By Terri Peterson and Rachel Wayne

Ari Luxenberg took a winding path to land his Hollywood dream job. (Photo: Seri DeYoung)

ARI LUXENBERG was seven when Gator football coach Galen Hall awarded him a little orange whistle for doing the most push-ups for his age at a UF summer football camp. While that whistle has since been lost to history, Luxenberg’s Gator Pride has only grown.

“I always knew I wanted to be a Gator,” Luxenberg said. “It’s something that has always felt a part of me.”

Today, Luxenberg credits his education at UF with providing him the foundation he needed to pursue his dream job in Hollywood, where Luxenberg works as a Senior Vice President of Business Affairs at Paramount Television, negotiating deals (such as hiring actors, writers and directors) for the studio’s TV projects, including “Jack Ryan” on Amazon and “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix. He was previously employed at Warner Bros. Television, where he worked on shows such as “The Leftovers” on HBO and “The Middle” on ABC.

Luxenberg learned how to be a leader at UF, especially while serving as the president of Florida Cicerones, UF’s official student ambassadors. “Running that organization and feeling I’d been able to make an impact at UF was a constant reminder that through determination and hard work there’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish — including achieving my dreams in Hollywood,” he said.

At UF he strategically chose English as his major following the advice of his academic advisor who believed it would provide a great foundation for law school, a key step in his plan to move into the business side of the entertainment industry.

After his 2006 graduation from the Emory University School of Law, Luxenberg accepted a position with a large law firm in Atlanta focusing on corporate law. Although he was getting valuable experience and making a good salary, Luxenberg still felt the pull of Hollywood.

So, he arranged a short vacation to Los Angeles and lined up some informational interviews at talent agencies. A month later, an agency called and offered him a position — in their mail room. Although this meant a significantly smaller salary, Luxenberg accepted and began planning his move to Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, the 2007 WGA strike spurred a hiring freeze, eliminating his opportunity. Undeterred, Luxenberg still moved out West, landing an assistant position in the business affairs department of the William Morris Agency’s music division.

After a few years in LA working as an assistant and trying to break into the executive ranks, Luxenberg was considering a move back to Atlanta to work for a big firm again.  “I was waiting on my California bar results, and was just at the point where I had to start paying down my law school loans.  I’d really given it my best shot, but was being realistic that it just might not work out in Hollywood.”

“Then suddenly, everything seemed to click into place. Just as I got the news I passed the California bar, I landed a dream job at Warner Bros. Television, which was the big break to join the studio executive ranks and finally make my way into the television side of the business,” he said.

“When leaving my law firm and setting off to LA on this journey, I knew in my heart that I had to pursue my dream regardless of the risk. It was a long difficult road, but truly my experiences at UF were invaluable in helping me see it through and reach the position I’m at today.”

Click here to read more stories from this issue of Ytori.

By Rachel Wayne

AMY GALLOWAY was determined from a young age to become a lawyer. But when she first enrolled at UF as an undergrad, she made sure her college education was more than just a steppingstone toward law school. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences made that easy for her.

Galloway fully embraced the college’s varied disciplines, taking courses in philosophy and Chaucerian English to complement her political science major. “It really made me think out of the box, and that’s what I love about our college,” she said.

The liberal arts’ breadth of offerings and approaches, she believes, inspired her commitment to a lifetime of learning — and set her on the path to a rich, rewarding career. While at UF, she saw the real-world relevance of tried-and-true techniques like the Socratic method, and the immersive classroom environments fueled a curiosity about the world that has guided her ever since.

A bachelor’s degree in political science, a law degree and 30 years of practice later, Galloway hopes to help future generations have the same revelatory experience on campus that she did.

She remains involved with the University of Florida and currently serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the college. In particular, Galloway is passionate about Beyond120 and its focus on empowering students.

“It’s this idea of really investing in our students from the very first year they’re here,” she said. “It’s about really starting to learn, ‘What am I good at? What do I naturally excel at?’”

