Friday, July 16, 2010

Washington College Makes List of "40 Gems" in Book on the Admissions Process

Washington College is an "overlooked gem" that deserves more attention from applicants and parents, according to the newest edition of Acceptance, a book about college admissions counseling by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist David Marcus.

The book profiles veteran guidance counselor Gwyeth "Smitty" Smith, who recently retired from a public high school in Oyster Bay, N.Y. , and follows him through an admissions season. In the book, Smith urges students to look at the "fit" of a college, and not just its name-brand prestige.

The newly released paperbook edition includes Smith's 40 favorite colleges from his 40 years of counseling, and that list includes Washington College. "Washington College truly puts students first,” Smith says. "The students often form lifelong friendships with professors, and those relationships help when it’s time to look for a job.”

Smith praises Washington College’s programs in writing, history and ecology, each one centered on a prestigious satellite institution: the Rose O’Neill Literary House, the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and the Center for Environment and Society.

He also likes the school’s location, with its access to the Chester River and its proximity to Washington D.C., Annapolis, and Philadelphia. “Not only is the campus in a gorgeous, historic town,” he says. “But it’s well situated for landing internships.”

Author Marcus and “Smitty” have spoken to thousands of parents, teenagers and guidance counselors during their nationwide tour of schools, churches and synagogues. They reassure families that a student's comfort with a campus is far more important than a famous name on the gates.

Smith calls the college quest the “great American adolescent rite of passage,” and the book’s narrative shows young men and women on journeys of self-discovery. Published by Penguin, the book also offers Smith's advice on a variety of topics, including standardized tests, college-prep courses, and campus visits (“sit in on a professor teaching a subject you’re sure you’d want to take as well as one you assume you’d never take”).

Smith is particularly emphatic about the application essay. "Sometimes an incredible essay can sway admissions officers into accepting a borderline applicant, and even a long shot." His bottom line about the whole process: “It’s not just about ‘getting in,’ but rather about awakening the kids to themselves, and to a life's path.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Folk Veteran Bob Zentz Kicks Off Starr Center's New Riverfront Concerts July 27

CHESTERTOWN, MD—The first free outdoor concert of the new Washington College Riverfront Concert Series takes place Tuesday, July 27 with a performance by veteran singer-songwriter Bob Zentz. Organized by the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, the event will start at 6:30 p.m. on the riverfront lawn of the Custom House, corner of High and Water streets in downtown Chestertown.

Drinks and light refreshments will be provided; attendees are encouraged to bring their own blankets or lawn chairs. In case of inclement weather, the concert will take place in The Egg, a performance space in Hodson Hall Commons on the main Washington College campus.

Guest artist Bob Zentz is a prolific songwriter, musician and storyteller whose Chesapeake Bay songs have become classics. His concerts are a showcase for a wide range of traditional instruments, which can include the concertina, the hurdy gurdy, and the autoharp. With a strong sense of history, humanity and humor, his repertoire ranges from traditional Celtic tunes and ballads to sea chanteys, from tales of old timers to poetry set to music. He has recorded seven albums, including Horizons, released in January of this year.

Zentz started his career in college, as a founding member of The College of William & Mary's "Minutemen" singers from 1962 to 64. After several years as a sonar man in the U.S. Coast Guard, he was hired as a writer for the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” After that show was cancelled, Bob returned to his native Norfolk in 1971 and opened Ramblin' Conrad’s Guitar Shop & Folklore Center. Named in honor of a local backstreet minstrel and country singer, the store and concert venue served the next 23 years as the hub for folk and traditional music in the Hampton Roads region. It also led to the founding of what is now The Tidewater Friends of Folk Music and the public radio show “In the Folk Tradition.”

In addition to being a leader of the Virginia music scene, Zentz has appeared on PBS's long-running program "A Prairie Home Companion" and crewed and performed aboard Pete Seeger's Hudson River sloop Clearwater, helping to restore the Hudson River and spread the word about preserving our waterways. His recording of his own composition "Horizons" was included on the 2006 album Songs for the Earth, a tribute to environmental author and pioneer Rachel Carson on the centenary of her birth. For more information on Zentz, visit

The Riverfront Concert Series will continue August 17 with the guitar duo of Mac Walter and John Cronin. Hosted by Starr Center program manager and 103.1 WRNR disc jockey Michael Buckley, the concerts reflect the Center’s longstanding interest in the musical traditions of the Chesapeake Bay and its rich heritage of storytelling. “This series brings together two things we love to do—celebrate the rich heritage of the region and create programs the entire community can learn from and enjoy, ” says Adam Goodheart, the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center. “Plus, when you combine great music, a beautiful waterfront, and a warm summer night, it's pretty hard to go wrong.”

