Newsmakersrss

Newsmakers

C. J. Chivers ’95JRN, a senior writer for the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. His piece “The Fighter” follows a Marine’s descent into violence after he returns home from the war in Afghanistan. Chivers, who served in the Marine Corps during the Gulf War, also won a Pulitzer in 2009 as part of a New York Times team reporting in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mahir Cetiz ’13GSAS, a composer and Core lecturer in the humanities at Columbia, won a Guggenheim Fellowship, given in support of exceptional scholarship or creative work. Cetiz was the assistant conductor of the Columbia University Orchestra while studying for his doctorate in musical arts, and his compositions have been performed by the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Two Columbians won PEN awards for their contributions to literary magazines. Crystal Hana Kim ’09CC, ’14SOA won a 2017 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers — awarded to twelve writers annually for fiction published in a magazine or on a website — for her story “Solee,” which was published in the Southern Review. Joel Whitney ’02SOA received the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Editing for his work on the online literary magazine Guernica.

Keep the Change, a film by Rachel Israel ’13SOA and Kurt Enger ’07SOA, won the Founders Award for Best US Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. The film — a romance about two people with autism who meet at a disability support group — began as a short film for Israel’s thesis at Columbia. Israel met Enger at a School of the Arts alumni breakfast in 2015, and they worked together to turn the short into a feature (they also married last year and had a baby in October).

Donnel Baird ’13BUS and Matthew Schwartz ’00CC, ’02LAW appeared on Crains New York Business’s “40 Under 40” list. Baird is a social entrepreneur bringing affordable energy to low-income neighborhoods (see our Winter 2015 story “Power for the People”). Schwartz spent a decade as an Assistant US Attorney, prosecuting financial crimes (he led the investigation into Bernie Madoff). Now he works for the defense, helping to build the white-collar criminal practice at law firm Boies Schiller Flexner.

Find and connect with all your classmates at alumni.columbia.edu.

“New York to Los Angeles”

''New York to Los Angeles 1''

In his photography series New York to Los Angeles, Ashok Sinha ’99SEAS captures the abstract beauty of the view from an airplane window. Several of his sweeping aerial photos, shot during ordinary commercial cross-country flights, are currently on display at the Marion Center for Photographic Arts in Santa Fe (including New York to Los Angeles 1, above). Sinha is also a photojournalist and the founder of Cartwheel Initiative, a nonprofit that runs photography and animation workshops for refugee children.



Ask an Alum

Film Forum

Erika Dilday ’93JRN, ’94BUS

Erika Dilday ’93JRN, ’94BUS is the executive director of the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, founded by influential documentarian Albert Maysles. With his brother David, Maysles produced and directed classics such as Salesman, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens in the 1960s and ’70s.


Columbia Magazine: What does the Maysles Documentary Center do?

Erika Dilday: We have three divisions: a community cinema, an education program, and a film-production area. The cinema is pay-what-you-wish, and we often hold post-screening discussions with directors. In our education program, we teach free and low-cost filmmaking courses to youths and adults. We also make documentary films; the most recent, In Transit, won a Special Jury Mention at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. I’ve managed all three divisions since joining the center in 2012.  

CM: You have degrees in business and journalism from Columbia. How has that education helped you in this job?
ED: My business training helps with the day-to-day aspects of running a nonprofit — keeping the lights on. Journalism, in some ways, is more important. Our mission at the center is really about the intersection of social justice and art. From studying business and journalism, I’ve learned how to balance storytelling and journalistic integrity with the need to stay in business. The best thing that I got from my dual degree at Columbia was the ability to give both sides the honest attention they need.

CM: Why is documentary film an important medium today?
ED: For one thing, it’s accessible. Anybody can make a documentary, and the ability to document what goes on around us has really changed our world. Narrative films about real subjects often dramatize stories and alter facts, but documentaries record events as they happen, often in real time. With so much fake news out there and information that isn’t quite believable, people are more likely to trust information when it comes directly from a source.

CM: How has the center affected Harlem?
ED: The center is a place for entertainment, but also for social action and public service. Many of the films that we show, even those from overseas, tackle issues that we deal with in our community, such as health-care costs, poverty, hunger, and affordable-housing shortages. By screening these documentaries here in Harlem, we try to make the world a little bit smaller and gain a better understanding of each other.

CM: Can you tell us about the center’s education programs for young people?
ED: One that’s having a big impact right now is our Community Producers Program for court-involved youths. We teach teens and young adults on probation how to tell their own stories, an important skill for people leaving the criminal-justice system. The program also helps youths actively pursue topics that interest them; they’ve tackled issues like fatherhood, immigration, and foster-care reform. Often, people who struggle in school do well with a camera.

CM: There are thousands of documentaries released every year. Do you have any recent favorites?
ED: Without question, Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, which is about racism in the US and the civil-rights movement. The film was an Oscar nominee, and we were one of two Manhattan theaters to screen it during the nomination process.

CM: What are the key ingredients of a good documentary?
ED: Access to unlimited information about a subject, openness to tell all sides of a story, and a good editor.