Among her many points of involvement are her efforts to develop internships and mentoring opportunities, both of which connect alumni with current students, often across disciplinary or industry boundaries.

Bringing Gators together has long been one of Galloway’s passions. Years ago, she joined a task force in the Department of Political Science to connect alumni in the South Florida area. Galloway helped organize events that featured talks from Florida pollster Jim Kane and professor emeritus of political science Richard Scher. Today, she’s working on ways to bring internships to the students, rather than the other way around.

“It might be more of a challenge to actually relocate, let’s say, to Miami-Dade for a semester, so we’re going to be able to offer students some opportunities near Gainesville,” she said.

The impetus for all this is Dean Dave Richardson, she said. His initiatives are helping enhance the student experience to unprecedented levels.

She has been excited to see the Dean’s Leadership Council grow, making more alumni resources available to Richardson and his team. Galloway can’t wait to help students start their own lifetime of learning.

Click here to read more stories from this issue of Ytori.

The annual Evening of Excellence shines a spotlight on those who make the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences an essential part of the University of Florida. This year’s ceremony was held on April 12, 2019, at the Florida Museum of Natural History and celebrated the staff members, faculty, students, alumni and others who best exemplify the values inherent in a liberal arts and sciences education. Keep reading to learn more about all of our winners.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Partner Award: Disney Conservation Fund

The Disney Conservation Fund received the Partner Award for their long-term support of UF’s Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research to help save endangered sea turtles. Disney selected UF as one of only seven global organizations receiving these larger impact-focused “Saving Wildlife” grants. The goal is to increase awareness of threats to these species on a large scale and has provided more than $1 million in funding for the center to develop new research, community strategies and other conservation solutions to help protect  the world’s sea turtles, and to provide additional collaboration with Disney conservation staff.

“We recognize and appreciate Disney’s understanding of the urgency of not only preserving but also bringing back populations of sea turtles,” said Karen Bjorndal, Department of Biology professor and Director of the Archie Carr Center. “Those of us who have spent our lives trying to save these animals are grateful.”

Superior Staff Award: Marisa Gates

Research Administrator Marisa Gates was recognized for her outstanding work supporting the CLAS Research Office. “Whenever she serves a person through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Research Office, Marisa assures them it will be okay and that she will help them handle whatever might come along,” said Beth Eslick, Director of the CLAS Research Office.

Faculty Achievement Award: Mark Rush and Laura Guyer

Two faculty members were honored this year for their distinguished achievement in research, teaching and service. To learn more about Mark Rush, click here. To read about Laura Guyer, click here.

Volunteer of the Year: Linda Fischer Wells, Political Science ’61

Linda Fischer Wells ’61 was honored for her work as the chair of the Department of Religion’s Advisory Board.

Student Excellence Award: Emma Leone, Daniel Ally and Sujaya Rajguru

The three students recognized at this year’s event embody the spirit of a liberal arts and sciences education.

Emma Leone ’19 dual-majored in linguistics and psychology on a pre-med track. Along with receiving multiple scholarships, she volunteers at Shands Hospital and the Dance Alive National Ballet and Pofahl Studios, where she teaches dancers of all ages.

Daniel Ally ’19 majored in physics and mathematics and serves as the President of the UF chapter of the Society of Physics Students. He is known for going out of his way to help fellow students; in the spring 2019 semester, he was the main organizer behind the Women in Science Day Fair.

Sujaya Rajguru ’19 majored in history, served as a fellow in the Bob Graham Center and participated in a leadership role in the UF Band. As an intern at the Matheson History Museum, she was a researcher for an exhibit on the history of desegregation in Alachua County schools, which resulted in Rajguru publishing an article in The Gainesville Sun.

Horizon Award: Syed Balkhi, Anthropology ’11

Syed Balkhi was honored for his work supporting the Beyond120 program. At the age of 7, Balkhi started his first business in Pakistan. His entrepreneurial spirit has continued to this day, with his business OptinMonster ranking seventh in 2019’s Gator100, a list of the 100 fastest growing Gator-led companies. “We are inspired by Syed’s determination, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit as a student and beyond,” Kathryn Clark ’19 said.