For more information on the center or the concerts, visit

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Drama Alums in Zero Hour Theatre Troupe Stage Spotswood's Dark Comedy in D.C. July 16-25

Molly Weeks Crumbley ’07 knew she would miss her drama family, the tight-knit group of Washington College theater majors and professors she spent all those hours with in Tawes Theatre building sets, rehearsing, critiquing. “The department fostered a real sense of community,” she says. “We all did a little bit of everything while we were there. And upon graduating, we realized very quickly that there just wasn’t a place like that in the real world.”

So Crumbley and several drama friends forged their own WAC crew, creating a new theater troupe that would bring like-minded people together to stage new works or reinterpret older plays. She and Tess Pohlhaus ’03 would share the role of artistic director, and Sophie Kerr prize winner Liam Daley ’07 would script their first production. The Board would include technical director Mike Meagher ’04, marketing director Kevin Brotzman ’04 and business director Michael Ridgaway ’05. They would all keep their day jobs and fit theater into evenings, weekends and summer vacations.

Three years later, Zero Hour Theatre is producing its third play for the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC, and the connections to Washington College couldn’t be stronger. Stephen Spotswood ’99 wrote 7 Lessons on Suicide, the dark comedy that opens Friday at Goethe Institut-Gallery in Chinatown. The playwright and Zero Hour members held a workshop reading of the play in April on the Chestertown campus, where they encouraged their former professors and other audience members to critique and improve it for the next draft.

The play is directed by Pohlhaus, and six of the seven actors on stage are Washington College alumni: Crumbley, Brotzman and Meagher are joined by Rachel Loose ’07, Aileen Brenner ’09 and former student Andrew Yanek. Maggie Brevig, a Boston College grad and Molly’s good friend, takes the seventh part. There’s a Wellesley grad serving as dramaturg, but she’s engaged to ZHT business director Ridgaway. It’s not really deliberate, all this Washington College-ness, says Pohlhaus. “Last year, only three of seven actors were Washington College alums.”

Crumbley describes 7 Lessons as “a pitch-black comedy that asks, ‘In a world where everyone is clamoring to end it all, why bother living?’” Though it bills itself as a show about suicide, it is ultimately a show about choosing life, she adds. “It’s a very, very dark comedy,” director Pohlhaus confirms. “It deals with very serious issues in a deeply comedic way and with a lot of heart. We want the audience to leave the theater with a lot to think and talk about.”

Playwright Spotswood, who earned his MFA in playwriting at Catholic University, received the first Washington College Alumni Horizons Ribbon last fall in recognition of his early career accomplishments. He says working with the Zero Hour crew on 7 Lessons allowed him to get down to business faster. “When working with any theater company, there's this feeling-out period that takes place, coming to an understanding about how the process will work and how each side sees their role,’’ he explains. “Basically, we’re learning how to work with and communicate with each other. With Zero Hour, not only do we know how to communicate and work with each other already, we've all had the same theater training. We all come from a background that emphasizes collaboration and role-sharing instead of compartmentalization.”

The cast and crew have been rehearsing in homes and won’t be able to set up even the first light or prop until the afternoon of opening day. That’s the nature of the Capital Fringe Festival, where dozens of productions happen simultaneously in creative venues all over the city. Pohlhaus, who teaches drama at Rising Sun High School in Cecil County, says the Washington College theater curriculum prepared her and her colleagues well for such rigors. “We are all so used to working in all facets of the theater, from script writing to set design and acting, that we really understand the process and can adapt pretty fast. For thesis productions, we were staging a show a week,” she continues. “We couldn’t build the set until Sunday, and we had our first rehearsal in front of faculty on Monday. That gave us a few days to make improvements and react to their suggestions, then we staged the plays Friday night and Saturday.”

