By Patricia Ward
An Academy Award-winning film by alumnus William Joyce ’81 wrapped adult emotions in a magical tale that speaks to audiences of all ages. Another alumnus, Travis Tygart ’99, led an investigation that revealed consistent doping by cyclist Lance Armstrong. And alumna NoViolet Bulawayo ’07 won international praise and a Man Booker Prize nomination for her provocative first novel.
Although the alumni have earned fame in diverse fields, they share an appreciation for the SMU faculty members who recognized and nurtured their talents.
“If you’re lucky, you get a couple of teachers that sort of get you and say ‘you might really succeed,’ and that happened at SMU,” Joyce said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News October 25. “There was a really nice group of teachers that put up with all my shenanigans and encouraged this crazy bunch of enthusiasms that I was hell-bent on merging.”
As a measure of the University’s impact, the trio’s accomplishments set a gold standard that also is being met by thousands of other successful graduates around the globe. Following are stories of their internationally recognized achievements and how their SMU student experiences helped set the trajectory of their futures.
Painting A Global Picture
In her remarkable first novel, We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo speaks in a 21st-century voice as she weaves a global generation’s immigration story. Lauded by literary critics worldwide, she became the first black African woman – and the first writer from Zimbabwe – to be shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize this year. She also was the only debut novelist on the list.
Among those praising Bulawayo’s work was Michiko Kakutani, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The New York Times. In a review published May 15, she called the novel “deeply felt and fiercely written” and described Bulawayo’s powerful “pictorial language” as possessing “the indelible color and intensity of a folk art painting.”
Speaking to Publisher’s Weekly, Bulawayo said her book “is not fiction fiction … it’s very much born out of politics.” The author entwines the grim headlines of Zimbabwe’s recent history with the story of 10-year-old Darling and her group of young friends. After a government-sponsored relocation program obliterates her community and unravels her family, Darling is sent to live with an aunt in the United States. As years pass and the girl becomes an Americanized teenager, Bulawayo captures the push and pull of the immigrant experience. No matter how comfortable Darling becomes in her adopted country, she feels the tug of her birthplace, a longing for home.
Soon after the Booker nomination, Bulawayo was selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz for the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” program, which honors young fiction writers tapped by past National Book Award honorees. As the fiction editor for the Boston Review, Díaz had published her short story, “Hitting Budapest,” which won the Caine Prize for African Literature in 2011. That story became the first chapter of We Need New Names.
Shortly after receiving the Caine Prize, Bulawayo talked with Shelley Strock ’07, a former SMU classmate, in an interview posted on the English Department blog. In the interview Bulawayo said she did not start taking her writing seriously until she enrolled at SMU. She credited English professors David Haynes, head of SMU’s creative writing program, and Beth Newman, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, with “getting her in line” as a student and giving her “the courage to go for it.”
Haynes did not have to wait for her book to know Bulawayo would become a literary sensation. While she was working toward her master’s degree in English, she participated in his undergraduate creative writing workshop. She had not yet adopted her pen name and was known as Elizabeth Tshele. From the first assignment she submitted to him, Haynes “knew this work was something special.
“The writing was extraordinary, not just for the quality but because of the depiction of the troubled lives of the characters in the story,” Haynes says.
Bulawayo, now a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, continued working with him for another year, producing a creative thesis for her master’s degree. In that “impressive body of fiction, she began her exploration of some of the characters and situations that eventually became We Need New Names,” Haynes says.
The novel is “stunning, deserving of all its accolades,” he says. “By reinventing the story of the relationship between immigrants/emigrants and their homes, NoViolet has made a significant contribution to the world of fiction.”
William Joyce – author, illustrator, filmmaker and self-proclaimed “rascal” – played a special role in the 2013 Homecoming celebration. He served as grand marshal of SMU’s book-themed Homecoming parade, a salute to the University’s Year of the Library. The recipient of a 2004 Distinguished Alumni Award, he also was honored along with other Centennial History Makers at the annual DAA dinner and ceremony. During the week, he also visited two elementary schools where he read from his books and delighted the youngsters with rollicking tales from his childhood.
