Tag Archive | "Stony Brook Southampton"

Conference on Peconic Sustainability Institute Announced

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New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and New York State Senator Ken LaValle this week announced they will host a meeting on Wednesday, November 30 to discuss the establishment of the Peconic Sustainability Institute.

The meeting will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. at Duke Lecture Hall-Chancellors Hall on the Stony Brook Southampton campus.

According to Thiele, the Peconic Sustainability Institute is envisioned to sponsor research, educational programs and policy discussion in an effort to encourage a more sustainable future for the Peconic Bay region.

“The Institute could tackle many of the critical economic and environmental issues affecting the East End such as agriculture, public transportation, climate change and sea level rise, affordable housing and alternative energy,” said Thiele. “This kick-off meeting provides an opportunity for all interested parties to come to the table to voice their ideas. We want to be sure we have the right input from the right people from the very start.”

“The goal is to preserve the East End’s unique quality of life and to do so we must gather input from all of the region’s stakeholders,” added LaValle.

The Southampton Campus Vision: Making Artists and Writers

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By Emily J. Weitz

On the sprawling campus of Stony Brook Southampton, a steady buzz can be heard. While many who drive past on Route 27 wonder what’s to become of the campus, the truth is it’s already on its way. With 300 students freshly sated from a summer of creating everything from novels to short films, the secret is leaking out. With another hundred enrolled in the year-round MFA Program, the campus promises to keep buzzing deep into the winter months.

“Part of the excitement,” says Associate Provost Robert Reeves, “is that a program like ours shows that the promise of the campus can be realized.”

Utilizing the brand new housing, the state-of-the-art library, the spacious theatre, and all the other newly updated facilities, the Stony Brook Southampton team plans to grow from the already-successful MFA in Writing and Literature to a Graduate Arts campus that encourages the pursuit of creative work from novels to films, from poetry to theatre.

“We’re expanding the MFA model to enter arenas of theatre and film and ultimately the visual arts,” says Reeves. “What the model is and why we’ve been successful is that we have the most distinguished faculty as part of our MFA program because people want to be a part of this.”

He gestures to the walls of his sunny office, adorned with photos of Billy Collins, Roger Rosenblatt, Meg Wolitzer, and the late Frank McCourt, and decorated with sketches by Jules Feiffer, all beloved faculty members.

Just as the programs in writing have drawn in some of the brightest writers of our time, Reeves is confident the programs in the arts will as well. Indeed, in the realm of theatre, it’s already been done. With Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Marsha Norman and Pulitzer Prize Nominee Jon Robin Baitz on faculty, the Playwriting Conference is firmly established. This past summer was the debut of the Directing Conference, and featured five of the most successful directors in the country, including Oscar, Emmy, and Tony-award winner Tony Walton. In the realm of filmmaking, Emmy Award-winner Mitchell Kriegman led the inaugural conference.

“The short films that resulted,” says Reeves, “had a seamless connection to the work in other genres. They all fall under the umbrella of storytelling.”

It’s this umbrella that will shelter the whole Graduate Arts Campus. It’s all about telling your story, whether you’re doing it with a film made on your cell phone, in a cartoon sketch, or through a poem. Basically, the Graduate Arts Campus is about giving students a wide variety of medium to explore the same question: What do you have to say?

“It’s all about artists trying to find a voice through telling stories,” says Reeves. “Technology has made it possible that a young filmmaker has the same opportunity to complete a story as a fiction writer does. We want to connect them all to the long established history of storytelling.”

But it’s also about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. While a student may enroll in the MFA program intending to write a novel, the student may discover his or her voice in a class on writing musicals or making short films.

“We’re trying to build a community that will support the enterprising artist who will be interdisciplinary, will work in different forms, and will take charge of his/her own art,” says Reeves. “There are no more gatekeepers. You don’t have to ask permission anymore. In publishing, the agents and editors used to hold all the power and now it’s changing — you don’t have to go through them to achieve your dreams. It’s a wonderful, exciting time. It’s the great democratization of art.”

Stony Brook Southampton, says Reeves, plans to be on the cutting edge of this democratization, when anyone can learn to harness their creativity and express themselves.

“There are great schools that are training students for things that no longer exist,” he said. “We are trying to come up with a way of thinking about art in a way that accommodates these changes that are on the way and not just the ones we see coming but the ones we don’t. We’re creating a flexible structure so we can participate in the changes.”

Part of that flexibility includes the way the workload is assigned.

“If you’re taking one workshop in the novel,” says Reeves, “it’s quite possible that that could take all your time. The creative process can consume all your waking hours.”

Having a faculty that understands that, and that nurtures a project through its completion instead of imposing unrealistic deadlines and distractions, is key.

Reeves also points out the inherent difference between the creative process and other pursuits. Being successful doesn’t necessarily mean “controlling this and analyzing that and meeting the expectations of the person at the front of the room,” he says. “In the creative process it’s not about being cautious. It’s about taking risks. It’s meeting a different standard.”

There is also a variety of ways to participate in the program. There’s the Southampton campus as well as a campus in Manhattan. There’s also a winter session in Florence, Italy and another launching this January in Kenya.

There’s also flexibility in the relationships students can form in the program. While the faculty members are successful in the professional world, they consider their students more like colleagues.