Julia Joy

Butterfly Effect

A Gulf fritillary drinks nectar. / Photograph by Jeffrey Glassberg / Sunstreak Tours

Butterflies may be ephemeral, but they have held cultural weight for millennia, often portrayed in folklore and art as embodiments of the human soul. For Jeffrey Glassberg ’93LAW, preserving humankind’s connection to these delicate creatures has been a life mission. “People have always been fascinated by butterflies — by their beauty, their gracefulness, and the fleeting nature of their lives,” says Glassberg, who founded the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), a nonprofit conservation organization, in 1992.

Before butterflies became a primary commitment, Glassberg was a genetics researcher and the leader of a biotech company that pioneered the use of DNA fingerprinting. He sold the company in 1988 as he became increasingly interested in environmental protection — a decision that led him to Columbia Law School. “I thought that butterflies could use legal help,” he says. Near the end of his time at Columbia, he founded NABA, the result of years of collaboration with other butterfliers. Though his legal knowledge was useful as the director of a nonprofit, he never ended up practicing law, returning instead to the worlds of academia and research biology.

Since founding NABA, Glassberg, who today is an adjunct professor of evolutionary biology at Rice University, has written eight field guides on butterfly identification, including Butterflies through Binoculars, the first-ever resource on net-less butterflying. Until the late twentieth century, a butterflier typically had to catch, kill, and pin his specimens; nowadays, improved binoculars and cameras allow for up-close views of live butterflies in their natural habitats. Public interest in butterflying has significantly increased as a result.

Jeffrey Glassberg

Nonetheless, the number of butterflies continues to shrink: “Every single day, there are fewer than there were the day before,” says Glassberg, who attributes this loss primarily to habitat destruction and pesticide use. Caterpillars are picky eaters; most species feed solely on specific plant types. Without these plants, certain butterflies can’t exist. Total extinction would have devastating consequences for the environment: plants would lose pollinators and birds would lose caterpillars, a necessary food source for their survival.

But NABA has made some strides. In 1998, the organization saved the last living population of regal fritillaries in the eastern United States from an Army base attempting to replace their habitat with tanks. Now NABA is set on saving the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak, an endangered butterfly species in southern Florida, by distributing samples of pineland croton (the only plant it eats) to area homeowners. Anybody anywhere can do his or her part to conserve butterflies by planting a garden with flora consumed by local species — something that NABA encourages with a regional gardening guide on its website.

“One of the wonderful things about working with butterflies is that they take you everywhere,” says Glassberg, who has traveled overseas and to every US state to observe and photograph regional species at peak season. And though he is motivated by the fact that his work is of environmental importance, the rewards of the job are as personal as they are universal. “Being out in a field full of butterflies just makes me feel incredibly good,” says Glassberg. “There’s nothing better in the world.”

Julia Joy

New York through New Eyes

Photograph by Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Photograph © Ariella Budick

Justin Davidson ’90GSAS, ’94SOA has spent a decade writing about art and architecture for New York magazine, and his new book, Magnetic City: A Walking Companion to New York, offers seven tours that set out to capture the “myth and magic and possibility” of the city he calls home. We asked the Pulitzer Prize–winning critic and Upper West Side resident to tell us more about some of the New York City places and spaces that have captured his imagination.

 

 

LOWER MANHATTAN

The corner of South and Fulton Streets in Lower Manhattan is one of the most evocative in New York. In the early nineteenth century, the six-story building at 92 South Street was the Fulton Ferry Hotel. It was eulogized by New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell in his 1952 essay “Up in the Old Hotel.” In Mitchell’s time, the building was home to Sloppy Louie’s, a greasy spoon that was a legendary hangout for workers from the Fulton Fish Market. The market and the restaurant are long gone, but the dusty, empty hotel rooms are pretty much still as Mitchell found them, in a state of almost sacramental decay.

 

SOUTH BRONX

The South Bronx is certainly ready to be rediscovered, and the art deco apartment buildings on the Grand Concourse are testament to a previous generation’s dreams of future prosperity. With its aquatic-themed mosaics, wavy façade, and phantasmagorical murals, the Fish Building at 1150 Grand Concourse is an architectural essay on happiness. Not many buildings in New York express such random joy.

 

UPPER WEST SIDE

Riverside Drive was once a boulevard of mansions, and the Rice mansion at the southeast corner of Riverside and West 89th Street is one of the few that has survived. It’s now a yeshiva, but in the early 1900s it was the home of a very accomplished family. Isaac Rice 1880LAW was a lawyer, composer, and chess player. His wife, Julia, a community activist, campaigned against noise pollution. She founded the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise and even hired Columbia students to count tugboat toots on the Hudson River. The Rices raised six kids, one of whom became an aviatrix and another of whom sailed around the world. They were passionate advocates, idealistic eccentrics, and earnest participants in the city’s cultural life. They seem perfectly emblematic of the restless energy of New York’s Jewish bourgeoisie and the spirit of the Upper West Side.



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