Week of May 4: Assata Shakur’s autobio, part 1

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

Announcement: The deadline for the second paper has been extended to Monday May 8 by Midnight EST. See the assignments page for details.

For Thursday 5/4, read pages 1-98 (Chapters 1-5) in Assata Shakur’s  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?
  • How does the story deal with / describe urban space and the neighborhoods the story is set in. What locations does she mention in the text? What does each one mean to her?
  • Think about how Assata’s character develops and signs for what you think makes it an “urban” narrative.Think about how she deals with different themes we’ve discussed in class so far.Choose a few significant quotes from the text to show key points. Write down why they’re significant and what they show in your notes. Explain in your own words how you think the quotes relate to larger themes in the book or other things we’ve covered this semester.

    Presentation by Robert, Shan, Zain, Natalia, and Miriam.

    Extra: Listen to “A Song for Assata” by Common, from his 2000 Like Water for Chocolate release, featuring CeeLo Green.


Thursday April 27: Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman


Photo: Still from the 1967 film version of Dutchman

Next week (April 13) is spring break. The following Thursday (April 20) is a Monday schedule according to the Lehman calendar (opens as PDF), so we don’t meet until the 27th.

Reminder: The due date on The Warriors paper has been extended to Monday April 10 at midnight EST. After that, penalties will apply for late papers according to the assignment sheet. See the assignment sheet if you’ve lost yours and remember that you can view the film again from the video page on the course website. Also, there is a new assignment: due Friday, May 5th.
For Thursday April 27th:, we take a sharp turn and read the classic play Dutchman from Amiri Baraka (then named LeRoi Jones). For Thursday, read only the first half of the book :the play Dutchman. Even though it’s short, you need to read it slowly and carefully.

Presentation by Emerson, Dennis, Alessandra, and Nathan

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?

Watch the following short YouTube video with Baraka discussing the context of the play and some of what influenced him to write it.

Extra/Optional: Watch this biographical overview of Baraka and discussion of Dutchman I did for the television show The Queens Grapevine. It’s a little less than a half hour long.