Week of 12/3: Autobiography of Assata Shakur, continued

220px-AssatabioThis week we continue with our last book of the semester, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. For Tuesday 12/3, read chapters 4-8 (70-140). Again, make sure to pay attention to the various poems she includes in the story on pages 130 (“Love”), 140 (“Stranger”). Think also about the themes that you should now be able to identify that we’ve been working on all semester. Note specific places in the book where they appear and mark them in your text.

For Thursday 5/8 I will not be able to make it, so we will not meet as a class. Finish reading Assata for Monday, December 9th.

Important Reminder: Our last formal paper of the semester is due on Friday, December 6th via e-mail. Re-check the assignment sheet if you’ve lost it and be sure to have it in before the deadline.


Week of 11/26: Autobiography of Assata Shakur

220px-AssatabioThis week we move on to the our last book of the semester, the autobiography of Assata Shakur

Announcement: I handed out the assignment sheet for the short paper on Thursday, due Friday, December 6th. CntmpUrbWrtComparePaper_F13. It also lives on the Assignments page.

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 earlier in the semester?
  • 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.

    Thursday, November 28th we do not meet because of the holiday. Enjoy your break and work on those papers.

  • Week of 11/19: Soledad conclusion and Def Poetry Jam

    cvr9780743212021_9780743212021_lgOn Tuesday 11/19, we finish Angie Cruz’s novel Soledad. Read chapters 8-11 (end–page 230) in the new paperback edition. In addition to the points and themes we’ve been tracking all along, consider the following:

  • What changes do we see in Soledad’s attitudes toward her mother, Richie, and Flaca?
  • How do her feelings towards the Dominican Republic and Washington Heights evolve?
  • What is the role of the supernatural or spirituality in the book’s conclusion?
  • How do memory and trauma affect the characters?
  • What do you think of the conclusion? Is it realistic? What happens to Soledad at the end?
  • def-poetry-jamFor Thursday 11/21 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. Assignment: Write 1 page (typed, double spaced) on one poem from the list below. How does it reflect the urban experience? Does It? Why is it appealing to you?

    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.

  • Week of 11/12: Angie Cruz’s Soledad continued

    cvr9780743212021_9780743212021_lgOn Tuesday 11/12, we continue with Angie Cruz’s novel Soledad. Read chapters 4-5: up to page 111 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. Another point of tension in the plot is the difference between the younger and older generations of characters 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?
  • For Thursday 11/14, read chapters 6-7 (page 164 in the paperback) of Soledad. Continue tracking the themes we’ve identified and how characters develop in the book.


  • Tato Laviera, one of the key people in the Nuyorican poetry movement, has died. The New York Times has an obituary.
  • The ClassAction Student Group is sponsoring a daylong hip hop history summit at Lehman on Friday the 8th! See their site for schedule and details.
  • Week of 11/5: La Ciudad and Soledad

    On Tuesday, we’ll finish watching La Ciudad. In preparation, watch this YouTube video with director and screenwriter David Riker discussing his approach to making the film. Also think about the following thematic questions:

  • What does the film tell us about immigrants/migrants to the city?
  • How are the visions here similar or different from those we read in Pietri, Pinero, and Quinonez?
  • What does it tell us about work in the city and, again, similarities and differences with/from the Pietri’s vision, particularly “Puerto Rican Obituary”?
  • What sort of environment does the city present in the film?
  • How does the notion of urban space work in the film?

  • On Thursday 11/7, we turn to Angie Cruz’s novel of Dominican immigrants in Washington Heights, Soledad.

    Angie Cruz, author of "Soledad"
    Angie Cruz, author of “Soledad”
    Read chapters 1-3. Warning: it starts slow and Cruz’s narrative is non-linear and slightly more challenging than what we’ve read so far, but the effort is worth it. It is also the first from a female POV and female author. Here are a few things to think about as you read:

  • What do the different urban spaces in the book (the East Village) and (Washington Heights) represent to Soledad?
  • What are Soledad’s feelings toward her family and the neighborhood and how do they change? (Spoiler: they do)
  • The narrative is “non linear” (i.e. it doesn’t proceed in chronological order, time-wise) and the narrator (person telling the story) changes. Try to track the characters and who is speaking.
  • What tensions are there between old school Dominican culture and the different strands of US culture?