Week of 11/3: Do the Right Thing and Soledad

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For Tuesday November 3:, we finish watching Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.

Think about the various themes Lee’s dealing with in the film, especially in context of the time it’s set: Brooklyn in 1989.

Read this article from New York magazine on the intersection of race and Brooklyn gentrification. If you didn’t read the excerpt from Murray Forman’s The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip Hop on reading urban space (PDF on the Readings page), then please do so.

Watch this short summary of Spike Lee’s “rant” about gentrification that caused a lot of controversy and discussion in 2014.



Optional Bonus: Watch the “Making of” documentary by Spike Lee and legendary, now deceased filmmaker St. Clair Bourne, via YouTube.

Read .

On Thursday, 11/5, 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 the first 55 pages (halfway through chapter 4). Note: 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?
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    Week of 10/27: Baraka’s Dutchman and Do the Right Thing [Updated]

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    Photo: Still from the 1967 film version of Dutchman.

    Reminder: Papers are due next week. The assignment sheet’s on the Assignments page if you’ve lost your copy. I can provide (limited) comments on drafts via email and, of course, answer questions.

    For Tuesday October 27th:, we take a sharp turn and read the classic play Dutchman from Amiri Baraka (then named LeRoi Jones). 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, Assistant Professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey, 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 William Paterson University
    Donavan L. Ramon earned his PhD in English at Rutgers University in May 2015. He has a B.A. in English and the Special Honors Curriculum from Hunter College (CUNY), where he was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and M.A. in English from Rutgers University. As a specialist in African American Literature, he wrote a dissertation on the psychoanalytic aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century narratives of racial passing. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of English at William Paterson University.

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    For Thursday October 29:, we take a detour into representations of the city in film. Now for the fun part: I’m kicking the decision to you to vote for the one you want to see. What I’m looking for is something that shows NYC neighborhoods (or at least a neighborhood) with several outdoor shots, intersects with at least some of the themes we’ve seen, is in the time period we’re looking at but old enough to show a NYC that’s probably unfamiliar, and, honestly, I have or can get my hands on easily. It’s a quasi-scientific process with a heavy does of gut instinct. So here are the options: Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Walter Hill’s The Warriors. Lee’s now-classic film deals with issues of race, space, police violence, and neighborhood life in 1980s Brooklyn. The Walter Hill-directed The Warriors (1979) is almost pure camp: a fictional look at the (very real) gang life in early 1970s New York. The acting is over-the-top, plot is fairly simple, but there’s a lot of action and it’s a definitive New York film in many ways.

    Here are trailers for both films, courtesy of YouTube. After that, make your choice with the poll below! One vote each (current students only, please). The poll will close next Tuesday before class.

    Update: The votes are in and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing won in a landslide. We’ll spend the entire class on the first half of the film. DTRT is now a classic film, but was extremely controversial at the time. commenting on race relations, gentrification, and much more. We’ll focus on the aspects of race relations, police brutality, gentrification, and urban space as seen in the film.

    Read the excerpt from from Murray Forman’s The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip Hop on reading urban space, which is a PDF on the Readings page.

    Week of October 20: Bodega Dreams conclusion and guest speaker on Young Lords

    Announcements: Remember that the Young Lords exhibit at the Bronx Museum is closing this Sunday, though ongoing at El Museo del Barrio and Loisaida Gallery. See the respective sites for contact info, hours, and location/directions. The Bronx Museum offers free admission; El Museo del Barrio has a suggested admission, but you can pay what you want.

    Also, El Museo has an upcoming event on Pedro Pietri on October 21 from 6:30-8 PM. Extra credit’s available if you want to attend and write about it. Talk to me for details.

    Finally the Harlem Repertory Theatre has current productions of the musical In the Heights and the classic play A Raisin in the Sun. Both are very reasonably priced.

    For Tuesday October 20th: Read pages 157-213 (end of book) in Bodega Dreams.

    Presentation by Mel, Viviana, Tatty, and Briana.

