completed piece:




The artist’s name is Hani Shihada, and this isn’t his first time making art on a sidewalk. Shihada’s website features numerous examples of his past work, and here he is drawing Spongebob on a New York City sidewalk:

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