“There are no minor leagues in the arts,” says Reeves. “You have the same opportunity to succeed as someone who has written ten novels… It’s not about credentials. Art is something where all the academic credentials can’t save you.”

For example, one recent MFA graduate, Helen Simonson, saw her thesis, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, turn into a New York Times Bestseller. In the world of creativity, the line between student and master can get a little blurry.

In the future, Reeves sees a place for undergraduate studies on the campus in Southampton again, though not in a traditional way.

“I think we can leverage our strengths to bring undergraduates back to the campus through arts semesters,” he said. These would be project-based periods of study for juniors in college or people in their gap year or recent graduates who want to complete a project.

“Farther out than that, who knows?” Reeves muses. “There’s no reason we couldn’t have an arts campus for undergraduates someday.” But he emphasizes the need to grow organically and carefully, and to provide what students want and what the changing world requires.

Whatever classes spring up and whatever genres are explored, they will benefit from being side by side. “Your particular area of specialization is informed by trying other things,” says Reeves. “Writers would benefit [and did this past summer] by taking a course in improvisation for writers. Playwrights benefit from taking a course in writing a novel… The courses are about creativity itself. In all different realms, it feels the same in a way. You’re not trying to control the thing, but trying to get out of the way of it.”

Stony Brook University is established as one of the premier science and research institutions in the country. But Reeves argues that “What we do and our creative responses to the human condition are just as important as scientific inquiry. Creativity is one of the most complicated responses to the world.”

With the direction Stonybrook Southampton is taking, the East End is poised to once again lead a creative growth spurt in the coming years.

Red Tide Rears Its Head Again, Early

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Red tide, an algae bloom toxic to shellfish and fin fish, is already rampant in the waters off the South Fork of Long Island, having reappeared for the sixth year in a row and over a month earlier than years past, according to Stony Brook Southampton professor Dr. Chris Gobler and Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister.

Already visible in the Shinnecock and Peconic bays, including Noyac Bay off Sag Harbor, according to Dr. Gobler the red tide first appeared around July 20, whereas previously the algae has bloomed in late August and early September.

“The organism has been present for some time, but we do not know why it has become so prominent in recent years,” said Dr. Gobler. “We believe the warmer-than-usual summer has been responsible for its early arrival.”

A harmful algal bloom, red tide is visible, usually presenting itself in rust-colored bands on surface water. While harmless to humans, Dr. Gobler noted the species is highly toxic to fish, shellfish, larvae, zooplankton and other algae.

“These properties prevent it from being consumed by predators and prevent it from needing to compete with other algae for resources such as nutrients,” explained Dr. Gobler. “Higher nitrogen levels lead to more intense blooms. We also know the blooms seem to be isolated to the Peconics and Northeastern Shinnecock Bay.”

The tide will remain until the water cools, reducing the number of available nutrients.

According to Dr. Gobler, quantifying the impacts of red tide is difficult, although he noted the smallest organisms, larvae, are the most vulnerable albeit the most difficult to track.

“Large fish in pound nets and at Stony Brook’s marine station have died during blooms,” said Dr. Gobler. “Fishermen have reported a decline in landings during and following the blooms. The Southampton Town Trustees reported a large scallop die-off in Noyac Bay following last year’s bloom. None of these things are good news for the ecosystem.”

McAllister agreed that areas where aquaculture is occurring are the most vulnerable, particularly if their growth is in cages, but that pound nets are equally vulnerable as when fish trapped in the nest can be exposed to the toxic algae for prolonged periods of time.

“I think the wild stock is also vulnerable if there is a persistent bloom,” he added.

Dr. Gobler, whose lab at Stony Brook Southampton is focused on water quality research and plankton ecology, said the occurrence of red tide is a sign of poor water quality, however while his lab has learned much about the species they are still studying why the blooms start and why they reoccur on such a consistent basis, as opposed to brown tide, which is more sporadic.

McAllister said he has seen literature referencing the occurrence of red tides dating back centuries, but that he believes an increase in nutrients like nitrogen in the water likely is due to human influence, specifically the result of aging wastewater treatment systems leeching into the groundwater and concurrently into streams and bays, as well as the use of some fertilizers in landscaping and lawn maintenance.

“It’s been around for a long time, but with that being said, we are seeing these harmful algae blooms more frequently and certainly along developed coastal communities,” said McAllister. “I don’t have the smoking gun, but I do believe there is a correlation between development and the strain on coastal marine life.”

Group Organized to Save WLIU

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While Long Island University, which owns WLIU radio, is “evaluating several options” for the station’s future — including selling it to another organization, creating an operating agreement with another station, or finding another public broadcasting station — a local non-profit group headed by station manager Dr. Wallace Smith is hoping to mount an effort to acquire the station. An apparent victim of the failing economy, the public radio station, which is based on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton, appears ready to go off the air unless officials can construct an 11th hour deal.

WLIU is the last vestige of Long Island University on the Southampton Campus, which the State University of New York took over three years ago. The station has been actively looking for a new location for more than a year, since its lease with SUNY Stony Brook expires on October 3 this year.

