OFFICE HOURS | 10 Questions with PMA Professor Bruce Levitt

For our second installment of “Office Hours,” a series of interviews with prominent personalities on Cornell’s campus, Sunspots writer Andrew Shi talked with with Performing and Media Arts Professor Bruce Levitt, who has taught at Cornell since 1986 and is involved with Phoenix Players Theatre Group (PPTG), a prison theatre group at Auburn Correctional Facility.  

You’ve worked with PPTG since 2010. How has the group evolved over time? Since the group is inmate-led, that dynamic shifts and we shift with it. The makeup of the group changes over time as some men get transferred out and new men come into the group.

SHI REVIEWED | Go Set A Watchman

Atticus Finch is racist. That’s the shocking revelation in Harper Lee’s sequel to the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Through a modernist blurring of the first person and third person omniscient, Lee brings 26-year old Jean Louise (remember Scout?) from New York City back home to Maycomb for a visit. Yes, the same sleepy Maycomb that she grew up in; the town whose all-white jury her father Atticus faced 17 years ago to defend an innocent black man accused of rape. Fast forward to the present: The South is in uproar over the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Ed ruling mandating school desegregation.

SHI REVIEWED | Nabokov’s “Pnin”

Vladimir Nabokov first appeared to me as a stranger’s name on a Cornell t-shirt. A quick search online showed me that he’s a big deal—big enough to be printed on the same shirt as Ginsburg, Sagan and Morrison. Curious about his work, I found his novel Pnin at Olin Library. My first puzzle was learning how to pronounce the title. According to Nabokov from an interview, “To get the ‘pn’ right, try the combination ‘Up North,’ or still better ‘Up, Nina!’, leaving out the initial ‘u.’ Pnorth, Pnina, Pmn.

SHI REVIEWED | The Three Body Problem (Part II)

Nestled in the Milky Way Galaxy four light-years away from the Earth, Trisolaris is a planet in a three-star solar system. The stars move in erratic orbits that follow no clear patterns—this is the classic “three body problem.” No civilization in Trisolaran history has been able to predict—and thus survive—the chaotic eras caused by these unpredictable orbits. The present Trisolarans, recognizing this, have begun their search for another home in the universe. Meanwhile, on Earth, our protagonist Ye makes contact with the Trisolarans via the opening of SETI communication channels. Her message is short, but it sets the course for the collision of the two worlds: “Come here!

SHI REVIEWED | The Three Body Problem (Part I)

I am not a sci-fi person, but I started reading The Three Body Problem due to several timely developments. Over winter break, I visited my friend in China and learned that this is the “Hunger Games” equivalent of what’s trending in China. This semester, I decided to take Astronomy to fulfill a distribution requirement. Two weeks ago, NASA announced the discovery of seven earth-sized exoplanets around a nearby star. I couldn’t have picked a better moment to read and review this book.

SHI REVIEWED | Underground Railroad Part II

This review continues where the first one left off. The protagonist Cora arrives in North Carolina, where she hides in the home of Martin, an abolitionist, awaiting word to continue travel on the Underground Railroad. Cora’s home is a nook of a false ceiling in Martin’s attic. In the heat of the North Carolina summer, she sits and waits until midnight when Martin feels that it is safe enough to bring her food and allow her time to stretch in the attic. Her solitary confinement continues for months, with no word about the railroad.


This blog series is a first and a last. It is a first because it features book reviews, something I have never attempted to do outside of class. My project requires regular reading and meaningful commentary. I consider doing one well to be a personal accomplishment. To do both well is my goal.

ANDREW SHI | On Hiring Conservative Faculty

Re: “What Kind of White Faculty Should We Hire?,” Sunspots, Dec. 10

Christian Brickhouse recently penned an ambitious essay in this newspaper. Amongst other things, the author argued against the idea of creating a political diversity initiative in campus-wide faculty hiring. This “Republican Affirmative Action” as he coins it does sound counterintuitive, if not offensive. After all, CS majors or sociolinguists or behavioral psychologists are no more likely to better understand concepts taught by a Republican professor.

BETWEEN BARS | Prisoners and Playwrights

I’ve had two thoughts about theatre. The first is that it is a high art form. It is difficult to understand, like the complex symphony or the abstract painting—a sensory experience for refined tastes. The second impression I’ve had of theatre is that it is meant to entertain. People attend theatre performances because they want to have a good time.

BETWEEN BARS | Just Visiting

This week is National Prison Visiting Week, a new initiative led by the VERA Institute of Justice to open up prison facilities to local community members to come in and interact with inmates and correctional officers. The “opening” of the prisons provides the public an opportunity to see the effect that a local institution has on people, many who eventually reenter society (studies estimate 95% nationwide). It also seeks, I predict, to demonstrate that mass incarceration is not an abstract phenomenon but a condition that is as local as state prisons and county jails, which make up the bulk of the nation’s incarcerated. VERA’s president points out that it is in a community’s interest to know the people it sends behind bars, for they will not be hidden forever:
Prisons and jails, and the 2.2 million people in them, have been literally walled off from what was previously a deeply neglectful public. But no more.