An NU Alumni Sampler

June 23, 2011

NU alum Charlton Heston

All dressed up in its purple best, Northwestern University celebrated last week as it sent a new graduating class out into the world, and odds are good this won’t be the last you hear of them.  Over the years, you see, NU has become a veritable assembly line of notable alums – a fact comedian Stephen Colbert duly noted during his much-anticipated commencement address. “Northwestern’s alumni list is truly impressive,” said the 1987 NU grad.  “This university has graduated bestselling authors, Olympians, presidential candidates, Grammy winners, Peabody winners, Emmy winners – and that’s just me.”  All kidding aside, though, he’s right.  From Saul Bellow and Cloris Leachman to Steve Albini and Dan Chaon, Wildcat grads are clearly an accomplished bunch.  So to honor their achievements both past and future, we present the following eclectic list of books, movies, and music from some of Northwestern’s talented very own.  Enjoy, and stay tuned.  The list is growing.

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon (B.A. 1986)

A 2001 National Book Award finalist, Chaon’s second short story collection features 12 riveting tales that intimately explore small town life and the secrets people keep.  Haunting and humorous, these beautiful stories will dazzle you with their subtle power and insight.  Also try Await Your Reply.

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman (B.S. 1981)

This tightly-plotted page turner kicks off the former NU journalism major’s popular “Tess Monaghan” mystery series.  The suspenseful storyline follows the unorthodox ex-reporter as she works to clear her friend after a notorious attorney is murdered.  Also try the Edgar winner’s What the Dead Know.

Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston (1941-1944)

This 1959 epic won a record 11 Academy Awards including Best Actor for the former NU School of Communication student. Set in 1st century Jerusalem, the film depicts Heston as a Jewish prince who seeks revenge after a Roman friend’s betrayal sends him into slavery.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (B.S. 1970)

The inspiration for HBO’s new hit show, this is the first book in the Medill grad’s epic fantasy series “A Song of Fire and Ice.”  Combining magic, mystery, and romance, this suspenseful saga follows the royal Stark family as it faces a decades-long winter and battles invading barbarian hordes.

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (B.S. 1967)

Winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, Butler’s first short story collection offers 15 finely-etched tales about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on Vietnamese families relocated to Louisiana. Giving voice to a silenced people, Butler’s stories unfold delicately but make a powerful impression.

Herzog by Saul Bellow (B.A. 1937)

This complex psychological exploration won the 1965 National Book Award for the former NU anthropology major.  Tracing the public and private disasters of Jewish intellectual Moses E. Herzog, this thought-provoking book was included in Time’s list of the 100 Greatest Novels.

I Am America (and So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert (B.S. 1987)

This side-splitting satire takes the Emmy-winning comedian’s Colbert Report persona to the page.  In it, the father of “truthiness” stands up against America’s enemies “whether they be terrorists, environmentalists, or Kashi brand breakfast cereals.”  Hilarious.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show starring Cloris Leachman (B.S. 1948)

This revolutionary and acclaimed T.V. series featured the NU alum in the award-winning role of nosy landlady Phyllis Lindstrom.  You can also catch the 9-time Emmy winner and T.V. Hall of Fame inductee in The Last Picture Show for which she won the 1971 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Nirvana’s In Utero recorded by Steve Albini (B.A. 1983)

The iconic Seattle rock band chose Albini to capture their final studio album because of his innovative “live in the studio” recording techniques.  To hear more of the Medill major’s work, try the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa or check out his Evanston-based punk band Big Black.

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire (featuring William Butler, B.A. 2005)

Awarded the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year, this outstanding third record from Canada’s Arcade Fire features the NU alum on bass, percussion, and synthesizer.  To sample more of Butler’s musical chops, check out the band’s Funeral and Neon Bible albums as well.

This is My Century by Margaret Walker (B.A. 1935)

This timeless collection includes 37 new poems along with the incredible For My People – the book which won Walker the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 1942.  Also try the NU grad’s critically-acclaimed novel Jubilee which is based on her great-grandmother’s life in slavery.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (M.F.A. 1991)

This clever bestselling debut tells the touching tale of time-traveling Chicago librarian Henry De Tamble and his artist wife Clare.  Part inventive sci-fi and part heartfelt romance, this complex character study will make you laugh, cry, and think.

Russell J.


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