Week of 10/29: Midterm and the city on film

Photo credit: Columbia Spectator newspaper (columbiaspectator.com)
Photo credit: Columbia Spectator newspaper (columbiaspectator.com)
The Midterm will be on Tuesday the 29th in class. We did a formal review session in the last class, so I won’t repeat all of that, but here are some things to consider.

  • Review all the readings. Make sure you have them handy and re-download anything you can’t find.
  • Know writers and the key plot points of the book and plays we’ve read so far and be able to talk about the main characters in each.
  • Review the poems and writers. You don’t need to know everything we’ve done, but you should know a few key poems from Pietri and Pinero and basic biographical info about their lives.
  • Think about key themes that we’ve been talking about so far this semester and how they occur in different works we’ve read. Think about how you would write an essay about one (or more) of them and examples of those themes in different things we’ve read/watched/listened to.
  • If you haven’t read or watched anything, now’s the time to do it! You’re responsible for anything that’s been assigned or posted here as an assignment, including video.
  • Be on time and do not miss it! I will not be offering make-ups unless you’re hospitalized and have proof. So be there. Set your alarm clock and leave earlier than usual. The exam is hard, but not tricky. If you’ve been in class, paid attention, and done the work, you should be fine.
  • la__cuidad

    For Thursday, we’ll take a turn into filmic representations of the city and city life from an immigrant’s perspective with a screening of director David Riker’s 1998 film La Ciudad/(The City). we’ll watch the first half of La Ciudad on Thursday. Prepare to take good notes, as there will be a writing assignment on it and it will appear on the final exam. For people following online, though apparently out of print, the film’s available on Netflix and at the NY Public Library if you’re in the NYC area. Read this short review and one from the New York Times of the film.

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    Week of 10/22: The Bronx is Next

    Sonia Sanchez at Miami Book Fair International, 1990. / Wikicommons user MDCarchives
    Sonia Sanchez at Miami Book Fair International, 1990. / Wikicommons user MDCarchives
    For Tuesday October 22nd, we’ll continue looking at Black writers from the 1960s with Sonia Sanchez. We’ll read a short play titled The Bronx is Next. It’s part of a longer PDF file on the Readings page. You do not have to read Sister Son/Ji, but do read the essay titled “Preface to Uh, Uh, But do it Free Us?”, where she describes her creation of The Bronx is Next.

    Also watch her perform “A Poem to Some Women” on Def Poetry Jam.



    Watch: Director SC 2 talk about his 2009 production of Sonia Sanchez’s “The Bronx is Next” and “Sister Son/Ji”.



    … and this preview of The Bronx is Next and Sister Son/Ji



    Questions to think about as you read/watch:

  • What’s the vision of the city (and of Harlem, specifically) in The Bronx is Next?
  • What do the interactions at the heart of the play say about city life?
  • What roles do female characters play in Bronx?
  • What kind of woman does Sanchez give voice to in “A Poem for Some Women”? Who’s voice is the poem written in?
  • For Thursday, October 24, we’ll have a formal in-class review session for the midterm exam, which is Tuesday, October 29th. Begin gathering all your notes and papers together and start preparing now.

    Week of 10/14: Amiri Baraka’s The Slave

    Tuesday is a Monday schedule in CUNY, so class does not meet. Whatever you normally do on a Monday, school-wise, do that on Tuesday the 15th.

    We meet next on Thursday the 17th. For that class, read Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)’s The Slave, which is the second half of the book with Dutchman. Again, it’s very short (less than 50 pages), so read slowly and carefully. Chronologically, Baraka writes it after Dutchman and it’s first performed off-Broadway after Dutchman as well. Think about it in the context of some of the things Don Ramon discussed in his guest talk about Dutchman. How does it work as a companion piece to the first play and possibly reflect on the context of the time? Think about the following things to guide your reading:

  • What vision of the city does the play’s setting give us?
  • What is the mood of the play: is it hopeful or pessimistic?
  • Can we read it as a possible alternate reality ending to Dutchman and is the end any more satisfying?
  • Note that it’s also happening at a time of urban rebellions across the US (see the YouTube video for more on this). How does the play reflect a possibly dystopic urban future?

    Watch the following videos for context and to think about The Slave as you read it.

    Newsreel footage from the riots in Watts, California.



    Trailer for the Newark ’67 documentary film, featuring Baraka, describing the unrest in that city.



    Finally, listen to the Temptations’s “Ball of Confusion (What the World is Today)” from the 1970 album of the same name. Think about the times, how this reflects the feeling of people then, and again, how The Slave comments on the times.

  • Dutchman and the Power of images

    Bogle_bookFor Tuesday 10/8 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 Dutchman and the Slave and Assata Shakur’s autobiography (which we’ll read later in the semester). Think about the following while you read:

  • What does it say about the emergence of stereotypes and how we view popular images?
  • How might this affect how we read/ see/ view images in the city and popular culture?
  • Are there any current examples from the news or popular media that fit the descriptions?
  • Are these categories still relevant or are we past this point?
  • For Thursday the 10th, we take a sharp turn and read the classic play Dutchman from Amiri Baraka (then named LeRoi Jones). We will also have a special guest speaker, Don Ramon of Rutgers University, to facilitate the discussion and present the play. For today, read only the first half of the book: the play Dutchman. (We’ll read the second half — The Slave — next.) Even though it’s short, you need to read it slowly and carefully.

    Pay attention to the following to guide your reading:

  • What are the key themes or topics that you think the play talks about?
  • How does the setting of the play affect the action? What role does the subway train play?
  • What does it say about life in the city or urban environments?
  • There are crucial points in the play where the plot (action) turns that decide the outcome. What do you think they are?
  • Read the final few pages of the play more than once. What’s the significance of Clay’s final speech?
  • Watch the following short YouTube video with Baraka discussing the context of the play and some of what influenced him to write it.


    Donavan Ramon of Rutgers University
    Donavan Ramon of Rutgers University
    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 where he is also a graduate assistant at the Center for Race and Ethnicity and he serves as the Member-at-Large for Diversity with the Northeast Modern Languages Association (NeMLA).