What is your favorite holiday tradition?

“Every year since 1911, at 5:30 on Christmas Eve, residents of my building have gathered, each with a candle, to sing carols on the front steps. No one, of course, is left from the earliest years of the caroling, but there are several residents who have been singing for over 60 years. It is best when it is snowing, but the caroling, now with many if not most of the singers not exactly celebrating Christmas, provides an annual reminder of how traditions at their best can create new communities that were unimaginable when the ‘tradition’ was first begun.” — David Scott Kastan, George M. Bodman Professor of English

“My favorite holiday traditions are (1) giving gifts and (2) sleeping in.”– GerShun Avilez, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies

Mark Schoofs

Mark Schoofs will teach English 467, Journalism, this spring. Win- ner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for international reporting, he has worked as an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal and a staff writer for The Village Voice. He currently serves as a senior editor at ProPublica, a non-profit online news organization devoted to investigative reporting.

Writing today needs more …

It doesn’t need more, it needs less. The Internet is a vast plumbing system for logorrhea. Mothers should update how they admonish their children: if you can’t say something substantive or witty, don’t say anything.

You can’t live without …

Dark chocolate and mountains.

If you could ask President Obama one question, what would it be?

Can I interview you, one-on-one, on tape, with no handlers present, for an hour every week until the end of your Presidency?

What’s the most difficult piece you’ve ever had to write?

My first eulogy.

If you could go back to college now, what would you do differently?


What is your favorite word and why?

A painter once told me that any color — any at all — could be beautiful, depending on its context. The same is true for words. My favorite word is the one that’s perfectly, absolutely apt.

The most embarrassing moment of your career was …

For a series on Medicare fraud, a Wall Street Journal researcher, a fellow reporter, and I had identified a medical provider whom I’ll call John Michaels. Not only did he have suspicious billing patterns, but he had also been convicted of manslaughter in 1981 in South Carolina. So my colleague and I did a meet- and-greet, showing up unannounced at his home. Michaels wasn’t there, but his wife was. I gave her my card, and she gave me her husband’s cell number. I called it, and he promised to call me back. He didn’t. Over the next couple of weeks, I called him again and again and again. He never answered. I also called his wife, who kept assuring me that she still had my card, and that her husband would call me back. By this time, I had retrieved court records and newspaper articles about the manslaughter conviction. Michaels had shot a man I’ll call Peter Green with a .22 caliber rifle. I had also interviewed the judge and one of the lawyers, as well as some of Michaels’ relatives. So I knew a lot. Certainly, I knew why he was avoiding me. One day around lunchtime, I called and Michaels finally picked up. But as soon as I introduced myself, he said, “I can’t talk to you now because I’m in line at a bank.” “OK,” I replied, “but do call me back, because I really am not pre-judging you for what happened in South Carolina.” “What do you mean?” he said. “I mean manslaughter!” I replied. “In 1981 you shot a man.” “Impossible,” he said. “In 1981, I was still in high school in Delaware.” Oops.

Most importantly, why is Yale better than Harvard?

Flair. Look, let’s give the devil his due. Harvard has a few heroes, sure. But who among them had style? We’ve got Nathan Hale. Not only was he a charmer “to chums and more than one lady friend,” as Yale’s online biography delightfully puts it, but when his time came he knew how to shame the tyrants, inspire his chums, and go out with panache.

Tailgate Traditions

What is your favorite tailgate tradition?

“Getting to the game on time.” -Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History

“We gather together prior to the game in a moment of silent prayer where we call on Hashem to help us crush and destroy Harvard.”-Steven Smith, Former Master of Branford College

“My favorite tailgate tradition is watching Yale’s finest beat the [obscenity withheld] out of hapless Harvard.” -Robert Farris Thompson, Former Master of Timothy Dwight College

“I love getting a breakfast sandwich right off the griddle. Thanks for asking.”-Mary Miller, Dean of Yale College

Carl Zimmer ’87

Carl Zimmer ’87 is a lecturer at Yale College and teaches Scientific and Environmental Writing. In addition to having written ten books about science, Zimmer has written hundreds of articles on the frontiers of biology for National Geographic, Time, Scientific American, and Popular Science. Zimmer also writes an award-winning blog, the Loom, and is a frequent guest on the radio program This American Life. He currently lives with his wife and two children in Connecticut.