“WLIU offers innovative programming and provides an essential community service to Long Island; but, unfortunately, currently runs at a deficit that the university can no longer afford to subsidize,” said Robert Altholz, Long Island University’s vice president for finance and treasurer. The university’s trustees have stipulated that the expenses associated with operating the station must be eliminated, said the release. The university was subsidizing the station by “over a million dollars annually,” said Altholz in an interview this week.

The station had been losing money consistently, and Altholz said the annual deficit was typically in the $500,000 to $700,000 range. But in the past two years the shortfall topped $1 million each year.

“It has simply become too big a loss,” said Altholz.

The school’s treasurer said their decision to unburden themselves of the station was really the combination of two things: WLIU’s dramatic increase in deficit, and the financial pressure the economy has placed on the university itself.

The deficit, he said, would be tough “even in a great environment.”

“That being said, these are tough times for everyone,” added Altholz, who noted that both the endowment and the enrollment at Long Island University have been affected by the downturn in the economy.

“We had to take a look at all our options,” he said.

For the school’s “flagship” radio station (there is a smaller station, WCWP, on the CW Post campus in Greenvale) that meant contracting with a broker to find the best buyer for the station.

“Yesterday, sitting with my staff while the news was being delivered was like having open heart surgery with no anesthesia,” said Dr. Smith in an interview Friday. He said that the turn in the economy was “definitely a part of this.”

The station, which the release said serves about 400,000 people on eastern Long Island, Westchester and the southern Connecticut shore, is the only National Public Radio affiliate on Long Island and regularly features NPR programs like “Car Talk,” “The Splendid Table,” and “A Prairie Home Companion.” In addition, it features the locally-produced Bonnie Grice show, “The Song is You,” which has included guests like k.d. lang, Montel Williams and Michael Feinstein.

While the university is looking at possible agreements with existing organizations, Dr. Smith has been actively cultivating local community members who have an interest in preserving the station.

“I think we have a good shot at putting this together,” said Dr. Smith. “Already the outpouring of support is pretty significant.” He added he felt the ultimate cost of renewing the license and moving the station was “not that great.”

Involved will be literally moving the station and its tower off the Stony Brook Southampton campus and finding a new location. The general operating budget for WLIU is about $2 million annually, said Altholz. The appraised value of the license for acquisition purposes is about $800,000, said Dr. Smith, who quickly added he felt the number was high, and the university was currently doing a re-appraisal based on current economic conditions.

“I’ve put these numbers together and they’re not astronomical; but,” he conceded, “it’s going to be a tough 60 day period.”

“Several prominent citizens of the East End have expressed support for the establishment of a new nonprofit entity that will be able to purchase the license of WLIU,” added Dr. Smith.

To that end, he has begun to establish a board that will hopefully become the new owners of the station and is in the process of creating a website for “Save Public Radio on the East End.” He has given a name to the new venture: Peconic Public Broadcasting. It speaks, he said, to the focus a new station would take, with more locally-generated news and programming, and a re-dedication to the East End of Long Island, freer from obligations WLIU had with the university and West End issues.

Also this week, a trust fund was being established which will be able to receive contributions to help the new organization reach its goal.

Ultimately, though, the management of the station — whether it’s a local non-profit or a commercial entity — will come down to money. The university is obliged to sell to the highest bidder, according to Altholz.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the school and its students,” said Altholz, “and we need to accept the highest offer. When you’re a non-profit, you need to get the highest possible price. The net proceeds from the sale go back to the university.”

Altholz said their broker, Public Radio Capital, has “cast a wide net” for potential suitors, and said they already have “a significant number” of interested parties, although he declined to be specific.

Still, Dr. Smith remains optimistic.

 “The way people are responding to this, it’s difficult to ignore a local guy,” he said.

 Above: Inside the WLIU office on the Stony Brook Southampton campus.

Robert Reeves

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Stony Brook Southampton’s conferences in writing, children’s literature, screenwriting and now playwriting are in full swing and Robert Reeves, director of both the Southampton Writers Conference and the MFA in writing and Literature Program at Stony Brook Southampton, tells us what is new this year, ways the community can enjoy the fruits of the students’ labor and how the program will evolve.


What is different about this year’s conference and what has remained the same?

What’s new? We’ve added a Playwriting Conference this summer that runs concurrently with the other conferences throughout the month of July. We’re also sponsoring in residence a distinguished theater company, Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST). EST will be working with our playwriting workshops, developing their own work, and presenting two staged readings open to the public. That’s something else new — evening events. We have many more theater events this summer in our newly renovated Avram Theater.

What’s the same? As it happens, for the past two years, with Stony Brook University as the new institutional parent for the Southampton campus, one constant has been our continuous growth. The MFA in Writing and Literature sponsors a range of programs, including the summer conferences, and all of these are growing in scope, quality, and reputation. In addition to adding Conferences in Screenwriting, Children’s Literature, and Playwriting, we’ve turned The Southampton Review into a first-rate literary journal. We’ve begun the Young American Writers Project (YAWP), and we will be expanding our offerings the in the fall. We’re building a significant presence at the Stony Brook facility in Manhattan, so students can earn an MFA by combining course work in Manhattan and Southampton.


The faculty this year is especially strong. How do you put together your list of faculty?