    To guide your reading, think about the following things:

    bodegaDs

  • What are the key themes of the book? Mark specific examples of them in the text.
  • How do characters develop. What changes do you see? Are there any surprising changes? Again, note specific examples in the text.
  • What seem to be key turns of the plot?
  • How does Quiñonez present urban space and the urban experience? How do different characters see the neighborhood that they live in?
  • What is the role of culture?
  • For Thursday October 22nd:, we have a guest speaker to discuss the Young Lords Party and the current exhibits at the Bronx Museum, Museo del Barrrio, and Loisaida Center. Former Young Lord Carlito Rovira will talk about his experiences in the party and connections to the city. Feel free to bring friends. Normal time and location: 3:30-4:45 in Carman 310.

    Reading assignment: watch this 10-minute interview with Baruch College’s Dr. Johanna Fernandez, one of the exhibit co-curators.

    Read the Young Lords’ 13-point platform and program from the Palante film website.

    Extra: the Young Lords documentary Palante, Siempre Palante is on YouTube (for now, at least). You can watch it there — at least until it gets taken down.

    Week of October 13: Bodega Dreams

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    Announcement: The first written assignment was given out on Thursday. It’s on the Assignments page if you were absent or lost your printed copy. See details on the sheet itself, but here are links to the Young Lords exhibit at the Bronx Museum, El Museo del Barrio, and Loisaida Gallery. See the respective sites for contact info, hours, and location/directions. The Bronx Museum offers free admission; El Museo del Barrio has a suggested admission, but you can pay what you want.

    Also, El Museo has an upcoming event on Pedro Pietri on October 21 from 6:30-8 PM. Extra credit’s available if you want to attend and write about it. Talk to me for details.

    For Tuesday 10/13: Read pages 55-107 in Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams.

    A few things to pay attention to in the book are 1) the role of culture and what it means, 2) Quiñonez’s relationship as a writer to Pietri and Piñero (there are numerous references to both and their poetry throughout the book), 3) the “American Dream” and what it means to the characters in the book, 4) how different generations of immigrants/migrants relate to the city and city life, 5) race and gender relations. This isn’t a complete list, but these are a few key things that jump out at me. Begin to look for connections/ similarities / differences in things we’ve read (and other things you’ve read/ watched /studied in other classes, etc).

    We’ll also have a student presentation from Shantel, Shannen, and Nina.

    For Thursday 10/15: Read pages 55-108 108-157 in Bodega Dreams. To guide your reading, think about the following things:

  • What are the key themes of the book? Mark specific examples of them in the text.
  • How do characters develop. What changes do you see? Are there any surprising changes? Again, note specific examples in the text.
  • What seem to be key turns of the plot?
  • How does Quiñonez present urban space and the urban experience? How do different characters see the neighborhood that they live in?
  • What is the role of culture?
  • Week of October 6: The Bronx is Next and Bodega Dreams

    Sonia Sanchez at Miami Book Fair International, 1990. / Wikicommons user MDCarchives
    Sonia Sanchez at Miami Book Fair International, 1990. / Wikicommons user MDCarchives

    Note: the minor syllabus change: we’re reading the following Sonia Sanchez play originally scheduled for later because a planned guest speaker won’t be here. The schedule for Bodega Dreams remains the same.

    For Tuesday October 6, we’ll look at a 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 have in the play?
    • What kind of woman does Sanchez give voice to in “A Poem for Some Women”? Who’s voice is the poem written in?
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      For Thursday, October 8th, we move to the first novel of the semester. Read pages 1-54 in Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams.

      A few things to pay attention to in the book are:

    • The characters Quiñonez creates and what slice of city life they show
    • How urban space is shown in the book and what different characters think about their surroundings
    • The role of culture and what it means
    • Quiñonez’s relationship as a writer to Pietri and Piñero (there are numerous references to both and their poetry throughout the book)
    • The “American Dream” and what it means to the characters in the book
    • How different generations of immigrants/migrants relate to the city and city life
    • Race and gender relations
    • This isn’t a complete list, but these are a few key things that jump out at me. Begin to look for connections/ similarities / differences in things we’ve read (and other things you’ve read/ watched /studied in other classes, etc).