A selection of UChicago alumni whose names are in the news.
The work of JoAnne Carson, MFA’79, was showcased in a 25-year retrospective at the Opalka Gallery of the Sage Colleges this past winter. JoAnne Carson: Rise Up and Shine! included sculptures, paintings, and drawings by the artist and University at Albany studio art professor, highlighting her distinctive style of representing nature through fanciful combinations. The 2017 sculpture Chlorophylia (For a World Without Color) (above) transmutes a tree’s natural form into an artificial one—a bouquet—to produce a bit of visual wordplay. All but drained of the chlorophyll that gives it color, Chlorophylia sprouts otherworldly flowers to feed the viewer’s love of green. Carson’s work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and UChicago’s Smart Museum of Art.
Black business milestone
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), an organization with roots at the University of Chicago. In April 1970 a group of black UChicago business school students—led by the late George Bradshaw, MBA’71; Alexander Gabbin, MBA’70; and the late Anthony Jackson, MBA’70—convened a two-day conference of their peers from nearly 30 MBA programs across the country. The first of its kind for an emerging generation of MBA holders, the gathering grew into the NBMBAA with its mission to develop partnerships that create intellectual and economic wealth in the black community. This April Gabbin and three other participants in the original conference—Gene Armstrong, MBA’69; James Hill Jr., MBA’67; and Clyde Proctor, MBA’69—hosted a virtual reunion commemorating the role of their UChicago cohort in founding an organization that now comprises 39 local chapters.
A novel of its time
Ling Ma, AB’05, an assistant professor of practice in the arts in UChicago’s English department and creative writing program, has received a Whiting Award for fiction. The Whiting Foundation’s $50,000 award recognizes early literary achievement and the promise of great future work. Ma’s debut novel Severance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018), at once “a zombie novel, a road movie, an immigrant novel, a mordant satire, a novel of first love,” wrote the selection committee, is “a marvel of form” that considers “the troubled American present, including end-stage capitalism and especially cultural nostalgia, brilliantly conceived here as a fatal epidemic.”
A life in vinyl
Record shop owner Rick Wojcik, AB’88, is the subject of the documentary Dusty Groove: The Sound of Transition (Petunia Productions, 2019), which had its Chicago premiere in February. Directed by Danielle Beverly, the film shares its name with the store Wojcik cofounded in 1996 as an e-commerce site—later to become Chicago’s bricks-and-mortar Dusty Groove—and follows him into the world of acquiring records from their collectors and keepers. Viewers learn the stories of enthusiasts like Dusty Groove cofounder and former WHPK hip-hop DJ John Schauer, AB’86, and celebrated Chicago jazz saxophonist Grady Johnson. “I’ve always been as fascinated with the people who listen to music as I am with the music itself,” Wojcik says in the film.
Advocate for student success
Rosa Hyun Perkins, AB’94, MBA’00, received the 2020 Horizons Hero Award for her work as the founder and board chair of Horizons National Chicago, a summertime academic enrichment program for underprivileged students in the city. With a professional background in finance, Perkins partnered with the University of Chicago Charter School to help launch the program on the South Side. Now in its third year, the program starts at the pre-K level and stays with students through high school, offering tuition-free classes in math, reading, art, and other subjects.
Best first book
In January Tim Cassedy, AM’05, an associate professor of English at Southern Methodist University, received the Modern Language Association’s Prize for a First Book. In Figures of Speech: Six Histories of Language and Identity in the Age of Revolutions (University of Iowa Press, 2018), Cassedy examines a cultural moment at the turn of the 19th century when language itself gained prominence as a category of identity for people in the English-speaking world. His focus on six characters from the era who illustrate its ideas about language and selfhood earned him praise from the MLA judges. “It is a rare and wonderful gift,” they wrote, “to be able to craft a scholarly argument that also tells page-turning stories.”