People and Projects
In a time of crisis Antoinette Musco Kuritz ’72 was floored by the generosity of her colleagues. Founding owner of Strategies, a San Diego-based literary management and PR firm, Kuritz had “just launched the La Jolla Writers Conference when the tragedy of 9-11 forced many enrolled to cancel their plans, she says. “I decided to go on, even for a single participant.” The keynoter that year was Catherine Ryan Hyde, and the theme was based on her Pay it Forward, a novel about people who perform random acts of kindness with the hope that others will too. Authors, editors, agents, and publishers walked the walk, volunteering their time to the conference.
Kuritz—an English major who earned teaching credentials—has been on the receiving end of empathy too. As a student she married and had a baby; with “tremendous support” from the Skidmore community, she lived with her family in a dormitory as head resident. Later, when she was physically disabled by an accident that covered her in gasoline, she got hired at a Barnes & Noble. “I believed if I were going to heal, it would be in a book-filled environment,” she says. Soon Kuritz conceived monumentally successful promotions for the store, with appearances by famous authors.
Enter Victor Villasenor (Rain of Gold, Wild Steps of Heaven), who asked her to represent him personally. Kuritz reports: “I never looked back.” Today she kibitzes regularly with big-name authors, often cajoling them to donate their time at La Jolla.
Being a professional reader among great writers is inspiring for Kuritz, a self-proclaimed “scribbler working on page one of the great American novel.” She penned 1001 Ways to Celebrate America and a story in Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul; writes a newspaper column; and hosts Writers Roundtable, a weekly radio show now online. She shares wise words writers have offered her: “Never have a plan B,” “Writing is hard work, often done second shift for years,” and “Publishing doesn’t mean fame and fortune.” Celebrities are fun, she says, but her favorite perk is getting
a peek at good reads before they’re available on store shelves. —Helen S. Edelman ’74
Early in the twentieth century, the popular Chautauqua Circuit toured its variety shows packed with lectures, music, politicians, and performers. Now the minuscule but impressively monikered National Theater of the United States of America (composed mostly of Skidmore alumni) is mounting its own take on the vintage circuit show—its Chautauqua plays Nashville (Vanderbilt University, Nov. 6), Minneapolis (Walker Arts Center, Jan. 8–10), and New York City (PS 122, Jan. 21–Feb. 8). Think a 1905-style circuit show sounds stuffy? Click on the video at www.ntusa.org and you’ll see that edification can be madcap, kinetic theater.
Collaborative, acrobatic, and apparently fearless, troupe members sing, dance, and act in witty and spectacular shows that they all help to shape. Members include Yehuda Duenyas ’96, Jonathan Jacobs ’95, Matt Kalman ’94, Mark Doskow ’97, Ryan Bronz ’96, Jessica Hawley ’97, and Ilan Bachrach ’04. “We all have day jobs,” says Hawley. The company “survives on grants and donations and free stuff”—not to mention great press: “One of the most exciting and eccentric young theater companies in town” (New York Times); “an eye-opening live-action cartoon performed by stand-up philosophers” (Time Out New York). Among NTUSA’s notable honors are a 2002 Arts International DNA Project grant, a 2006 Village Voice “Obie,” and the 2007 Spalding Gray Award (for “innovative theatrical vision”) that supported the development and tour of Chautauqua.
Genuinely interested in American ideas, issues, history, and culture, NTUSA has explored such red-white-and-blue genres as vaudeville shows (Garvey & Superpants) and tent revivals (Abacus Black Strikes Now). They’ve also recreated cultural experiences such as a 1950s casino floorshow (Placebo Sunrise), a self-help group (SuperConfidence!), and an amusement-park ride-and-game show (What’s That on My Head?).
Since 2000, the troupe has performed in odd spaces—a police-horse stable, an abandoned deli, an empty shoe store—for small audiences (they seated just twenty people at their first show). “That intimacy is something we’ve always strived for,” says Duenyas. But with so much kicky high-energy “edification” going on, that seems likely to change. —BAM
Lambs for lions
Barking dogs can scare away a lion; problem is, they can attract a leopard. That’s just one dilemma faced by Asuka Takita ’98, a veterinarian seeking to safeguard both domestic animals and wild predators near Kenya’s Masai Mara wildlife preserve. (She studied there in her junior year, and returned to earn her DVM in 2005.) “Leopards like dog meat,” she says, so only very large dogs deter them.
Some 7,000 Masai pastoralists live outside one part of the reserve, where in 2006–07 they reported 150 leopard attacks, mostly on sheep and goats, and 67 lion attacks, mostly on cattle. After such attacks occur, it’s customary for Masai warriors to go out and spear or poison wild predators, whose populations are already in a nosedive from habitat loss and other pressures. Cash compensation to the herders does help, but not enough.
Takita (pictured here castrat-ing a bull) has bigger plans.
For one, she’s outlined a program to import and breed large livestock-guardian dogs for the herders, and to teach them about canine health and husbandry. She’s also fundraising for a major initiative that aims for a 70 percent drop in livestock predation, a total stop to wildlife killings, more meat and milk per animal, and self-funding within three years. First, villagers will plant “biofences” of thorny trees and shrubs like acacia, and warriors will be hired to monitor carnivore movements and identify safe grazing areas outside the fences.
A bull and ram leasing arrangement will upgrade the livestock, whose improved productivity will raise incomes and encourage herdsmen to invest in better veterinary care for them. As payment for each siring service, a few of the offspring will be sold to fund the warrior patrols’ salaries, buy fencing materials, and cover educational outreach. Partly based on the successful “Living with Lions” program elsewhere in the Masai Mara, Takita’s plan uses participation to “foster both improved livelihoods and predator conservation,” she says, “without marginalizing the local community.”
Meanwhile she cares for thousands of animals, helping her neighbors get by in their difficult, dangerous, but traditionally valued way of life. And every night she’s happy that her own dog is a big, burly Rottweiler mix. —SR
Jenna Ringelheim ’02 knows a lot about leadership. The former anthropology and environmental-studies major is the executive director of Wild Gift, an Idaho-based program for exceptional leaders in their twenties. The organization helps the young leaders devise and launch a project that “promotes the stewardship of wild nature and the development of sustainable communities.” Wild Gift selects five applicants per year to receive up to $15,000 each and take part in a seventeen-month program, including a twenty-day “deep wilderness experience” in Idaho or Alaska. Grant recipients are taught and mentored by experts in ecology and climate-change research as well as business and strategic planning.
According to Ringelheim, Wild Gift supports the ideas of “better-world entrepreneurs”—think of it as not-for-profit venture capitalism. The goal is “to support a lifelong commitment to leadership that benefits humankind and the natural environment and to build an expanding network of leaders who provide a collective wisdom and are a resource for individual and collaborative leadership projects.”
Wild Gift’s funding of leadership action projects often serves to kick-start budding careers in environmental sustainability. Ringelheim herself was a beneficiary of the Wild Gift pilot program in 2003. After earning a master’s in environmental policy and planning from Tufts University and working for the Boston office of the Trust for Public Land, she became Wild Gift’s first executive director in 2007. Now she uses the skills she honed as a grant recipient to oversee the entire operation.
Ringelheim calls her work “fulfilling and inspiring” and takes pride in being able to show young leaders with an interest in sustainability that they can indeed make a difference in the world. She credits Skidmore with teaching her that if she works hard, great things can happen. “In school,” she recalls, “that translated into interesting internships, an amazing study-abroad experience, and becoming the first environmental-studies major to graduate from Skidmore.”
For more on Wild Gift,
www.wildgift.org. —Robin Adams ’00