What’s the most difficult piece you’ve ever had to write?

The hardest recent one was a piece for the New York Times about a theory of consciousness based on information theory ­­— the same mathematical framework used to build computers and telephone networks. You can’t use equations in journalism, and so you’re left with metaphors. And metaphors never quite capture the precision of mathematics.

If you could meet one character from a novel, who would it be?

Martin Arrowsmith, from “Arrowsmith” by Sinclair Lewis. He’s the only really human scientist I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

Writing today needs more …

Can I change “more” to “less”? I’d say less cut-and-paste.

How do you like your coffee?

With milk, in large volume.

If you could ask President Obama one question, what would it be?

Will you do anything to put a brake on global warming?

What is your favorite word and why?

Heterochrony. It means “other time,” and it refers to how species sometimes evolve by a change in their developmental timing ­— adults arrested as children, children growing up quickly. It’s a beautiful mix of two scales of time: the time that measures our individual lives, and the time that measures evolution.

Do you have a Facebook account? Why or why not?

I do have one, and it’s mostly for my professional life. It’s absurd for writers to boycott Facebook. To be a writer, you need to be read. And Facebook is one of the places where people read, or find out about new articles they want to read. So you need to go where the readers are.

If you could go back to college now, what would you do differently?

I would take lots of science classes. When I was at Yale, all the science classes seemed to be at 8 a.m., and Science Hill seemed a thousand miles away from Saybrook College. That’s what happens when you have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex at age 20.

The most embarrassing moment of your career was …

Every time I make an error in print, the embarrassment is fierce.

What is your favorite memory of Yale?

For some strange reason, it’s when Hurricane Gloria hit Yale. It was so memorable to see the campus turned upside down by the forces of nature. Irene was a profound disappointment as a sequel.

Most importantly, why is Yale better than Harvard?

More dinosaurs.

Q’s for Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03

Mark Oppenheimer is the director of the Yale Journalism Initiative and a Lecturer in the English and Political Science departments. In addition to his biweekly religion column in The New York Times, Oppenheimer writes for The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Mother Jones, Tablet, The Forward, and his own blog, Bloggenheimer. He currently lives in New Haven with his wife, three daughters, two cats, and dog, and he will gladly show you the pictures of them he carries in his wallet.

What is your favorite memory of Yale?

Freshman year, my roommate Doug and I used to host “Beverly Hills 90210” viewing parties in our room. They were key events in the social calendar of the Class of 1996.

You can’t live without …

… my girls. I am surrounded by extremely impressive ladies: my wife, my three daughters, our dog, and our cat. There was one male keeping me company, our other cat, Sowie, but he died three weeks ago. I guess I can live without him, because I am still here.

If you could meet one character from a novel, who would it be?

Who wouldn’t want to meet the Great Gatsby? The parties sound amazing. I would also enjoy having tea with India Bridge, from the great Evan Connell novel Mrs. Bridge, and I would tell her to leave Walter. And it might be fun to hang with Franny and Zooey.

If you could ask President Obama one question, what would it be?

When are you going to come out for gay marriage?

What is your favorite word and why?

“Elder.” It is from the German. It means “older,” but in English the connotation is of an older person. Hence I like talking about my elder daughter or being an elder sibling. By the way, you didn’t ask, but my least favorite word is “lozenge.” It sounds like the last thing you would want to put in your throat.

If you could go back to college now what would you do differently?