Outstanding Alumna: Rhonda Holt, Computer and Information Science ’86

This award honors an alumna or alumnus who has made significant contributions to their field while exemplifying the breadth and depth of a liberal arts and sciences degree. Rhonda Holt, Vice President for Software Development and Operations at PBS, was honored this year for her long and distinguished career as a business and technology executive at a variety of organizations.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Tom Elligett, Mathematics ’75

Tom Elligett was recognized for providing both financial support and advocacy for the college. A partner at Buell & Elligett in Tampa, he is an appellate and trial lawyer who has participated in more than 500 appeals in the last 40 years. As an alumnus, he has given to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence every year since 1982, consistently supporting the greatest needs of the college.

From left, Dean David Richardson, Majorie Turnbull and David Mica.

Civic Champion: The Honorable Marjorie Turnbull, Political Science ’62

Marjorie Turnbull was honored for her dedication to serving the people of Florida since her graduation from UF. She began her political career in the Florida House of Representatives and has had a distinguished public career as a Leon County Commissioner, the Executive Director of Tallahassee Community College and a board member of many nonprofit organizations.

Lasting Legacy Award: Herb ’55 and Catherine Yardley ’56

Herb and Catherine Yardley were recognized for their decades of providing support to the college. Catherine, who passed away in 2018 and was honored posthumously at the ceremony, captured the Yardley’s commitment to education in her quote engraved in the Plaza of the Americas — “The first step to a good life is a good education. It is here for you.”

The Yardleys have invested in diverse areas across the college including the Speech and Debate Team, the Bob Graham Center, Student Affairs and outdoor spaces on campus. The Yardley Garden outside of Ustler and Farrior halls is just one example of how the Yardleys have improved the campus grounds by providing students and faculty with space for relaxation and contemplation.

“I’ve known the Yardleys for years and I am continually amazed by their generosity and vision, particularly in curating and encouraging creative and beautiful spaces on UF’s campus,” said Carter Boydstun, retired senior philanthropic advisor at UF and inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.

Click here to read more stories from this issue of Ytori.

Nothing to See Here
Ecco/HarperCollins

The latest novel from MFA in Creative Writing graduate KEVIN WILSON ‘04 has earned rave reviews for its hilarious, surreal take on childrearing.

In Nothing to See Here (Ecco/HarperCollins), released Oct. 29, narrator Lillian is a go-nowhere millennial who once took the fall for her well-off boarding school roommate after drugs were found in their dorm. Years later, the friend, now married to a fast-rising politician, reaches out with an offer for Lillian to work as a nanny to her 10-year-old twin stepchildren — who, it turns out, literally burst into flames when they’re upset.

Told in deadpan prose, Nothing to See Here has delighted reviewers with its peculiar sensibility and moving story. A giddy notice in The New York Times Book Review called the book “wholly original” and “perfect.”

“You’re laughing so hard you don’t even realize that you’ve suddenly caught fire,” Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in the review. The Washington Post’s write-up, meanwhile, said, “Paradoxically light and melancholy, it hews to the border of fantasy but stays in the land of realism.”

Nothing to See Here was selected by Jenna Bush Hager as the November pick for the Today Show’s book club. Wilson told Today that he has been long been obsessed with the idea of spontaneous combustion — and it would often come to mind when his own children would have tantrums.

“I started thinking about, ‘Oh, well what would it be like if you had to take care of a kid who actually burst into flames,’” he said. “The novel just kind of spiraled out of that.”

The novel is the third from Wilson, who is an associate professor of English at Sewanee: The University of the South. Wilson has also published two short story collections. His 2011 debut novel, The Family Fang, became a 2015 film starring Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman and Christopher Walken. A film adaptation of Nothing to See Here is already in the works, according to Deadline.

