December 16th: Final exam


The big news items for this week are papers and the final exam. The final is on Tuesday the 16th from 3:45-5:45 in the usual classroom. Don’t miss it!!. It’s logistically difficult to do make-ups and that may not happen before the grade deadline. Note also that I won’t offer make-ups except for very good reasons. The last class was a formal review session for the final. I won’t post detailed notes for that online or answer e-mails on it since I’ve already spent a lot of time on prep, so please get notes from a classmate who was there if you missed it. Also don’t forget to fill out the course evaluation survey, which was e-mailed to your Lehman e-mail account. Thanks!

A few quick notes on papers:

  • Papers are due by Midnight Eastern Standard Time on Friday the 12th via e-mail. (hank dot williams at lehman dot cuny dot edu). You’ll get a receipt from me by email that I’ve received it: probably Saturday morning if you send it very late.
  • If you’ve lost your copy of the assignment sheet, you can download another one.
  • You should go to Lehman’s Academic Center for Excellence (“ACE Center”) in Old Gym 205 for last minute help on revising your paper or issues with MLA citations or formatting.
  • Another resource to be aware of is Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (“OWL”), which is the most comprehensive online source for citation formatting and questions.
  • About the final exam …

  • You’re encouraged to (re)read my guide to final exams, “Zen and the Art of Finals” (PDF) if you haven’t already.
  • Format is 3 essays around major themes we’ve seen in readings all semester. Refer to the handout of the sample exam and question handed out in class for specifics.
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    Week of 12/9: Assata conclusion and Final exam review

    Remember that papers are due Friday 12/12 by Midnight Eastern Standard Time via e-mail


    220px-AssatabioThis week we finish the autobiography of Assata Shakur. For Tuesday 12/9, finish Assata. Again, make sure to pay attention to the various poems she includes in the story on pages 240 (“Current Events”), 259 (“To My Daughter Kakuya”), and 263 (“The Tradition”). Think also about the themes that we’ve been talking about so far and how Assata’s work fits into the context of urban narratives and themes of immigration/migration, return home, urban space, etc. Pay attention to chunder these conditions? and What’s the significance of the story ending in Cuba and how does Assata adjust to her new home? Consider this prep for the final exam. If you read this carefully, it’s one less thing you’ll need to study.

    Presentation by Tia, Amanda, and Yeraldy

    For Thursday 12/11 Read my guide to final exams, “Zen and the Art of Finals” (PDF), which will help you begin to prepare for our final (and hopefully others as well). Think about major themes that we’ve been talking about all semester and bring questions to the class. We’ll spend the last class reflecting on the semester and have an open prep/ study session for the final exam.

    As a reminder, the final is scheduled for Tuesday, December 16, 3:45-5:45 PM in the regular classroom and you might want to check Lehman’s exam schedule (PDF file) for your other classes as well. Be sure to arrange for childcare/ time off work/ whatever you need to do now, as there will be no make-ups, except for extraordinary circumstances. Unless you can provide a hospital or arrest record (your own, not a family member’s), you get no make-up. “My family bought plane tickets to go on vacation” or similar is not an extraordinary circumstance in my book. Consider college a job and be up front with family, friends, etc. about what that commitment means.

    Week of December 2: Assata, continued

    220px-AssatabioThis week we continue with our last book of the semester, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. For Tuesday 12/2, 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.
    Update 11/18: the new assignment has been posted. See the Assignments page for details.

    Class presentation by Illya, Renee, and Stephanie.

    For Thursday 12/4 read chapters 9-13, (pages 141-208) in Assata.

    Pay close attention to the following:

  • Poems “Leftovers” (147), “Culture” (159), and “To My Mama” (193). Again, what do they add to the narrative? What insight do they give you about Assata’s inner thoughts?
  • Also think about her Fourth of July address on pages 167-170.
  • What spaces/ neighborhoods does she move through? Note them and how each of them either shapes the story and what it means to Assata.
  • Finally, keep track of major themes that emerge in the story as you read. It’s a good idea to mark examples of them in the text and make a small note in your notebook.
  • Doing a good job of reading/notetaking here will pay off when it comes to the final exam. This will be one thing you know well and won’t have to study for.


  • Second (and last) formal paper of the semester is due on Friday, December 12th via e-mail. Check the assignments page for it.
  • There’s one more opportunity for extra credit if you scored below a B on the midterm. ClassAction Student group’s Hip Hop summit will be all day tomorrow, Wed. 11/26 at Lehman. Details are at their Facebook event page.
  • Week of 11/25: Assata Shakur’s autobiograpy

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

    Announcement: Remember that papers are due Tuesday, 11/25 by email. Again, the assignment sheet lives on the Assignments page. I’ll also be adding another option for extra credit. Extra credit assignment options are now posted on the assignments page..

    For Tuesday 11/25, 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?
  • 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 27th we do not meet because of the holiday. Enjoy your break.

  • Week of November 18: Soledad conclusion and Def Poetry Jam


  • Remember that papers are due on 11/25. Keep working on it and contact me if you have questions or want me to respond to drafts.
  • The Mosaic Literary Conference will be this Saturday 11/15 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and focusing on the life and work of Nuyorican writer Piri Thomas. Details are at their Eventbrite page.
  • cvr9780743212021_9780743212021_lgOn Tuesday November 18th, 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?
  • On Tuesday, we’ll start with a presentation from Anel and Imani

    For Thursday November 20th 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? Print it out and bring it with you to class on Thursday.

    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 November 11: Angie Cruz’s Soledad, continued

    Photo: “Washington Heights Piece” by Flickr user Aoife. Creative Commons licensed.


    Note: The next writing assignment, due Tuesday 11/25, is on the Assignments page. Please download it and start working on it if you missed class on Thursday 11/6.

    On Tuesday November 11th, we continue with Soledad. Read chapters 4-5: up to page 111 in the new paperback edition.

    Presentation by Domingo, Elva, and Noemi.

    For Thursday November 13th, read pages 112-174, chapters 6-7 (halfway through chapter 8 in the paperback) of Soledad. Continue tracking the themes we’ve identified and how characters develop in the book.

  • We’ve discussed the settings in 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?