Join Book Revue in Huntington for the sixth episode of Write America live on CrowdCast on Monday, March 8 at 7 p.m. The evening will feature Emmy Award-winner Alan Alda & award-winning author Arlene Alda as they read and discuss their works and about how books and art might bridge the deep divisions in our nation.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS:
ALAN ALDA, 7-time Emmy Award–winner, played Hawkeye Pierce and wrote many of the episodes on the classic TV series M*A*S*H, and appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, 30 Rock, The Blacklist and Horace and Pete. He has starred in, written and directed many films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. His interest in science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years, on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists. Also on PBS, he hosted The Human Spark, winning the 2010 Kavli Science Journalism Award, and Brains on Trial in 2013. On Broadway, he appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED. He is the author of the play, “Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie” and “Dear Albert,” a reading for the stage of Einstein’s letters. He is a member of the Board of the World Science Festival, which has drawn more than 2.9 million visitors since its 2008 inception. He is a Visiting Professor at Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which has trained over 15,000 scientists and doctors around the world.
His latest book is “If I Understood You Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating.”
He hosts several podcasts: Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda, Science Clear+Vivid, and Soldiers of Science (from Audible Originals – audible.com)
ARLENE ALDA graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College, received a Fulbright Scholarship, and realized her dream of becoming a professional clarinetist, playing in the Houston Symphony under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. She switched careers when her children were young and became an award-winning photographer and author who has written nineteen books, including Just Kids from the Bronx. She is the mother of three daughters and the grandmother of eight. She and her husband, actor Alan Alda, live in New York City and Long Island.
The written word has the ability to stir up emotions in ways little else can. Whether it’s a collection of zealous love poems, a thought-provoking novel or the adrenaline rush of a favorite song on the radio, words are powerful.
Like many Americans, essayist and novelist Roger Rosenblatt is heartbroken over the intense and sometimes even violent divisions in America today.
“I was really concerned with how ready people are to argue and fight with one another,” said Rosenblatt, who lives on the East End. “And I started to think, ‘Can I make a difference here?’”
An idea came quickly, and Rosenblatt fired off a letter to friends, former students and colleagues, all of them writers in some fashion. His message: Let’s come together and use our talents to encourage unity and peace.
A few days later, he had dozens of enthusiastic responses. The result is Write America: A Reading for Our Country, a free, weekly online event hosted by Book Revue in Huntington. Beginning Feb. 1 and continuing through September, authors from around the country and all walks of life will read from their work, share their thoughts, and take questions from viewers.
Book Revue last partnered with Rosenblatt in the fall, when they held a celebration and comedic “roast” for his 80th birthday. Event coordinator Loren Limongelli said they were thrilled to hear from him again, especially with such a wonderful idea.
“Roger has gathered artists from all ages, races and backgrounds to bridge the divide in our nation and reach people with the reminder that we’re all human,” said Limongelli, who will emcee the series. “We’ve had unwavering support from the community during the pandemic and we want to give back to them by providing really exciting events with well-known authors.”
The growing list of participants runs the gamut from up-and-coming authors to award-winning and nationally recognized writers, including Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Major Jackson, Alan Alda, Alice McDermott, Amy Hempel, Natalie Diaz, Tyehimba Jess, Paul Auster, and many more.
“I wanted to make sure we had representation from all parts of the country, different kinds of people, and different types of writing as well: poets, novelists, essayists, women, men, people of color,” Rosenblatt said. “They got it. Writers are generally private people and we joke that they shouldn’t let us out, but there was a unique opportunity here to do some good. We feel like we have a responsibility to reach out to the public.”
The writers were encouraged to read from works they feel are healing and inspiring for all people, regardless of differences in politics or opinion.
Suffolk County local Alan Alda has spent the latest part of his career immersed in the art of communication. He has written memoirs and books exploring how we relate to one another, what’s most important in life and why it all matters.
“I think it’s great that Roger has opened a door for writers to be able to make their own special contribution to national healing through their writing,” Alda said.
“I’m not sure what I’ll be reading yet, but I have my eye on a description I wrote in my last book of the day mortal enemies took an impromptu day off from killing each other.”
Novelist Alice McDermott recalled that in his letter, Roger said that while writers don’t make many observable changes in the world, they can make a little noise.
“Is this important? I think so. Our public discourse of late has made it so easy for us to dismiss and to vilify one another, to silence and to degrade,” she said. “Maybe we can help to restore, even temporarily — we are human, after all, and full of flaws — the way we speak about and think about and even feel about our world and one another.”