On Nov. 14, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles will hold a free advance screening of the documentary “Cojot.” UF professor GAYLE ZACHMANN serves as a Producer and Historical consultant while y alumnus BOAZ DVIR is the Director and Producer.

Zachmann, a professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and the Center for Jewish Studies, collaborated with Dvir (’88, MA ’08, MFA ’14), to tell the story of the late Michel Cojot-Goldberg, a Holocaust survivor who sets out to kill the Nazi who imprisoned his father and ends up playing a key role in during the 1976 Entebbe hijacking crisis.

“Although the story of an individual, the life of Cojot-Goldberg spans the second half of the 20th century and speaks to a number of different histories,” Zachmann told UF News earlier this year. “From the resistance of individuals and families, hidden children, the rise of fascism and the plight of French Jews during the occupation, to those of post-war memory, justice and modern terror.”

Developed with the help of private support, the film tells the virtually unknown story of Cojot-Goldberg, who planned to kill the infamous Nazi Klaus Barbie. Known as the “Butcher of Lyon,” Barbie personally tortured French prisoners in Lyon and played a direct role in the Holocaust, sending 7,500 Jews to concentration camps.  Barbie also imprisoned Cojot-Goldberg’s father, who was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.

Cojot-Goldberg contacted Barbie in Bolivia posing as a journalist, but once seated with Barbie could not bring himself to pull the trigger. A year later, Cojot-Goldberg then played the improbable role as a translator onboard an Air France flight from Israel to France that was highjacked by terrorists and rerouted to Entebbe, Uganda.

Cojot is an exceptionally fine film concerning the trauma of Jewish identity in France during and after the Holocaust. Spanning major events from Lyon to La Paz to Entebbe, it is well-researched, wonderfully told, and deserves a wide audience.”  NORMAN J. W. GODA, Norman and Irma Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies, and Director, UF Center for Jewish Studies, said.

The screening at the Museum of Tolerance is free and open to the public and will be followed by a discussion with Dvir and Zachmann, along with special guest Olivier Cojot-Goldberg, the son of Michel Cojot-Goldberg.

To learn more about the event and to RSVP, click here.

Telling America’s Stories

“Academics don’t usually publish books that get national attention — you hope, but don’t dare expect it,” says Jack Emerson Davis, UF professor of environmental history and sustainability studies. “I hoped for book reviews in The New York Times.

The Gulf — The Making of an American Sea, Davis’ latest book, exceeded his expectations. Not only did it get reviewed in The New York Times, but it also made the cover of The New York Times Book Review, saying, “In Davis’s hands, the story reads like a watery version of the history of the American West. Both places saw Spanish incursions from the south, mutual incomprehension in the meeting of Europeans and aboriginals, waves of disease that devastated the natives and a relentless quest by the newcomers for the raw materials of empire. There were scoundrels and hucksters, booms and busts, senseless killing in sublime landscapes and a tragic belief in the inexhaustible bounty of nature.”

In addition, The Gulf won the Kirkus Prize, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, was a New York Times Notable Book, and made a number of other “best of” lists in national publications. (See our book review.)
The Gulf is Davis’ eighth book. Two of his books focus on race relations and civil rights. When Davis was working on his PhD at Brandeis University in the early 1990s, he vacillated between specializing in environmental history or race relations. Both fields interested him, but environmental history was in its nascent stage. “I decided strategically to put myself on the market as a race relations historian who could do environmental history,” he says.

As it turned out, Davis’ first job was at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. “I was the first environmental historian they hired,” says Davis. “And I ended up in Pinellas County, where I grew up.” Davis then taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he directed the Environmental Studies Program before coming to UF in 2003 — where he also was the first environmental historian the university hired.

Davis is a committed academic who chose to publish with a trade press because he believed The Gulf was an important book that should have a readership outside of the academy. “This book is about America and its relationship with its sea,” he says. “I was very conscious about bringing in historical figures from the Northeast, Midwest, even the British Isles, to show how Americans, and not just Gulf siders, are a part of the Gulf of Mexico history, how the Gulf of Mexico was, as nature was, a historical agent that shaped the lives of people who not just dwelled beside its waters but people from other parts of the country.”