Our faculty has always featured writers and teachers of the first rank. This summer there are simply more of them. What is common to all members of our faculty is this: they are accomplished, working writers who enjoy teaching and are good at it. We also have a family feel to our group, and our writers actually like each other. As for recruiting, it’s not difficult to entice writers to come to the Hamptons. Our reputation for attracting very talented students doesn’t hurt, either.


It seems as if there are also a number of local writers (Alan Alda, Marsha Norman, Emma Walton Hamilton) on the faculty this year. Was this a conscious choice?

We’ve always drawn on the enormous reservoir of talent on the East End, writers who live here either year-round or part-time. Roger Rosenblatt has been a mainstay of MFA faculty, along with Ursula Hegi, Melissa Bank, Marsha Norman, Alan Alda, Jules Feiffer, Lou Ann Walker, and Julie Sheehan, among many others. Just in the past year we’ve recruited local screenwriter and producer Annette Chandler to develop our screenwriting program, as well as theater luminaries Emma Walton Hamilton and Steve Hamilton to lead the playwriting effort. The result is we’ll have many distinguished playwrights, actors, and screenwriters joining us: Craig Lucas, Emily Mann, Robert Brustein, Lanford Wilson, Andrew Bienan, Christina Lazaridi, Ken Friedman, Peter Reigert, Alec Baldwin, Jon Robin Baitz.


Has the recession led to decreased enrollment and how is the college handling that?

I wasn’t sure what to expect with the dire economic news, but as it happens, we have the highest enrollment ever for this summer, with over 240 students registered, and dozens of faculty and distinguished visitors. Students apply to particular workshops — the novel, poetry, creative nonfiction, for example — and admission is competitive by writing sample. This summer most of our workshops have been filled with waiting lists for some time now. How to explain this? We may be at a time when people are assessing what is truly important, and in our view, there is nothing more important or lasting or meaningful than the creative process that leads to literary art.


At the close of the workshops, is there an opportunity for the students to share their work with the community?

The participant reading is on the last Saturday of the conference, July 25. It’s a daylong reading and all members of all workshops read, and the playwriting workshops put together special staged performances. In many ways, it is the most memorable single day of the conference. Unfortunately, it is restricted to workshop participants. The evening before, Friday, July 24, is the launch of The Southampton Review, featuring a reading by faculty member, and former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. For members of the community, that is one not to be missed.


Every year it seems the Southampton Writers’ Program expands to encompass new forms (most recently, screenwriting and children’s literature). How do you expect the program to evolve in the future?

We’ll be growing in many ways, but here are two areas in particular: Our “Manhattan Track” for the MFA promises to be hugely successful, offering the opportunity to earn an MFA by combining course work at Stony Brook Manhattan during fall and spring terms, with summer work at Stony Brook Southampton. Given the quality of our faculty, and the affordability of state tuition, I can’t think of another program that can match that.

Our second area of growth will be in collaboration with our new Dean and Vice President, Dr. Mary Pearl, a truly exceptional leader whose vision for science and the arts puts us very much at the forefront of interdisciplinary education. Our first step is to design for Southampton undergraduates an innovative minor in creative writing.

Author, Author! Young writers hone their craft at Stony Brook Southampton

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Rehearsals got underway in earnest earlier this week, and as lighting technicians scaled ladders and inserted gels, costuming choices were made and the sound system adjusted. On stage, Ben Stein and Madeline Kiss, a pair of middle school students from Ross School, worked with director Stephen Hamilton on blocking as they ran through the lines of “Unholy Night,” a play written by fellow student Jon Lesser.

This Saturday at 7 p.m., Ben, Madeline and other students from five area middle schools — including Pierson — will present nine original short plays, the culminating event of a seven week workshop which began in February. 

This scene of local students working with seasoned theater professionals is a familiar one — for more than a decade, Bay Street Theatre has offered the Young Playwrights Program in which middle and high schoolers create and produce their own original plays. What’s different this time around is that the theater in question is not Bay Street, but rather the Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton.

It’s all part of YAWP (Young American Writers Project) a new component of Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Writing and Literature program. This weekend’s middle school performance represents the first public event for YAWP, which is designed to bring all forms of writing into the classroom via teaching artists who work with students in honing their ideas into viable pieces. 

If the idea is familiar, so too are the principals involved in the new venture — several of them came to Stony Brook after leaving Bay Street Theatre last year. YAWP’s executive director is Emma Walton Hamilton (a co-founder of Bay Street along with her husband, Stephen Hamilton) and YAWP’s program director is Will Chandler, Bay Street’s former education director. Another Bay Street alum, Bill Burford, an instructor and director at Stony Brook University, will be producing the program’s inaugural performance this weekend.

The seeds of YAWP were sown last summer when Robert Reeves, director of the MFA in Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton, learned that the Bay Street Theatre had opted to limit their playwrighting program to the high school level.

“After Bay Street Theatre decided not to continue with the middle school component of their playwrighting program, Reeves saw an opportunity to fill a need,” says Emma Walton Hamilton, the keynote speaker at the university’s children’s literature conference last summer.

 “It’s a tremendous MFA program,” says Chandler who taught screenwriting at the conference. “The middle school program was orphaned. He [Reeves] had heard this program needed a home, and said, ‘Why not bring it here?’ His vision was to expand it beyond playwrighting — to a whole new curriculum.” 