Write America kicks off on Feb. 1 and will be held live at 7 p.m. Mondays on CrowdCast, a web-based meeting platform. All events are free. Registration is required by visiting www.bookrevue.com/write-america-series. For additional information, call 631-271-1442.
WRITE AMERICA SCHEDULE:
Rita Dove & Billy Collins
Francine Prose & Paul Muldoon
Russell Banks, Major Jackson and Alice McDermott
Patricia Marx & Garry Trudeau
Alan Bergman & Adam Gopnik
Alan Alda & Arlene Alda
Linda Pastan, Paul Harding and Juan Felipe Herrera
George H. Colt & Anne Fadiman
Kirsten Valdez Quade & Nick Flynn
Kurt Andersen & Amy Hempel
Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones &Julie Sheehan
Natalie Diaz & Daniel Halpern
Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt &David Remnick
Carlos Fonseca & Rose Styron
Lloyd Schwartz & Priya Jain
Patricia McCormick & Michelle Whittaker
Grace Schulman & Lance Morrow
Bruce Weber & Molly Gaudry
More dates will be announced with authors … Adrienne Unger, Amy Cacciola, Cornelia Channing, Dar-Juinn Chou, David Lynn, Elizabeth Hawes Weinstock, Emma Walton Hamilton, Genevieve Sly Crane, Gregory Pardlo, Hilma Wolitzer, Jacqueline Leo, Jean Hanff Korelitz, Jennifer McDonald, Jill McCorkle, Jillian LaRussa, John Leo, Joyce Maynard, Jules Feiffer, Kate Lehrer, Kaylie Jones, Lora Tucker, Lou Ann Walker, Richard Ford, Robert Lipsyte, Robert Reeves, Roger Rosenblatt, Vjay Seshadri, Suchita Nayar, Susan Isaacs, Susan Minot, Tyehimba Jess, Ursula Hegi, and Vanessa Cuti.
This article first appeared in Prime Times, a supplement of TBR News Media, on Jan. 28, 2021.
On May 24, more than 7,500 graduates, ranging between the ages of 18 and 72, joined the nearly 200,000 Seawolves worldwide as Stony Brook University celebrated its 59th commencement.
Award-winning actor Alan Alda, a 2016 TBR News Media person of the year, received an honorary degree at the ceremony. The polymath is the inspiration behind the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He is best known for his role as Hawkeye Pierce in the TV show “M*A*S*H.”
Alda talked about the importance of connection during his address.
“It takes work,” he said. “But here’s the thing — if you dig down under the surface to bring to the surface your own dream, your own thing that motivates you, that makes you want to help other people that is born from your sense of generosity. The work you do to accomplish that dream won’t seem like work. It’ll seem like fun. That’s how it’s been for me. And you may find, as I’ve found, that the dream you start out with can morph into some other dream and another dream after that.”
Greg Marshall, SBU class of 1988, also received an honorary degree. He is the inventor of Crittercam and a Stony Brook University Marine Sciences master’s program alumnus. Crittercam a video/audio system that allows humans to study wildlife behavior by experiencing the world through an animal’s perspective on land or in the sea.
In a world of tirades and terrifying tweets, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University is encouraging its professors and students to do something the center’s namesake urges: Listen.
Tough as it is to hear what people mean behind an explosive expression that fuses reason and emotion, the scientists in training, established researchers and others who attend some of the lectures or workshops at the center go through an exercise called “rant” in which each person listens for two minutes to something that drives their partner crazy. Afterward, the scientist has to introduce their partner to the group in a positive way.
The staff at the Alan Alda Center finds inspiration, a role model and a humble but willing listener in Alda, the highly decorated actor of “MASH” who has spent the last several decades drawing scientists out of dense shells constructed of impenetrable jargon and technical phrases.
For his dedication to forging connections for scientists, Times Beacon Record News Media is pleased to name Alan Alda a 2016 Person of the Year.
“He’s doing a wonderful job,” said Jim Simons, the former chairman of the Stony Brook Mathematics Department and hedge fund founder who shared the stage with Alda this summer as a part of a Mind Brain Lecture at Stony Brook. “I can’t think of anyone better to be an honoree.”
Simons described a moment with Alda, who is not a scientist nor does he play one on TV, when he was sharing some abstruse mathematics. Alda’s eyes “glazed over when I was first talking to him. He’s teaching scientists not to get a glaze over their audience’s eyes.”