Fewer extracurriculars. I would do my schoolwork more seriously, and I would party more seriously. Both of those are worthy activities. But the Political Union was a waste of my time, as was Yale Democrats (in a state where Democrats win everything). And three of the four plays I was in were atrocious. Yale should have far fewer extracurriculars. Basically, if you are not writing for a good student publication, acting at a very high level, or doing sports at a very high level, it seems to me you’d be better off doing your homework or napping.

What’s your favorite New Haven establishment?

It used to be the Anchor, but I don’t drink much anymore. So Modern Apizza on State Street.

The most embarrassing moment of your career was …

… the time I called an editor at home at midnight to demand he change two words in an article that was about to go to press. When you are 25, you think every word you write is worth waking an editor for. At 37, you have grown out of that.

Most importantly, why is Yale better than Harvard?

I am a winter, so I look good in navy blue. Slightly less significantly, we have much better curricula for future journalists and nonfiction writers. On a final note, Yale just seems to be a happier place.

The Oil Fire and the Ruby

A ghostly dancer

screams in agonized silence,

for no one hears him.

The multitude streams

from street to street,

sidewalk to sidewalk.

When they do not roll in private boxes,

they walk with blinders.

Tokyo? Manhattan?

They are as ants without a queen.

Each one plays a solo role,

forgetting Truth is an ensemble,

neither one nor many.

They are alone.

They do not welcome all of their guests.

They let their mirrors rust.

A man’s clear, pure bell

rings for deaf ears.

I am an oil fire, light

shrouded by thick smoke.

To clear the cloud,

I need a different fuel.

The moon that darkens the sun

is a door that keeps out deserving guests.

All guests are deserving.

Friends encircle him.

A red-robed dancer, springing.

His feet leave the ground.

Millions swirl

like the arms of a galaxy

around the Ka’ba.

All face the tall, black cube,

glowing white with reflected daylight.

They bow as many.

They bow as one.

Rumi says, God picks up the reed-flute world

and blows.

Each note is a need coming through one of us,

a passion, a longing pain.

The Meccan pilgrims sing their notes, and house

after house opens

for all guests to enter.

Their mirrors shine bright.

I am a sunrise ruby.

When my eclipse ends, I will be

a world made of redness

in the blinding red light.

Professor Recs

What are your back-to-school rituals?

Risa Sodi

Now that I think about it, I have a couple of back-to-school rituals, including filing old papers (boring) and leading a teacher preparation workshop (exciting). An enjoyable ritual is adding a new cartoon to my bulletin board. This year’s cartoon comes from the YDN.

Sodi is a Senior Lector and the Language Program Director of Italian.

Marta Wells

One of my rituals for the fall semester is to go and check the giant hissing roaches and make sure they are ready for the lab! Another is to post syllabi on time.

Wells is a Senior Lecturer of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Emily Coates

My back-to-school rituals changed last June, July, and August when I began trekking up Science Hill to meet with my amazing colleague Sarah Demers, to plan our course “The Physics of Dance.” Professor Demers is a particle physicist who works on the highest energy hadron collider in the world, the Large Hadron Collider. Finding common ground between our respective disciplines of physics and dance studies has been a highlight of my teaching and research career. The walk to Science Hill pays off.

Coates is the Artistic Director of the World Performance Project and a Lecturer of Theater Studies.

Dolores Hayden

I’m delighted to be back. I always meet with teaching fellows, and we talk about how to encourage creative responses to everyday American landscapes.

Hayden is a Professor of Architecture, Urbanism, and American Studies.

Kathryn Lofton

I make a new mix for my walk to class. And I sharpen all my pencils.

Lofton is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies.

Q’s for Zack O’Malley Greenburg ’07

Zack O’Malley Greenburg ’07 covers music and finance as a staff writer at Forbes, where he started as an intern in 2005. Along the way he’s profiled the likes of Akon, 50 Cent, and Afrika Bambaataa, as well as a host of non-famous mutual fund managers, CEOs, billionaires, and a convicted murderer (though nobody who could be described as all of the above). Zack’s stories have taken him from Macau’s casinos to the diamond mines of Sierra Leone; he currently writes a column for Forbes called The Beat Report. His first book, a Jay-Z biography titled Empire State of Mind was released by Penguin/Portfolio in March.