“Bob is very visionary about what he’d like to see happen to the arts,” offers Hamilton,

At Stony Brook Southampton, YAWP is not just an acronym, it is also a clever nod to Walt Whitman who used the phrase “barbaric yawp” in his poem “Song of Myself.” It’s a fitting reference given that in addition to playwrighting, poetry is another discipline that YAWP will be bringing into classrooms, along with essay writing, screenwriting and fiction — the MFA program’s other primary writing focuses.

“The faculty members are writing the curriculums for each individual discipline,” explains Chandler. “Lou Ann Walker, a well recognized writer, is creating the fiction and personal essay portion – which is important for students getting ready to take the SATs. Poet Julie Sheehan, who recently won the Whiting Award, will create the poetry curriculum.”

“In fall, we’ll add high schools and they can chose from all sorts of writing from seven week residencies to one day workshops,” says Hamilton. “For each of those programs, the curriculum will be created by the person who heads that discipline. All these incredibly gifted writers who are part of the MFA program will be staffing it.”

“There are a lot of ways we can go beyond what we were able to do at Bay Street,” adds Hamilton who, along with Stephen Hamilton, will direct a playwrighting conference as part of the writer’s program this summer. The conference will function in a writing lab setting and participants will be able to take advantage of having members of the Ensemble Studio Theatre from Manhattan on hand to try out their new work.

“That’s been the premiere developmental theater for years in New York and it’s where we met,” explains Hamilton. “Steve and I ran their summer program. They were looking for a new summer home, they’ll be in residence all summer at Stony Brook Southampton, and will staff the conference with actors and directors. It’s very exciting.”

Another important component of YAWP is the classroom experience the program will provide MFA students who will work with the middle and high school students.

“One of the things grad students want is teaching experience,” says Chandler. “Prior to this program, there were only so many courses a grad student could TA in or teach. This vastly expands that. As we have different kinds of programs and more schools, there will be more opportunities for those getting their MFAs to get into the classroom.”

As far as the playwrighting portion of YAWP is concerned, though the program resembles Bay Street’s in that workshops are offered in the classroom and culminate in a single night of performances, Hamilton notes there are important new elements in the Stony Brook program.

 “We rewrote the curriculum and we started with a framework of Aristotle’s poetics — the first articulation of dramatic concepts and writing,” explains Hamilton. “It’s incredibly relevant even today. We took that thesis and used is as the structure for the curriculum. We used it in writing exercises and improv exercises. We also have incredible teaching artists, lots of them with theater background and new ideas.”

For Chandler, one of the most important things about the new program is the validity it will bring to the lives of students — particularly those in middle school whose opinions and feelings are frequently overlooked by the adults in their lives. 

“I feel really passionate about this,” he says. “We may be teaching dramatic writing in the form of playwrighting, but what we’re really teaching is that each student has a voice.”

“We’ve spoken at length with educators, they have said this age is tremendously critical for expressing their personal voice,” says Chandler. “In any case, for me on a personal note, this is the age I remember. The school I attended required we write a play. It scared the heck out of me. But it unlocked something and once it’s unlocked you can’t lock it up again. I was inspired to become a screenwriter.”

“When someone is treated with respect and there’s an expectation that you can do this, you rise to the occasion,” he adds.

Robert Reeves has long been interested in reach out to younger members of the community through the MFA program and he explains why he feels it’s important to expand the curriculum now.

“I think our ambitions to grow arise primarily from the fact that Stony Brook, as our parent institution, is being well supported, and there’s an opportunity to do this now,” says Reeves. “We’ve been thinking of ways to expand and efforts to have young writers in the program. We have the facilities now and part of the mission is to grow a program that has national prominence in the arts — an opportunity to do theater is one of them. I see Avram in such good shape and people who have the talent and ability. It seems a natural extension of what we do.”

“This is a very good match for our program,” he adds.

These days, given the rapidly changing face of many forms of media reliant on the written word, including journalism and publishing, with the MFA program at Stony Brook, Reeves sees not obstacles but opportunities to guide the next generation of writers.

“Introducing students to the creative process is more important than ever,” says Reeves. “Like any change, there are good things and bad things. Production of literature has always been sensitive to changes in technology. If the bad news changes publishing and the way business is conducted, the good news is technology represents the democratization of writing. If there is a decline in gatekeepers, more people can be writers.” 

“People who write well will be more important than ever,” he adds. “We’re just at the beginning of great change. We support the people who still care about the things we care about – we feel writing is the most complicated way you can engage the world. We help people achieve what they want in writing.”

The Young American Writers Project (YAWP) features plays by middle school students from Bridgehampton, Pierson, Shelter Island, Ross School and Eastport South Manor at Stony Brook Southampton’s Avram Theater on Saturday, April 25 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. To reserve seats, visit www.stonybrook.edu/southampton.

Above: Pierson students Hannah Kaminski and Gabrielle Gardiner rehearse a play by Madeline Webber on the Avram Theater stage.  Jessica Adamowicz photo



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By Gabrielle Selz

We are a community shaped and surrounded by water, bounded on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and on the other by the Peconic Bay and the Long Island Sound; we inhabit one of the most beautiful and highly developed regions of coastal land. However, despite increased awareness of the issues of global climate change, most of us on the East End are still unaware of the vulnerability facing our immediate area. 