When Davis first conceived of The Gulf, the Deepwater Horizon accident that dumped 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico had not yet happened. That Davis was writing a history of the Gulf around the same time that the largest oil spill in history was having a profoundly deleterious effect on his subject was coincidental, and it gave him a focus not to be about the spill, which he says, “seemed to rob the Gulf of Mexico of its true identity, and I wanted to restore it, to show people that the Gulf is more than an oil spill, more than a sun beach. It’s got a rich, natural history connected to Americans, and it’s not integrated into the larger American historical narrative. That’s a wrong I wanted to correct.”

Davis’ next book is Bird of Paradox — How the Bald Eagle Saved the Soul of America, a natural and cultural history of the bald eagle. Says Davis, “I want to flesh out the connection between nature and national identity.”

Breast surgical oncologist Lea Blackwell has been treating both women and men with breast cancer since 2008. Wanting to find a way to make their recovery more comfortable, she developed the Blackwell Bra.

What inspired you to invent the Blackwell Bra?

When I did my surgical training, we wrapped patients in an Ace Elastic Bandage. In my fellowship training, we had a surgical compression bra that we instructed the patients to wear for six weeks. When I started my surgical practice in Fort Myers, we used a surgical bra with a front Velcro closure. Every patient complained — it was uncomfortable but more uncomfortable without it. I started wondering if I could make my own bra.

Have you received a patent for your invention?

In May of 2011, patent attorneys advised me I had a patentable idea. In November of 2011, I applied for a patent for my “post-operative compression bra” and received my first patent in July, 2014. I now have three additional patents. I have two more items, a bra for women after heart and lung surgery that I’m calling the Thoracic Compression Bra and the Drain Apron, to help manage drain bulbs after surgery. I have the trademark on “Blackwell Bra” and one pending for “Dr. Blackwell.”

What makes the Blackwell Bra unique?

I was looking for a certain feel on the skin and ordered wick- away nylon and spandex compression fabric from Italy. The bra uses clasps instead of Velcro, which provide adjustability in the front and are easier for the patient to snap closed. It has mesh pockets to accommodate the drains. If patients don’t have drains, they can use the mesh pockets for ice packs. Because the patient is wearing the bra 24 hours a day, it can be hot, which is uncomfortable for the patient, so I added a mesh panel in the back of the bra to ventilate the bra. Additionally, all of the other post-surgical bras were designed with a wide band of fabric on the side, which aggravates the incision sites under the arms. The Blackwell Bra’s lower side fabric minimizes interference with the incisions. My accessory product, the Drain Apron, is helpful for patients who have drains, which are cumbersome. The Drain Apron is helpful to accommodate the drains when patients are taking showers. All of the bras are made in bright colors — I feel it’s positive and lifts their spirits. Women tell me that the bra is comfortable, and that they feel protected.

What challenges were there in making the bra?

It turns out that the bra is one of the more complex items to make in textiles. It’s not easy nding a manufacturer, and I prefer to make them in the U.S. Since 2013, I’ve worked with a seamstress who makes bras for my patients. I’ve given away more than a thousand bras since 2014. Working with the seamstress has helped me to modify the bra to improve the fit and feel. I have a bra designer working with me to facilitate manufacturing and hope to have them ready for sale by the end of 2018.

For more information, go to www.blackwellbra.com

Double Gator calls winning Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction an “unbelievable joy.”

Author James Grippando ’80, JD’82 says that winning the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction in 2017 for his novel Gone Again (reviewed in the Fall 2016 issue of Ytori) was the most exciting thing ever to happen to him in his career as an attorney and as a best-selling novelist.

“I am honored and humbled,” says Grippando, who lives in Coral Gables, Fla. “The coolest thing is you get a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her old friends came to the ceremony [held at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa], and it’s pretty surreal to get this prize and congratulations from her friends.”

