Thursday February 26: Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman


Photo: Promotional shot from the New Federal Theater’s 2015 run of Dutchman at the Castillo Theatre

Reminder: Last week I posted the directions for the first formal written assignment: a review of the Dutchman play at the Castillo Theatre. You should go see it as soon as possible and take good notes when you do. It costs only $20 for students and has showings Thursdays-Sundays. I strongly recommend seeing it this weekend (before we read it in class), but it runs until March 5th. Don’t wait until the last minute: tickets might sell out! The assignment sheet’s on the Assignments page.

For Thursday February 26th:, we take a sharp turn and read the classic play Dutchman from Amiri Baraka (then named LeRoi Jones). For Tuesday, read only the first half of the book :the play Dutchman. 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?
  • We will also have a special guest speaker, Don Ramon of Rutgers University, to facilitate the discussion and present the play.

    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).


    Thursday March 5: Miguel Piñero’s Poetry


    For Thursday, March 5th, we move on to Miguel Piñero and read poetry selections from Outlaw: The Collected Works. Start by reading the “Introduction to the Poetry of Miguel Piñero” at the beginning of the book.

    Then read:

  • “La Bodega Sold Dreams”,
  • “A Lower East Side Poem”,
  • “The Book of Genesis According to San Miguelito”,
  • “This is Not the Place Where I Was Born”,
  • “Black Woman With the Blond Wig On”,
  • “Kill, Kill, Kill”.
  • “Running Scared”
  • “Seeking the Cause”
  • “New York City Hard Times Blues”
  • “Bastard Streets”
  • “The Lower East Side is Taking”
  • We’ll also have our first presentation by Willy, Monefa, and Benjamin to start the class.

    It’s not a lot of reading, however, you must read the poems slowly and carefully and choose 2 of them to read more than once. Take notes on key points that you think are significant, funny, interesting, or do a nice job of telling the story of the city. Spend extra time on “La Bodega Sold Dreams” and “A Lower East Side Poem”.

    Questions to think about as you read:

  • Based on Piñero’s biographical context, how do his stories match the life he’s living?
  • How does Piñero’s work differ from Pietri’s in form or content?
  • What language does he use and what effect does that have on his poetry?
  • What audiences do you think Piñero is writing for?
  • How do the characters in Piñero’s descriptions of “Loisaida” (Lower East Side) differ from Pietri’s characters in El Barrio?
  • What picture is Piñero drawing of his neighborhood?

    Watch Piñero read “Seeking the Cause”

    Reminder: Be sure to make plans to see Dutchman if you haven’t already before it closes! Also, keep working on your papers, which will be due shortly.

  • For Thursday February 19: Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary”

    Thursday 2/19: Pedro Pietri; “Puerto Rican Obituary”

    Pedro Pietri reading at the Poetry Project
    Pedro Pietri reading at the Poetry Project

    Wait, what happened to February 12, you ask!? Lehman’s closed for observance of the Lincoln’s Birthday holiday. See you next week, but use the time wisely: for instance going to see the Castillo Theatre’s performance of Dutchman. Also, the assignment sheet for the required review of the play is ready. Download and review it: PDF

    We now move on to a significant poet and key person in defining the Nuyorican movement: Pedro Pietri

  • review the key points of the Juan Flores essay that we covered Tuesday 2/5 — the points he makes here are key to the course — and the interview with Pedro Pietri (PDF on the Readings page).
  • Next, start on the section from his book Puerto Rican Obituary, also posted on the Readings page as a separate PDF. Focus on the following poems: “Puerto Rican Obituary”, “The Broken English Dream” (Note: “Puerto Rican Obituary” is both the title of his most well-known poem and the title of the book it’s from), “Suicide Note from a Cockroach”, “Love Poem for My People”, “Unemployed” and “OD”.

    Watch Pietri read “Puerto Rican Obituary” here

    … and here:

    Think of the following questions as you read:

  • How does Pietri’s writing define the urban experience for the people he’s writing about?
  • What type of urban environment does he describe?
  • What language does he use and how does that reflect the urban situation?
  • Do you see any of the points Pietri makes in the interview reflected in the writing? Make note of a few examples.
  • How are points from his personal outlook on religion, death, and the ambivalence toward the American Dream are reflected in the poems?

    The presentation I did in class on the first day is on the Lecture Notes page. Use some of the contextual questions to help guide your reading and what to focus on.