Writing today needs more …


If you could ask President Obama a question, what would it be?

Can you spare an hour (or five) for an interview?

What is your favorite word and why?

“Schlep.” So much more interesting than “bring,” plus it can be used intransitively.

What’s the most difficult piece you’ve ever had to write?

I’m gonna go ahead and say it was my first book, Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner To Corner Office. Writing 200-plus pages about somebody who refuses to meet with you is tough, but when that person actively attempts to prevent people from talking to you, the experience goes from tough to downright difficult. And it forces you to do crazy things like fly to California to chase down a crucial source who won’t return your calls….

Do you have a Facebook account? Why or why not?

Yes. For shameless self-promotion, procrastination, and not having to bother friends to find other friends’ contact info.

How do you take your coffee?

Black, per journalist handbook requirements.

If you could go back to college now what would you do differently?

This may sound super-nerdy, but we’re all Yalies here, right? I wish I could go back and sharpen the thesis of my senior essay — it was a little too broad. I wrote about baseball stadiums and their impact on cities and instead of focusing on three or four ballparks, I should have honed in on one. Could have turned it into a book, I think.

The most embarrassing moment of your career is …

Three years ago I was one of the several dozen writers and editors at Forbes who did not notice that we had misspelled “America” on the cover. Somebody forgot the “i,” and nobody caught it until Gawker did. Oops.

What’s your favorite New Haven establishment?

Yankee Doodle, rest in peace. Very crucial for brunch when I’d sleep through dining hall lunch hours.

Most importantly, why is Yale better than Harvard?

No school Monday.

Qs for David Lauter ’79

David Lauter is the Assistant Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times. He began his career at the LA Times in Washington, where he covered national politics. He moved to LA in 1995 and took on a series of editing roles. Under his guidance, the Times’ coverage of the California wildfires in 2003 received a Pulitzer Prize. As an undergraduate at Yale, Lauter majored in History. His daughter is now a sophomore in Branford College.

What is your favorite memory of Yale?

Touring Europe with the Glee Club the summer after sophomore year. I had never been overseas before, and, suddenly, there I was singing in Westminster Abbey and Chartres and at the American embassy’s reception for the Paris airshow, where a pack of hungry college students was turned loose on the caviar buffet.

You can’t live without …

Food? Water? Music? I think I could live without e-mail.

If you could meet one character from a novel, who would it be?

The Cat in the Hat. Think about it. How cool would that be?

If you could ask President Obama a question, what would it be?

I’ve interviewed a couple of presidents and have learned that one question, without follow-ups, almost never reveals something unexpected: A good politician almost always has an answer for one question. But if I could ask just one, it would be whether he now thinks he made a mistake by not asking for a bigger stimulus package his first year.

Writing today needs more …

Fact. The world is awash in opinion, but has fewer and fewer people dedicated to uncovering new facts. Opinions without fact are like buildings built on sand.

What is your favorite word and why?

Yes, “what” is my favorite word, and “why” is pretty good, too. It’s surprising how far one can get in life with those two.

Do you have a Facebook account? Why or why not?

No. Because everyone has one.

If you could go back to college now what would you do differently?

Take Vincent Scully’s art history class. I talked myself out of taking it because he required everyone to do a drawing assignment, and I thought I couldn’t do it.

The most embarrassing moment of your career is …

I described a prominent official in a page-one story as “the late …” rather than “the former …” He lacked a sense of humor about the situation. Later, I learned he had only recently recovered from a serious illness.

What advice do you have for Yale students?

Stop asking for advice so much.

Most importantly, why is Yale better than Harvard?

Because at Yale, you’d ask that as a question rather than assuming it as a given.