Gone Again tackles the issue of the death penalty and innocence, and in this novel, race. Attorney Jack Swyteck, the protagonist of 14 of Grippando’s 26 novels and a Gator himself, must defend Dylan Reeves, a man on death row wrongfully convicted of murdering teenager Sashi Burgette, whose body was never found.

“Having a character like Jack Swyteck in 14 novels and winning an award based on a Swyteck novel was an unbelievable joy for me,” says Grippando. “I would defy anyone to guess where I stand on capital punishment based on my novels, but people always ask. My view has evolved. In 2015, I was shocked to discover 58 convictions in homicide cases had been overturned and the average length of time a wrongly convicted person served was 141⁄2 years in prison.”

Grippando says he honed his writing skills in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honors program, led by English professor Sid Homan.

“We wrote a paper a week, and Sid would read them aloud to us,” recalls Grippando. “There’s nothing more painful than hearing and watching someone trip over your own bad sentence. I still edit my own work that way — reading it aloud. It stuck with me.”

Most of Grippando’s novels are set in Florida, and he frequently draws on his experiences from his college days, whether it’s tubing down the Ichetucknee River or observing student protests at Tigert Hall.

His latest novel, A Death in Live Oak, is set at the University of Florida where Jamal Cousin, the president of the preeminent black fraternity, is found hogtied and lynched, hanging above the Suwannee River. This act — inspired by a lynching in Live Oak in the 1940s — sparks a firestorm across the state and the nation, putting Jack in the Atticus Finch-like position of defending an unpopular client in a racially-charged environment.

“Since I’m writing a thriller, the stakes need to be as high as they can be,” says Grippando. “I knew it had to be set at the flagship university in whatever state I based it in. In this case, it was the University of Florida. I’m proud to say that I went to that flagship university.”

The idea for Live Oak percolated in Grippando’s mind for years, but it migrated to the forefront when his son, Ryan, was applying to colleges. Grippando was disturbed by the amount of racially-motivated hate crimes happening on college campuses throughout the country.

“Any writer will tell you the old adage, ‘Write what you know.’ It also means, ‘Write what you worry about,’” he says. “Jack Swyteck, as a character, had never addressed the issue of racism in America. I like to take on timely subject matters. I don’t preach. I present the topic as realistically as possible. I’m happy to say that many people think it’s the best book I’ve written.”

See book review. To learn more about Jack Swyteck and Grippando, visit www. jamesgrippando.com.

Books

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, Jack E. Davis

gulf

2018, Liveright

The Gulf of Mexico is both unusual and important, geologically, ecologically, economically, and historically. UF history professor Jack Davis weaves all those together in this brilliant and unprecedented story of the Gulf. He brings in commentary from luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway and Rachel Carson, and most importantly the artist Winslow Homer, whose painting “Shell Heap” provides a compelling through- line and visual metaphor for the book. Davis organizes the book by characteristics of the Gulf, matching each with a historical character. The cast includes ethnologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, and sherman Leonard Destin. Through artfully told stories balanced with scienti c and historical detail, Davis proves that the Gulf of Mexico is indeed an American sea. (See profile. Late addition: The Gulf won a Pulitzer!)

 

Rosie Girl, Julie Shepard ’90

book cover of Rosie Girl

2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

UF alumna Julie Shepard’s portrait of a teenage girl forgoes typical coming-of-age poignancy for a compelling dark comedy
of a young woman whose ventures into vices and questionable alliances form the shape of her search for her birth mother. Written with biting wit in the first-person perspective of Shepard’s anti-heroine Rosie, who is surrounded by characters in shades of grey, the novel alternates between brisk dialogue, humorous musings by Rosie, and immersive passages of sense memory and introspection. Rosie Girl offers a progressive reveal of each character’s secrets and, ultimately, a resonant portrayal of human longing and fallibility.

