Week of 4/29: autobiography of Assata Shakur

220px-AssatabioThis week we move on to the our last book of the semester, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. For Monday 4/29, read the first 70 pages (chapters 1-3) of Assata: An Autobiography. Be sure to read the foreward by Angela Davis and Lennox Hinds. Also make sure to pay attention to the various poems she includes in the story on pages 1,17,44, and 62.

Questions to think about:

  • How effective is her style of storytelling? Does the non-linear narrative with flashbacks make the book more engaging?
  • What are some of the ways you see her struggle against some of the stereotypes we saw in Marlon Riggs’ Ethnic Notions documentary last class?
  • How does Assata go about re-telling history?
  • What role do poems play in an autobiography? What do they tell you about Assata or the other people that the regular story does not?

    Extra: Listen to “A Song for Assata” by Common, from his 2000 Like Water for Chocolate release, featuring CeeLo Green.

    For Wednesday 5/1 Don Ramon of Rutgers returns as a guest speaker for Assata. Pay special attention to the “Fourth of July” speech for his talk and discussion. Read pages 71-117 (chapters 4-6) to prepare.

    Donavan Ramon
    Donavan Ramon

    Donavan L. Ramon earned his B.A. in English and the Special Honors Curriculum at Hunter College (CUNY), where he was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. A specialist in African American Literature, he earned his M.A. in English at Rutgers University in 2012 and is now writing a dissertation that traces a genealogy of twentieth-century narratives of racial passing. Donavan coordinates the African American Graduate Interest Group at Rutgers and serves as the Member-at-Large for Diversity with the Northeast Modern Languages Association (NeMLA). This semester, he’s teaching a course on Race and Ethnicity in literature at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

  • Week of 4/22: Def Poetry Jam and Black images

    def-poetry-jamFor Monday 4/22 the assignment is to watch the Youtube videos of various poets from Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam, which ran for several seasons on HBO. Also read Ben Brantley’s New York Times review of Def Poetry on Broadway and Jerry Quickley’s article “Hip Hop Poetry”, which is on the Readings page. Questions to think about:

  • How does being in front of a live audience change the perception of the poetry?
  • In the Pedro Pietri interview I posted, Pietri was critical of slam poetry and thought it relied too much on people’s personalities and being performers–do you agree?
  • What do their stories say about the urban experience?
  • Lastly, choose 2 poems you like, watch them a few times and be prepared to discuss in class.

    Here are the poems. There are several, but they’re mostly short. It’s less than a half hour, total.

    For Wednesday 4/24 read the “Black Beginnings” chapter from Donald Bogle’s book Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks on Black stereotypes, which is a pdf on the Readings page. We’ll use it (partly) as preparation for Assata Shakur’s autobiography (which we’ll start next week: get a copy now if you don’t have it yet. Think about what it says about the emergence of stereotypes and how we view popular images.

  • For the week of April 15: Angie Cruz’s Soledad continued


    For Monday 4/15, we’ll continue reading Angie cruz’s novel Soledad. We’ll cover chapters 6-7.

    For Wednesday 4/17, we’ll cover chapters 8-10: the end of the book. Again, think about the themes we’ve covered in the book so far and make notes as you read.

    Finally, a reminder that papers are due on Friday, April 19th. If you need to watch David Riker’s The City/ La Ciudad again, this weekend is a good time to do it. Head on over to the assignments page for the assignment itself and links for where to find copies of the film to watch. I have office hours after class in Carman 398 on Monday and Wednesday after class and all day on Shuster 179 (The Urban Male Leadership Program office). See me if you have questions about the paper or want to go over your outline or a draft.

    For the week of April 8: Angie Cruz’s Soledad

    First, remember that there’s an assignment due on April 19th (yes, it’s a Friday). Extra time becuase it’s based on David Riker’s feature film The City/ La Ciudad that we saw in class and you’ll probably want to watch it again and take notes. That also means that there are no excuses for turning it in late. Head on over to the assignments page to download it if you haven’t already. Links are also up there for where to find copies of the film to watch again.

    For Monday 4/8, we’ll continue reading Angie cruz’s novel Soledad. We’ll cover chapters 1-6 on Monday (up to page 136 in the new paperback edition).

    For Wednesday 4/10, we’ll cover chapters 7-8 (up to page 180 in the new paperback edition).

    In addition to the points I made to look for in last week’s post, here are a few more things to think about in terms of thinking about Soledad as an urban narrative based on the additional info in the upcoming chapters.

  • We briefly discussed the settings in the last class: the split between the East Village and Washington Heights and what each represents. Watch for locations as you read, how Cruz presents them, and what different urban spaces mean to key characters.
  • Point of view. Soledad comes from a female author and the P.O.V. the reader gets is primarily from women. What differences (if any) do you notice?
  • Following on the last point, one key subtext of the book are the various forms of violence against women. Think about this as you read and what it feels like for the various characters to move through urban spaces.
  • Culture. One point of tension in the plot is the difference between the younger and older grnerations of characters in the book and between more traditional Dominican culture and the different outlook that the younger, Americanized characters have. What are the differences between how characters see the world and their place in it?
  • There are, obviously, many more things, but these are a few to ideas to think about and note as we work our way through the book. We’ll finish it off (page 230) next Monday, the 15th.