Alda works tirelessly to share a method that blends scientific communication with the kind of improvisational acting he studied early in his career.
“Improv is not about being funny,” said Laura Lindenfeld, the director at the center. “It’s about being connected.”
Last June, Alda was a part of a team that traveled to California to share an approach that is in demand at universities and research institutions around the world. The day of the workshop, three people who were supposed to help lead the session were delayed.
Alda suggested that he run the event, which would normally involve several instructors and break-out groups. Learning about the art of connecting with an audience from someone who reached people over decades through TV, movies and Broadway performances, the attendees were enchanted by their discussion.
“He’s the master,” said Lindenfeld, who was at the campus when the team received news about the delay for the other instructors.
As soon as the session ended, Alda headed for Los Angeles to conduct a radio interview.
“I handed him a granola bar,” recalled Lindenfeld, who joined the center last year. “I was afraid he hadn’t eaten.”
Alda celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year and shows no signs of slowing down, encouraging the spread of training techniques that will help scientists share their information and discoveries.
“He’s teaching scientists not to get a glaze over their audience’s eyes.”
— Jim Simons
The Alda Center is planning a trip to Scotland next year and has been invited to go to Norway, Germany and countries in South America, Lindenfeld said.
When the University of Dundee received a grant from the Leverhulme Trust to create the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, officials in Scotland, one of whom knew Lindenfeld personally, researched the Alan Alda Center’s mission and decided to forge a connection. Lindenfeld helped coordinate a congratulatory video Alda sent that the Scottish centre played at its opening ceremony.
“Everyone present from the highest Law Lord in Scotland, through to the principal of the university and the Leverhulme trustees did not know it was going to happen, and so it was a huge surprise that stunned the room into complete silence,” recalled Sue Black, the director of the centre in an email. “Brilliant theatre of which Mr. Alda would have been proud.”
Established and internationally known scientists have expressed their appreciation and admiration for Alda’s dedication to their field.
The training sessions “drag out of people their inhibitions and get them to think about interacting with the public in ways that they might not have felt comfortable doing before,” said Bruce Stillman, the president and CEO of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This month, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory gave Alda the Double Helix Medal at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Stillman described the public understanding and perception of science as “poor.” To bridge that gap, Alda’s programs “induce scientists to feel comfortable about talking to the public about their ideas and progress.”
Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel suggested that Alda’s accomplishments exceed his own.
“There ain’t many Alan Aldas, but there are a lot of Nobel Prizes out there,” Kandel said. While Kandel is “extremely indebted to having won the Nobel Prize,” he said the totality of Alda’s accomplishments are “enormous.”
The Alda Center is working with Columbia University, where Kandel is the director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science and a professor, to develop an ongoing program to foster scientific communication.
Kandel, who considers Alda a friend, appreciates his support. Kandel said Jeff Lieberman, the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia, asked Alda and Kandel to give a talk on issues related to neuroscience. Lieberman “was my boss,” Kandel said, “I had to be there, but [Alda] didn’t have to be there. He goes out of his way for people.”
In 2017, the center will not only share its communication techniques around the world, but it will also create conferences for timely scientific topics, including climate change and women in science.
The glass ceiling is a “real issue for women in science,” said Valerie Lantz Gefroh, the improvisation program leader at the center. “We’re hoping to give [women] better communication tools so they can move forward in their careers.”
The center is also adding new courses. Next fall, Christine O’Connell, who is a part of a new effort at Stony Brook called the Science Training & Research to Inform Decision and is the associate director at the center, will teach a course on communicating with policy and decision makers.
That will include encouraging scientists to invite state senators to see their field work, going to Congress, meeting with a senator or writing position papers. In political discussions, scientists often feel like “fish out of water,” O’Connell said. The course will give scientists the “tools to effectively engage” in political discussions.
Scientists don’t have to be “advocates for or against an issue,” O’Connell said, but they do have to “be advocates for science and what the science is telling us.”
Given an opportunity to express her appreciation directly to Alda, Black at the University of Dundee wrote, “Thanks for having the faith to collaborate with our centre so far away in Scotland, where we are trying to influence the global understanding of forensic science in our courtrooms — where science communication can make the difference between a guilty or an innocent verdict and in some places, the difference between life and a death sentence.”
To borrow from words Alda has shared, and that the staff at the center believe, “Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.” Even if, as those who have gone through some of the sessions, the speaker is ranting.
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