 

A Death in Live Oak, James Grippando ’80, JD’82

book cover of Death in Live Oak

2018, HarperCollins

In this decidedly Floridian addition to the Jack Swyteck series, James Grippando ’80, JD’82 sends his defense-attorney hero on a timely journey through racial tensions in central Florida, tying a historical nonfiction prologue about the 1944 lynching of 15-year-old Willie James Howard to his deftly labyrinthine legal fiction novel. Packed with dry wit and flippant descriptions of Florida life and culture, Grippando effectively broaches uncomfortable themes with legal prowess and the immense personality of his hero. (See profile )

 

Dante, Columbus and the Prophetic Tradition: Spiritual Imperialism in the Italian Imagination, Mary Alexandra Watt

book cover for Dante, Columbus and the Prophetic Tradition

2017, Routledge

Mary Watt, UF professor of Italian studies and associate dean of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, brings
together discussions of Christian apocalyptic dogma, Dante’s religious imagination, and imperialist ethos to explore the complicated character and dubious claims of Christopher Columbus. Drawing upon Columbus’ and his contemporaries’ various writings, Watt shows how perceptions of reality in Columbus’ era were inextricably tied to prevailing religious and pre-scientific ideology, and Columbus’ ambition an extension thereof. She also delves into historico-literary analysis of Dante’s formative role in contemporary conceptions of heaven and hell. She concludes by examining the incorporation of the Columbus character into his own epic, written by Tommaso Stigliani to affirm Italian imperialism.

 

An African American and Latinx History of the United States, Paul Ortiz

book cover

2018, G.P. Beacon Press

Paul Ortiz, UF history professor and director of UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (see article), gives a sweeping and people-first overview of the United States from the abolitionist era to the election of Barack Obama, contextualized in the voices and activities of African American and Latinx leaders. Each page is packed with quotes from primary materials, creating a 189-page volume of dialogue that Ortiz uses not only for his driving argument that American exceptionalism is a myth, but also to demonstrate that history itself is socially constructed. In the vein of Howard Zinn, Ortiz offers a history of America’s civil rights that emphasizes minority voices and provides a roadmap for further progress.

 

Dodgers, Bill Beverly MFA’91

book cover for Dodgers

2016, Broadway Books

While there really is no such thing as an American diaspora, the citizenry cannot deny what this great American experiment has birthed — a nation of independents and dependents, haves and have-nots, meritocracy and democracy. In Bill Beverly’s breakout novel, Dodgers, an L.A. born and bred character named East, whose day job is standing guard for a crack house, cannot look beyond the killing of an innocent girl from Jackson, Miss. So, when he’s called to be part of a crew to kill a judge in Wisconsin, East goes east without question — wearing a fan jersey of the L.A Dodgers, a team that abandoned New York for L.A, 60 years ago. On one level, Beverly has constructed a compelling and gritty crime novel. But on another, Dodgers hits hard, making the reader question intentionality, destiny, and American reality — mercenary Iowa gun runners in the heartland, a fair- minded Ohio mayor who’s made his money on paintball wars, and East, the 16-year-old who discovers himself in the fault line of America, between tyranny and trust, race and reason.

 

Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel, Rachel Khong MFA’11

book cover for Goodbye, Vitamin

2017, Henry Holt and Co.

In brief vignettes of sparse and lucid prose, Rachel Khong tells the story of a family whose holiday season is marred by worsening dementia in its patriarch. Daughter Ruth, in whose voice the novel poignantly dips into relatable musings on American life while unveiling its protagonist’s fierce heartbreak over the loss of her engagement, attempts to make sense of the situation. Khong’s immersive and lightly humorous style does not detract from the Big Questions of identity and fate facing her characters.

