Week of 11/29: Assata, continued [Updated]


  • The assignment sheet for our final paper of the semester due 12/15 is on the assignments page. Go download it if you don’t have a copy.
  • Save the date: Lehman College professor Robyn Spencer will have a talk from her book The Revolution Has Come about the Black Panther Party from 5-6 PM on Tuesday 11/29 in Room 307 of Lehman’s Library. See event details here. Extra credit’s available for attending the event and writing a response. Ask me for details on the extra credit option.
  • Ava Duvernay’s documentary film 13th about the US prison boom is streaming on Netflix. That’s an alternate extra credit option if you want to watch and write something about it. Again, ask me for details.
    This week we continue with our last book of the semester, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. For Tuesday 11/29, 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.

    We will have a presentation by author, education activist, and former Black Panther Sam Anderson on the 29th. See Sam’s full bio at his website. He’ll talk about Assata, Cuba, the context of the Black Panther Party, and answer some of your questions. Bring in questions you want to ask him!

    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.
  • 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.
  • Finally, go back through your notes and start making a list of all the themes that we’ve seen this semester. It will be a good start to preparing for the final.
  • 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.


    Week of November 22: Assata Shakur’s autobiography

    220px-AssatabioThis week we move on to the our last book of the semester, the autobiography of Assata Shakur
    Reminder: Papers are due before the break on Tuesday 11/22 by midnight EST by email (no hard copies). You can download another assignment sheet if you’ve lost yours
    For Tuesday 11/22, 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?
  • What physical spaces and places does Assata describe in the story? What is the significance of them?
    Presentation by Reggie, Phe-be, and Monique
    Extra: Listen to “A Song for Assata” by Common, from his 2000 Like Water for Chocolate release, featuring CeeLo Green.

    Thursday, November 24th we do not meet because of the holiday. Enjoy your break.
    Announcement: Former Black Panther Sam Anderson is scheduled to join us on Tuesday, November 29th to talk about Assata. Feel free to bring friends/family/classmates for the discussion.

    Week of 11/15: Soledad conclusion and Def Poetry Jam

    Note: be sure to check the assignments page for the next formal written assignment and keep working on it. You can re-watch Do the Right Thing on the Video page (note: uses the same password as readings) or view a copy in Lehman’s Library. You’ll have to watch the library’s copy there: they don’t loan it out. Of course, most online sources (iTunes, Amazon, Google, etc) have it available to stream, too.
    cvr9780743212021_9780743212021_lgOn Tuesday November 15th, 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 by Amber, Lorayne, Chris, and Geovanni.

    For Thursday November 17th 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 8: Soledad

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

    On Thursday, 11/3, I’ll be away at the African Heritage Studies Association Conference in Washington DC and doing a talk at Dr. Josh Myers’s class at Howard University. No additional assignment: just read ahead in Soledad, which we’ll get to in a minute…

    Announcement: See the assignments page for the assignment I gave out on Tuesday 11/1, due 11/22 on Dp the Right Thing

    On Tuesday November 8th, we turn to Angie Cruz’s novel of Dominican immigrants in Washington Heights, Soledad.

    Presentation by Lisa, Kaylynn, Alondra, and Jossie.

    Angie Cruz, author of "Soledad"
    Angie Cruz, author of “Soledad”
    Read up to chapter 5: up to page 111 in the new paperback edition. 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?
  • cvr9780743212021_9780743212021_lg

    For Thursday November 10th, 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?