Not only are sea levels rising, the rate is accelerating. Projections of sea level increases vary from, on the conservative side between 2 to 5 inches by the year 2020 to a more realistic estimation of 12 inches if rapid ice sheet melting is taken into account. Even with variance in forecasting, authorities agree that any amount of sea level rise is alarming. Additionally, because of the rising temperature of the upper level of the ocean, hurricanes are predicted to be more powerful and to last longer: Homes could be damaged, access roads flood and salt water intrude into the ground water aquifer system. 

Though there may be a discrepancy in the degree, the change in sea levels will reconfigure the nature of our landscape within the next decade no matter what we do. The question then becomes, how do we plan for a problem that encompasses uncertain projections, sudden and devastating storms as well as incremental changes happening over long periods of time?

It’s easy to visualize the impact of a major storm. We’ve seen the images of the devastation wrought by Ike and Katrina and some of us even remember The Great Hurricane of 1938, which created the Shinnecock Inlet. Though such storms are historically rare, they are occurring with greater frequency and severity. However, it’s the gradual impact over decades from the incremental rise in sea level, that are harder for us to encompass and prepare for, and yet these are the changes that will affect our lives and communities.

The news isn’t all grim. The slow and insidious nature of the problem of rising sea levels gives us a window of opportunity to plan, both for gradual change and for the catastrophic event of a major storm.

At this point, local decision makers in our communities have been unable to effectively integrate sea level rise and coastal hazard risk into any kind of policy that would protect our human communities, our natural resources and shape land use management. Even the recent new flood maps implemented by FEMA were confusing to individual homeowners as well as town officials and land use authorities. 

The fragility and beauty of our environment, combined with the highly developed nature of the area, offer unique challenges to the East End. We are now faced with the task of advocating for an approach to adaptation. This will take tremendous support for public policies that address sustainability.

In order to implement the changes that are necessary for a resilient community, we must come together as a society. We need to change land use policy and manage our resources, to acquire open space on the coast, to restore habitats as natural buffers, to move public structures, such as the Montauk Lighthouse which is an historic treasure and still dangerously situated, to change our wetland laws and, in the event of a catastrophic hurricane, to develop a post storm redevelopment plan that does not offer perverse incentives that keep people in harm’s way. All this takes time. 

A forum to address these issues is being held over the weekend of March 27th on the Southampton campus of Stony Brook University. The 1st Women’s Conference on Sustainability, co-hosted by WISE (Women’s Initiatives for a Sustainable Earth) along with Stony Brook Southampton and the Stony Brook University Center for Wine, Food and Culture is designed to empower, inspire and educate. The conference is open to women, men, professionals and novices and includes information, discussion and entertainment all focused on the issues of climate change and creating resilient communities. One of the speakers, Sarah Newkirk from The Nature Conservancy, will demonstrate an interactive map server that works much like Google Earth in helping East Enders to visualize, pinpoint and generate predictions of sea-level rise and hazards to individual homes.

Other speakers include Richard Leakey (the anthropologist who lives in Kenya on a self-sufficient farm), Patti Wood (Grassroots Environmental Education), Sara Gordon (trained by Al Gore for the Climate Project), and many more.

Designed to flow from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, with one price of $165 for the entire weekend, attendees are still free to pick and choose from the events that interest them most.

Personally, the flood of problems we face sometimes overcomes me. Yet the truth is that there are simple steps we can take. Passivity is often the result of not knowing how to participate. The conference offers us the opportunity to come together, educate ourselves, learn grassroots leadership practices, understand how change happens, and move toward action and advocacy. 

For more details and to register for the conference, go to www.sowise.org.


Gabrielle Selz is a freelance writer living in Southampton. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, More Magazine and Art Papers. She’s writing on behalf of WISE and The 1st Women’s Conference on Sustainability.

Films With Green Theme Underscore College’s Mission

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By Marianna Levine

With movies ranging in subject from butterflies and turtles to building in an eco-friendly way, Stony Brook Southampton’s First Annual Green Film Series was started as a way to further celebrate and communicate the campus’s focus on sustainability. It features a free film about environmental sustainability each Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. and was  the brainchild of interim Dean Martin Schoonen, and the Avram Theater’s manager Leonard Ziemkiewicz. 

For the past two years Stony Brook Southampton has billed itself as a “green campus” and even offers a major in sustainability. In fact, according to Mr. Ziemkiewicz, it is one of the first colleges in the country to offer such an academic focus. 

The film series’ primary goal, according to the school’s media relations manager Darren Johnson, is to get the community, along with students and faculty, involved in serious and lively discussions about the varying aspects of sustainability and how it impacts everyday lives. 

The word “sustainability” has become a popular catchall phrase recently, but in this case it refers primarily to the idea that the Earth’s resources should be replenished at the same rate as they are used. However with today’s economic and environmental complexity one cannot just study ecology without bringing in economic and social issues.  Therefore the film series covers a number of topics including this week’s documentary, “Buyer be Fair,” a film that examines fair trade certification throughout the world.  Another film shown on  March 19th, “Black Diamond” explores all aspects of the diamond trade from the miners to the jewelry dealers.

