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Sound Off: Creative Influences

Members of the campus community share the works of art that have changed their outlook on life.

Creative Influences S hero

Spring 2023

Derrick Fields, assistant professor of instruction at Northwestern’s School of Communication and digital artist 

Spider-Man: Miles Morales sits at the top of my list of titles that have shifted my outlook on life. The video game’s protagonist, Miles Morales, comes from both Black and Puerto Rican backgrounds and quickly resonated among players who come from similar heritages upon its release in 2020. I cried a lot while playing the game. As a Black game developer, seeing a game highlight the experiences and challenges that Black individuals face and allow players to see themselves represented positively charges me with validation that these experiences genuinely matter. It motivates me tenfold to contribute to the demand for diverse representation in video games. 

Credit: Linc Cohen

S.L. “Sandi” Wisenberg ’79, author of The Wandering Womb: Essays in Search of Home and editor of Another Chicago Magazine 

I remember reading Michelle Cliff’s “If I Could Write This in Fire, I Would Write This in Fire.” The essay is about race, colorism, class, homophobia, male entitlement, imperialism and colonialism, rendered in deeply honest, lyrical prose. What changed my outlook was its mention of a Black movement protest slogan used in England after the fall of the British Empire: “We are here because you were there.” That sums up colonialism, imperialism, slavery — and it raises the question of what the descendants of perpetrators owe the descendants of the brutalized. I had never thought of these injustices in a geographical way before. 

Credit: Shannon Earl

Ava Earl, sophomore political science major, singer and songwriter 

Ten years ago, Vampire Weekend released the song “Unbelievers” on their album Modern Vampires of the City. My mom and I listened to it on our commute from Anchorage, Alaska, where I went to school, to my hometown of Girdwood, Alaska. As a 10-year-old avid consumer of all things musical, I was captivated. An upbeat rumination on the (un)importance of belief and its intersection with love, the pre-chorus says: “We know the fire awaits unbelievers, / all of the sinners the same. / Girl, you and I will die unbelievers, / bound to the tracks of the train.” At 10, I desperately sought a way to live and love that felt like rebellion. This album echoed that feeling for me. I now believe that sometimes rebelling is as simple as living in the moment. 

Matthew Grayson, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering 

As a graduate student in electrical engineering, I would balance many reclusive workdays in the lab with involvement in community theater. One summer I directed the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder, an American classic about a girl growing up in a small New England town. The simplicity and specificity of the story belies the universal appeal of the play’s emotional resolution, just as the specialization of my lab work led me to a broader awareness of the universal nature of research from the humanities to the sciences. To echo the lesson of Mr. Wilder: Specificity often begets universality. 


What creative work has changed your life? Leave a comment below.


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