 

China in the Mix: Cinema, Sound, and Popular Culture in the Age of Globalization, Ying Xiao

book cover for China in the Mix

2017, University Press of Mississippi

As the title suggests, Ying Xiao, UF assistant professor of Chinese film and media, explores the dualities among visuals and sound, China and Hollywood, and globalism and the state in her historical critique of post-socialist Chinese film. Noting that most film studies focus on visual content, Xiao unpacks the auditory content, including a multitude of voices and languages, various styles of music, and dialogue, and contextualizes it in China’s sociocultural milieu from the 1980s to present. In examining China’s paradigms, politics, and sense of personhood as well, Xiao expands her work into what she calls “an interdisciplinary cultural studies project.”

 

Each issue of Ytori will cover creative works by faculty and alumni. Please submit suggestions to gigimarino@ufl.edu.

A restauranteur with a Texas-sized love for Russian gives back to Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

The son of a physician, John Welsh ’75 began his UF career in the pre-med track and worked in an immunology lab. The elder Dr. Welsh was happy. The director of the immunology department was happy. Welsh himself, however, was not. “I hated it,” he says. Three years later, the young Welsh went to his father and said, “Dad, this is just not my thing,” a sentiment he also communicated to the immunology director. “John, you’re a hard worker, you have a positive outlook, always charging, business-oriented,” the director told Welsh. “Maybe medicine isn’t for you. You should be in business.’”

John ’75 and Sydney Welsh are no strangers to 12-hour days and 7-day weeks

Welsh was relieved he did not have to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he had spent three years taking science classes. It seemed a bit late in the game to change his major. An advisor looked over his coursework and told him the only thing he was missing was a foreign language. He says. “It was the beginning of the cold war, and I thought Russian might be fun.” Heck, why not?

Welsh credits Professor E.C. Barksdale with helping him get the necessary hours to graduate. He also started working with a UF ornithologist, who needed help translating papers from a Russian colleague, and discovered that all those science classes paid o after all. Armed with a major in Russian and a minor in physical sciences, he headed to Manhattan hoping to get a job at the United Nations. He learned you need a PhD to translate at the UN and instead worked at a hotel laundry with Polish immigrants, who could understand his Russian.

He soon left NYC and went west, ending up in Dallas in 1976. He took a job at the Railhead Restaurant and, within six months, informed the owners that he would like to go into management. Railhead was purchased by Victoria Station, which gave Railhead’s owners an opportunity to pursue their own concept restaurant: Cheddar’s Casual Cafe. As an operational founder, Welsh joined Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers to open the first Cheddar’s in Arlington, Texas. Today, there are 171 Cheddar’s in the U.S. Welsh is a franchisee with two stores and started another concept restaurant: Fish Daddy’s

When he opened his first franchise in 2000, his wife, Sydney, stepped in to “help out” for 30 days. Eighteen years later, she’s still helping out. They are first to tell you that being restaurant owners takes resilience, grit, and determination.

At the first location, they worked 12-hour days for nine months straight. When they finally got one day off, half way to a Houston respite, the back office’s shelving collapsed, rendering all of the computers useless. Making a bee line back to the restaurant, Syd said, “Nice day off, honey!”

When they opened their second Cheddar’s in Lufkin, Texas, they had a constant turnover in staff. “Your No. 2 store is usually make it or break it for small companies,” says Welsh. John visited weekly, and Sydney drove five hours back and forth twice a week for four years until the management and staffing were stable. They began remodeling a building to start their first Fish Daddy’s. Careless painters left rags in cans next to a wooden column — four months of hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars went up in flame. John and Sydney couldn’t start reconstruction on it for a year. In the long run, all three restaurants prevailed.

The Welshes required their three adult children to work in management for a year in one of their restaurants. “We wanted them to understand where the money comes from,” says Welsh. The couple believes in both self-reliance and giving people a chance. This last year, they endowed a scholarship to Languages, Literatures, and Cultures for one student a year — “an individual like me,” says Welsh, “someone in Liberal Arts and Sciences who doesn’t know exactly what they want to do yet.” He credits the college with giving him a flexible concept of life, and not just because of “the immunologist who saw a businessman in me,” Welsh says. “Working through college, combined with having a broad landscape in the humanities, helped form my personality. Your personality gets shaped those four years.”