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 6: Soledad conclusion


For Thursday 4/6 finish Soledad (end–page 230) in the new paperback edition. 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?
  • What’s Soledad’s view of the American Dream and class mobility? Does it change over the course of the book? How?In addition to the general themes listed above, consider the following specific points:
  • 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?
    Presentation by John, Julio, Dauris, and Fanny.
    Reminder: [Edit: the paper due date has been extended until 4/10–during spring break] The paper on The Warriors is due on 4/6. This weekend is the time to put some work into it if you haven’t yet. Review the assignment sheet and re-watch the film, taking good notes. Note: the video’s now available to stream on the video page. Strongly consider a trip to the ACE Center for help crafting your paper, especially if you want a good grade. Schedule an appointment for early next week to make sure you have time before the due date. Of course, you can run ideas past me via email and/or meet with me in office hours next week to discuss, no matter where you are in the process.

Thursday March 30: Angie Cruz’s Soledad, Part 1

On Thursday, 3/30, 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 5 chapters: 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?

Presentation by Ron, Angelica, Ritu, and Mamta.

Announcements: I gave out the assignment sheet for the the first paper today and it’s due April 6. Details on the assignments page. You can view The Warriors or Do the Right Thing (which we’re not officially watching this semester) on the Video page: same password as everything else.

Thursday March 16: Bodega Dreams conclusion

For Thursday March 16: Read pages 107-213 (end of book) in Bodega Dreams.

Tentative: Visit from former Young Lords member Carlito Rovira to talk about his experience as an organizer in the party. We’ll connect his real experience with the fictional one of the character Willie Bodega, who is described by Quiñonez as a former Young Lord.

To guide your reading, think about the following things:


  • What are the key themes of the book? Mare a brief list as you find them. Mark specific examples in the text and in your notes.
  • 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? Note specific examples in the text.
  • 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?

    Announcements: [To be added]

March 2nd: Nuyorican Drama – Miguel Piñero’s Short Eyes

For Thursday, March 2nd read “The Drama of Miguel Piñero” at the front of Outlaw and read Piñero’s play Short Eyes (pages 193-243).
Questions to think about to guide your reading:

  • What characters does he show in the play?
  • What language does he use and what effect does that have?
  • What audiences do you think Piñero is writing for?
  • What’s the setting he chooses and what side of the city does that show?
  • What are some of the key themes the play deals with?
  • Identify key points of the play where the storyline (plot) turns or changes. Mark significant points where this happens in your book and write them down in your notes. What causes the plot turns and how might actors on stage make them believable?

    Also remember that we have unannounced pop quizzes, so keep up with the reading!

    Watch the legendary singer Curtis Mayfield sing one of the songs from the film version (he also had a small part in the film and composed/performed the soundtrack).

Week of February 23: Miguel Piñero’s Poetry


Announcement: Next week, we’ll do sign-ups for group presentations in class. Spend a little time looking over the rest of the books and think about what you might want to present on.

For Thursday, February 23rd, 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”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?
  • What makes his writing urban? Is it the language? Characters? Settings? Something else?Watch Piñero read “Seeking the Cause”

Assignment for Thursday 2/16

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

First a few housekeeping things before we get to the assignment itself.

  • With the snow day this week, we’re a little behind. We’ll combine the reading due this week (Juan Flores’s “Structuring of Puerto Rican Identity”) and Pedro Pietri readings. Scroll down for details and reading questions.
  • For the new people this week (welcome!) — Remember to sign up for the class text message service from Remind. See instructions on the syllabus
  • You’ll also find it helpful to subscribe to new posts for this site: use the e-mail sign-up form on the main page.
  • Review the presentation I made in the first class on analyzing texts. It’s on the Lecture Notes page.
    For Thursday 2/16, We now move on to a significant poet and key person in defining the Nuyorican movement: Pedro Pietri.

  • There are 3 separate PDF readings we’ll be covering. All are posted on the Readings page). (Password hint: what year is it?) Please bring all of them with you.
  • Review the key points of the Juan Flores essay assigned for this week — “The Structuring of Puerto Rican Identity in the US”, from his book Divided Borders — the points he makes here are key to the course.
  • Next skim the interview with Pietri. The PDF is also on the Readings page.
  • Then, start on the section from Pietri’s book Puerto Rican Obituary, also posted on the Readings page as a separate PDF. Focus on the poem: “Puerto Rican Obituary” (Note: “Puerto Rican Obituary” is both the title of his most well-known poem and the title of the book it’s from). Be sure to read “Puerto Rican Obituary” slowly and carefully. Optional (from the same PDF file): “Unemployed,” “The Broken English Dream,” “Suicide Note from a Cockroach,” “Love Poem for My People,” and “OD”.
    Watch Pietri read “Puerto Rican Obituary” here

    … and here:

    Think about 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?
  • Use Flores’s essay to analyze Pietri. Which of Flores’s points do you see (or not) reflected in Pietri’s poems? Highlight/underline specific examples.