After each viewing, the college hosts a discussion about the featured topic with one or two of Stony Brook Southampton’s teachers. Faculty members Heather Macadam, a writer, and Dr. Arlene Cassidy, the director of sustainable studies, will host this week’s discussion. 

“Sometimes the discussions last longer than the movie,” Mr. Johnson relates.  He notes that most of the films are just about an hour in length. Mr. Ziemkiewicz has been told that the students who attend the screenings bring the discussions into the classroom soon thereafter. 

However he notes, the crowds haven’t been entirely made up of students and faculty.

“We get a good mix of students, professors, and the general public attending each screening,” said Mr. Johnson. Which is exactly what the series’ founders were hoping would happen. Mr. Ziemkiewicz is hopeful the series will become an annual event, and stresses that he “really wants to get the local community involved in the discussion.”

Other upcoming films include, “The Monarch, A Butterfly Beyond Borders” and “Water First and Turtle World.” 

The film series will end with a film entitled, “Build Green,” which features Canadian environmental activist, David Suzuki, showcasing various environmental buildings and architects from around the world. This film should be of interest to the local community as Southampton Town has been trying to revamp its own building codes more recently to effectively comply with current green building standards.

Above: A scene from “Buyer Be Fair.”

Green Lining

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This week, we would like to applaud Stony Brook Southampton for taking the initiative to educate their students and the public with an eye on creating more jobs related to green energy practices in the future. We find this way of thinking refreshing in these troubled times and see it as a “green lining,” as it were, in an otherwise bleak cloud.

The forum on Friday at the university was a strong reminder that great business opportunities can and, in fact, are almost always, found during difficult times such as these. It is when the chips are down and all that is familiar turns to dust when Americans tend to get truly creative by reinventing themselves, their businesses and the country. Now, looking at the economy all we can do is keep our heads up and take this breath of fresh air as a reminder that there just might be green light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

That “green” light is a movement towards focusing on low energy consumption, reduced carbon output and general greener practices in many aspects of our daily lives — from green building construction to more fuel efficient cars to alternative energy sources for inside homes.

In his keynote address at the forum, Congressman Tim Bishop, said that “green collar jobs” are on the rise and we can only hope the new Congress — under leadership from a new president — will prove more successful in furthering the effort than they have been in recent years.

During this difficult time we do know of at least one local company, however, that is booming by offering consumers alternative energy sources and products for their home. If they can prove to be successful at the worst possible time for a business to be in business since the Great Depression, then they must be on to something.

Additionally, we also applaud Southampton Town for all that they have done this year to create mandates on green energy building practices, and we hope this will further help push a new industry.

It is not simply a business boom that we hope to create, it is business whose very benefits will help us all. We should be excited about that.

The East End has long struggled to find a niche economy that would provide decent living wages to residents. The service economy will take us only so far. Surrounded as we are by the unspoiled beauty of one of the last great places on Earth, doesn’t it make sense to think about creating here one of the first green business community models for the 21st century?

East End Digest – November 6

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Looking Towards Christmas

Sag Harbor residents are already gearing up for the Christmas holidays with a planned afternoon tea and Christmas workshop. Last week Dolores Zebrowski, Sister Ann Marino, Michael Grim, Carol Ahlers, and Diana Brennan began planning the event, which will take place on November 29 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Southampton Town: 20th Anniversary

Officials from the Town of Southampton’s Department of Public Safety celebrated today as its Hazardous Material Team reached the 20th anniversary of its activation.

Started in 1988, the team was designed to supplement the local volunteer fire service with individuals providing advanced training and specialized equipment, and who could respond to incidents involving chemicals, fuels, biological agents, radioactive materials, and unknown substances. In doing so, the team can bring to bear guide meters, protective suits, computer mapping programs, and skills in “protecting the citizens of Southampton from the release of materials dangerous to life and health.”

“Many of the Hazmat Team members have background in the fire and emergency medical services,” said Supervisor Linda Kabot. Town Public Safety Officer John Ryan added that Hazmat participants have also been trained in basic chemistry, identification of unknown substances, transportation-related incidents, and monitoring radioactive material. There has also been instruction in subjects to meet the changing times in regard to terrorism — including weapons of mass destruction.

“Training, drills, and daily working partnerships help to keep the members in sync as a team,” added Kabot. 

Stony Brook Southampton: Ocean Issues

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Stony Brook Southampton will present a talk on how increasing ocean acidification is affecting ocean ecosystems in its “Critical Issues Facing the World’s Oceans” lecture series. Last month’s talk on endangered marine fishes was attended by over 90 audience members.

Dr. Cindy Lee, a SUNY Distinguished Professor, will discuss “Ocean Acidification and the Global Carbon Cycle” on Friday, November 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Stony Brook Southampton’s Duke Lecture Hall. A reception will follow. For further information, call 632-5046.

Global warming is just one of the results of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. This gas also forms an acid when it dissolves in water, and is thus acidifying the oceans. Coral reefs and calcareous shells are in danger of depletion. One of the few natural processes that removes carbon dioxide from the ocean’s surface waters is the sinking of particles to the deep sea. These particles carry organic carbon with them that is derived from the surface plants and animals in the ocean.