Zero Hour Theatre will stage Stephen Spotswood’s 7 Lessons on Suicide at the Goethe Institut-Gallery, 812 7th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20001 on the following dates and times: Friday, July 16, 9 p.m.;
Saturday, July 17, 4:30 p.m.;
Sunday, July 18, 7 p.m.;
Tuesday, July 20, 8:30 p.m.;
Wednesday, July 21, 10 p.m.;
Saturday, July 24, 10 p.m., and 
Sunday, July 25, 3:30 p.m. For more information about Zero Hour Theatre and the current production, visit the website (designed, of course, by a Washington College alumnus, Kate Amann ’06):

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

New Patrick Henry Fellow to Research America's Slave Coast for New Book

CHESTERTOWN, MD—He has authored a pioneering book on Cuban music, written eloquently about the colorful history of New Orleans, and been lauded as one of the most original figures on the New York music scene. And now Ned Sublette, an internationally renowned historian, musicologist, author, and singer-songwriter, has been awarded the 2010-11 Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship at Washington College.

The fellowship, provided by the College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers a yearlong residency to authors doing innovative work on America's founding era and its legacy. Sublette will spend the academic year at Washington College working on a groundbreaking history of what can rightfully be called the American slave coast: the mid-Atlantic port cities that supplied a steady flow of laborers to the slave markets of the Deep South.

As part of the fellowship, he and his wife, the writer Constance Ash, will live in a restored 1735 house in the heart of Chestertown's colonial historic district and share his expertise with the Washington College community through special student programs, public talks and musical performances. “We're fascinated by historic Chestertown,” he says, “and I think this residency will mark a turning point in my work. In 2010-11, I am going to live and breathe history.” (Washington College acquired the Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence in January 2007 through a generous gift from the Barksdale-Dabney-Patrick Henry Family Foundation, established by the Nuttle family of Talbot County. The Nuttles are direct descendants of the patriot Patrick Henry.)

“We’re thrilled at the prospect of having Ned Sublette in Chestertown for the year,” says Adam Goodheart, the Starr Center’s Hodson Trust-Griswold Director. “As both a performer and a scholar, he is a model for interdisciplinary work, and will be a dynamic addition to the Washington College community.”

Sublette’s latest book project blazes new ground. While several excellent monographs have chronicled the role of specific mid-Atlantic port cities in the oceangoing domestic slave trade, none have explored the region as a whole as a “slave coast,” similar in character and function, if not in scale, to the West African coast.

For much of the early to mid-19th century, after the U.S. Congress forbade further importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, a domestic slave-breeding industry grew up around cities such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Norfolk. The constant fear of sale (or kidnap) hung over the black communities of the mid-Atlantic like a specter, prompting some famous escapes from the region, including those of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

A native of Texas, Sublette has spent most of his working life in New York City. He is the author of several well-received books, including The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans (2009) and The World that Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square (2008), both published by Lawrence Hill Books, and Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo (Chicago Review Press, 2004).

Sublette is also a classically trained guitarist and a songwriter whose credits including composing Willie Nelson’s hit single “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly.” His albums as composer and vocalist include Cowboy Rumba, Monsters from the Deep and the forthcoming Kiss You Down South, and he has produced recordings by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Los Van Van, Maraca Y Otra Visión, Viento de Agua, and many others. He has been a producer for Public Radio International’s Afropop Worldwide, co-founding that program’s scholarly Hip Deep series, and was co-founder of the record label Qbadisc, which distributed Cuban music in the United States.

Sublette holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of New Mexico and a M.A. from the University of California at San Diego. He has received past fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University.

Launched by the Starr Center in 2008, the Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship is permanently endowed as part of a $2.5 million challenge grant package that the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded through its nationwide “We the People” initiative for strengthening the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture. Co-sponsored by the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College's center for literature and the literary arts, it aims to encourage reflection on the links between American history and contemporary culture, and to foster the literary art of historical writing. Last year's Patrick Henry Fellow, Marla R. Miller, spent her time in Chestertown completing her book, Betsy Ross and the Making of America, which was published by Henry Holt in April, 2010. The fellowship complements another program administered by the Starr Center—the George Washington Book Prize, which is awarded annually to an author whose work advances public understanding of the Revolution and its legacy.

The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history – and particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America’s democratic experiment. For more information on the Center and on the Patrick Henry Fellowships, visit
July 6, 2010