And, at a free community event on campus, he showed his Oscar-winning animated short, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” A world like no other came to life before 350 children and adults as the dialogue-free movie combined humor, allusions to the “The Wizard of Oz” and Hurricane Katrina, and pathos. When the lights in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center theater went up, children and adults smiled and wiped away tears.
Less than 15 minutes long, the movie encapsulates Joyce’s mammoth creative powers. “Bill’s special gift is his ability to hold onto a sense of childhood wonder,” says Sean Griffin, chair of Film and Media Arts in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. Griffin led a question-and-answer session with Joyce after the screening. “He taps into that yearning in adults to come back to that mindset, to celebrate imagination and faith in magic.”
Joyce told the audience he had always “wanted to do something with flying books.” On a trip to New York to visit his ailing mentor, the late publisher Bill Morris, he wrote Morris Lessmore with his friend in mind.
Although it was originally planned as a book, it first became a movie, the debut film of Moonbot Studios, a multimedia startup he helped found in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana.
In a 2011 profile, The Atlantic called Moonbot Studios the “Pixar for the iPad age.” One of Moonbot’s latest projects, “The Scarecrow,” made headlines when it captured more than 7 million views on YouTube in September. Moonbot collaborated with Chipotle Mexican Grill on the short film and companion mobile game app that supports the restaurant chain’s “Food with Integrity” focus on responsible agriculture.
Joyce’s two latest books are The Mischievians, a pictorial guide to the sock thieves lurking in dryers and other mischief-makers, and The Sandman and the War of Dreams, the fourth chapter book in his The Guardians of Childhood series. They demonstrate the artistic versatility that he traces, in part, to his time as an
“I started taking journalism classes and worked for The Daily Campus. I learned how to tell a story quickly and succinctly,” he said. “In Meadows, all of the arts are in the same building. So you see it and feel it and soak it up. That fed my curiosity and imagination. It showed me that art does not have to have boundaries.”
PLAYING FAIR AND SQUARE
As the chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) since 2007, Travis Tygart has taken on professional cycling’s Goliath – seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his powerful entourage. Tygart’s thorough investigation of the athlete’s use of banned performance-enhancing substances over a period of years ended in Armstrong’s disgrace. The cyclist eventually admitted to doping, was stripped of his titles and banished from the sport.
Tygart, who earned a Juris Doctor with Order of the Coif honors from SMU’s Dedman School of Law in 1999, was on campus August 26 for lectures on “Playing Fair and Winning: An Inside View on Ethics, Values and Integrity from the Lance Armstrong Case.” He talked to students and faculty at the law school and later spoke as the Delta Gamma Lecturer in Values and Ethics at an event co-sponsored by SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility.
In introducing her former student, Julie Patterson Forrester, the law school’s interim dean, quoted TIME magazine, which named Tygart one of 2013’s 100 most influential people in the world: “No one would argue with the philosophy of doping-free sport, but few are willing to undertake the demanding work of identifying cheaters and imposing sanctions on them,” wrote Dick Pound, former chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency. “Score one for the good guys.”
Tygart descibes USADA’s role as protecting “clean athletes who are frustrated by being tainted” by cheaters. His commitment to that mission kept the attorney going despite death threats – two men were indicted in July following an FBI investigation – and an organized campaign to discredit him and derail his inquiry.
An athlete with youngsters involved in team sports, Tygart said a “win at all costs” culture has hijacked athletics on every level – from parents giving their eight-year-old energy drinks for swim meets to Armstrong’s sophisticated doping operation. “Whether you’re an athlete or running a business or practicing law, if you build on a foundation of fraud, it is all going to come down at
Tygart joined USADA “because I wanted something bigger than myself to commit to every day.” He previously practiced sports law with a firm in Colorado. He credits his SMU education with providing “a great foundation” for his current role.
“My professors taught me to want to be a good person,” he said. “I also got a sound legal education and great experience at the legal clinics. I wrote an anti-trust paper and Title IX paper, both of which got published. All of that was good preparation when an opportunity opened up for me in sports law.”