 Professor Lee has studied the organic chemistry of the oceans for the past 35 years and has focused on the transport of particulate carbon to the ocean’s interior. She has participated in research cruises in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Southern Oceans, with most recent work in the Mediterranean Sea. Dr. Lee will describe how ocean acidification is occurring, and how particle transport processes will be affected.

Suffolk County: Specials, Please

It’s not an uncommon experience to go to a restaurant and order a special that a waiter or waitress announces is available — and then later, upon receiving the bill, realize it had an especially high price.

A Suffolk County legislator has just introduced a bill to prevent that: a proposed law “requiring restaurants to disclose prices of specials.”

Lynne Nowick of St. James believes that consumers should have the “information necessary to make informed decisions”—and that includes the prices of food in a restaurant.

Her bill charges that “certain restaurants in Suffolk County do not recognize this ‘right to know’ when it comes to their policy for so-called ‘daily specials.’” These do not appear on the regular menu, and restaurants “in many cases fail to voluntarily apprise their customers how much these specials cost.”

As a result, states the resolution, “too often consumers learn when their bill arrives that the special they ordered costs far more than they anticipated.”

If Nowick’s bill is enacted, all restaurants in Suffolk County would have to “give their patrons adequate notice of the prices of all food items offered for sale including those items known as ‘daily specials.’”

This could be by including the price of specials on the regular menu or “on a printed daily specials page” or otherwise “posted in a manner and location so the price” would be “readily observable by patrons.”

The penalty for non-compliance would be enough to give a restaurant operator indigestion: “not less than $50 nor more than $500” for each violation.

The proposed law would be enforced by the Suffolk County Office of Consumer Affairs. It has gone to legislative committee for consideration.

Reported by karl grossman        

Suffolk County: Gang Seminar

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent F. DeMarco will host the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Second Annual Gang Seminar this Thursday, November 6 at 9 a.m. at the Smithtown Sheraton in Smithtown.

The seminar will feature multiple speakers with expertise in gang intelligence, including investigator Sheridan of the New York City Department of Corrections, Detective Gordon of the Chicago Police Department, Retired Investigator Valdez of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Retired Investigator Harlin from the New York State Police, along with members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Gang Intelligence Unit. The seminar is being presented with the support of the mid-Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network.

“It is imperative to realize we are not insulated from the insidious effects of gang violence,” said Sheriff DeMarco. “Gang intelligence gathering and sharing is our best tool in battling today’s organized crime.”

New York State: Home Heating Assistance

Governor David A. Paterson announced on November 3, eligible New Yorkers can apply to the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) for this winter season, allowing them to receive as much as $2,500 to help pay for heating costs. Governor Paterson also highlighted recent changes to HEAP including an expansion in income eligibility requirements for New Yorkers facing an energy emergency. Additionally, Paterson announced an agreement between the state and utility companies, which will allow customers to pay their energy bills and keep service in place using HEAP money.

“Under the best of circumstances, New York winters can be difficult,” said Paterson. “With continued economic uncertainty, it is not just the poor and elderly who will have a difficult time paying for the cost of heating their homes this winter. With high energy prices still a concern, we have greatly increased heating assistance to low-income New Yorkers while expanding eligibility to those earning more but who are still struggling to make ends meet.”

The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) – the agency responsible for administering HEAP in New York – has implemented changes to HEAP that will allow New York’s most vulnerable residents to receive as much as $2,500 this winter season. Additionally, New York will take advantage of a one-time federal authorization to increase the income eligibility for HEAP emergency benefits from $45,312 to $56,635 for a family of four effective January 1, 2009. Income eligible homes without heating fuel that are running low on fuel or have heat-related utility service currently disconnected or scheduled for disconnection, may be eligible for HEAP emergency assistance.

New York State has received $550.9 million in federal HEAP funding, which has enabled the OTDA to allow for those earning more to qualify for an emergency benefit, while also making available a second emergency benefit for those most in need. The increased funding will also enable a $100 regular benefit supplement provided to all HEAP recipients who pay directly for heat starting in January 2009.

In September, Governor Paterson requested that an emergency utility summit be held to address rising energy costs. During the summit, all major utility companies in the state agreed that during the cold weather period they will accept HEAP payments from customers and offer them a fair and reasonable deferred payment agreement.

In addition to increasing eligibility levels for HEAP, the state has also increased HEAP’s regular and emergency benefits to $800 for those heating with oil, kerosene and/or propane, to enable them to purchase a minimum delivery of fuel, and has raised the maximum regular benefit to $585 for all other customers. The state has also received a $32 million increase in the amount of low income funding, approved by the PSC and provided by local utility companies and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSDERA), to improve the energy efficiency of homes. NYSDERA will also spend an additional $2 million this winter to help more New Yorkers reduce their energy while also keeping their homes heated. The state has also worked towards providing $5 million for weatherization and energy efficiency services, designed to enable HEAP recipients to realize immediate energy savings this winter. Ten million dollars has also been made available by LIPA to its low income senior customers for direct bill payment assistance. In addition, LIPA will be expanding its support for improved energy efficiency in homes for all of its customers.

For additional resources, visit HeatSmartNY.org or call 877-NY-SMART, or for HEAP questions, call 1-800-342-3009 or visit www.myBenefits.ny.gov.