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For March 23: The Warriors (Film)

For Thursday, March 23, we’re going to take a detour and watch and discuss the film The Warriors (Walter Hill director, Paramount Pictures, 1979) .

To prepare, read this Village Voice feature on the film and its legacy.

Also skim the storyline from the official film website.

The film is set largely at night, in 17970s New York, and mostly on trains, so mobility and movement is a major theme, as is the noir feel, coming from the gritty, underground nature of the city at that time and the emphasis on (fictional) streetgangs.

This is a contrast to some of what we’ve read so far, as it offers a dystopian (and somewhat anarchic) view of New York as a crumbling city in crisis, which is not far off the reality of the period, as NYC was emerging from a crippling fiscal crisis.

Optional: Surf around the film website, especially list of shooting locations. Also, the plot loosely mirrors actual events, as a early 1970s gang truce in the South Bronx was precipitated by the killing of a member of the Ghetto Brothers–who then decided not to retaliate. This is also a crucial moment in the formation of hip hop, as the gangs began to channel their energy into creative output. (See Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop for a fuller account)

For more background on actual 1970s New York street gangs, Henry Chalfant’s Flyin’ Cut Sleeves is essential viewing, and includes a lot of footage used in later films. It’s on YouTube as of this writing.

The documentary From Mambo to Hip Hop focuses specifically on the early period of hip hop and evolution of Bronx street gangs. It’s also on YouTube (as of now) and embedded below.

For March 9: Bodega Dreams, Part 1


Announcement: Groups for the presentations have already been set up and I’ve emailed the groups for Angie Cruz’s Soledad and Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman. I’ll email the remaining three groups for Assata next week, but until then see the assignments page for the presentation handout. Also, email me immediately if you haven’t signed up for any group!

For Thursday, March 9:, we move to the first novel of the semester. Read the first half — pages 1-107 — in Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams.

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

  • What makes the novel “urban”?
  • 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
  • More specifically, track how different characters see their neighborhood
  • 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).

Welcome to Spring 2017! Assignment for February 9th


Photo: Where the spring ’17 class lives, visualized

Hi everyone,

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

  • 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 February 9th, read Juan Flores’s “The Structuring of Puerto Rican Identity in the US”, from his book Divided Borders. The PDF is on the Readings page. (Password hint: what year is it?)

    Also watch this Youtube video of poet Tato Laviera reading his classic poem AmeRican, which Flores references on the last page. (The audio quality isn’t great, so you’ll have to listen carefully.)

    Also listen to Felipe Luciano read his poem “Jibaro, My Pretty Nigger”.

    Things to think about while reading/ watching:

  • What are the points of contact that Flores identifies in his essay?
  • How do these points of contact explain how we interact with the urban space?
  • How do these begin to define Nuyorican identity and carve out a specific space in the city landscape?
  • What’s the language used in the poems and who might it appeal to?
  • After that, read the interview with Pedro Pietri (PDF on the Readings page). Pietri is one of the key figures in the Nuyorican movement. Think about the following:

  • How does Pietri’s life intersect with the points Juan Flores makes in his essay?
  • How does the influence of the city affect Pietri’s writing and life?
  • 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?