Beth Harpaz: From 50 states to the CUNYverse

 

SUM_LogotypeAfter 35 years in newsrooms, Beth Harpaz now refers to herself as a #recoveringjournalist. Fortunately, she’s convalescing at CUNY where she continues to put her finely honed research, reporting and writing skills to use in a new environment. She is the content editor for SUM, a new website showcasing CUNY research. She’s also the author of Girls in the Van: Covering Hillary (2001), Finding Annie Farrell: A Family Memoir (2004) and 13 Is the New 18: And Other Things My Children Taught Me–While I Was Having a Nervous Breakdown Being Their Mother (2009). Her work as travel editor for The Associated Press earned her the 2018 bronze award for travel journalist of the year from the Society of American Travel Writers and another SATW award for a podcast about visiting all 50 states. She has a contagious energy both in person and in her writing. If you even dip into any of her books, you can kiss the rest of your day goodbye. You’ve been warned.

Follow Beth at @literarydj and SUM at @sum_research

Listen to Episode 18 now!

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Bridgett Davis on writing, research and The Numbers

Fannie_Davis_coverHaving a conversation with Bridgett Davis was an instance of one of my absolute favorite things to do – talking about writing. It’s a rare opportunity to have the time to do so, especially with someone so accomplished who also loves talking about writing (and research!). Bridgett is a multi-faceted writer/creator. She’s a journalist, essayist, novelist and filmmaker. She’s also a professor and a mom and the director of the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program. Her newest book, The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers (Little, Brown, January 2019) adds memoirist to her list of genres. It’s a compelling and touching tribute to her mother and to the business that supported her family for decades. It’s also a fascinating portrait of the significant role The Numbers played in the lives of African Americans in the mid-twentieth century.

This marks the start of Season Two for Indoor Voices. Stay tuned for another year of interesting, well-curated voices from CUNY. We’re grateful to our listeners and for continued support from John Jay College’s Office for the Advancement of Research.

Listen to Episode 17 now!

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Episode 15: The pursuit of sadness

The Moral Psychology of Sadness book cover

Anna Gotlib is an assistant professor (associate, as of Fall 2018 – congrats!) in the philosophy department at Brooklyn College. The title of her most recent book, The Moral Psychology of Sadness (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), got my attention immediately. With so much crushing propaganda from the happiness industrial complex, this subject seemed like a gentle, honest oasis. (During our conversation, we were reminded of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile.”) And indeed, Anna and her co-contributors (seven in addition to her editor’s intro and her own full chapter), celebrate the rich opportunities for intellectual exploration within this complex and overlooked emotion. She shares her reasons for choosing the topic and makes a strong case for allowing space – philosophical as well as social – for sadness, especially in American culture where frank discussions of sadness are generally frowned upon. Sadness can foster self-learning, give one’s life fuller meaning and quiet what Buddhists call the chattering monkey mind.

This is the final episode of Season One of Indoor Voices, and in the spirit of sadness as a paradoxically forward-looking and motivating emotion (read the book, you’ll see), we look forward to Season Two beginning in Fall 2018. Having produced at least ten more episodes than we anticipated, we are rather pleased with ourselves and also grateful to our supporters (especially John Jay’s Office for the Advancement of Research) and our listeners. Happy summer! Don’t worry, be sad!

Listen to Episode 15 now!

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Episode 14: Barbara Gray on news research and the Queen of the Underworld

 

Photo of Sophie Lyons
Sophie Lyons is the subject of Barbara Gray’s forthcoming biography.

When Barbara Gray began her job directing the Research Center at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, she was only half a block from her previous job where she had been director of news research for The New York Times. The physical proximity is not at all incidental (the J school has forged a strong network with many of the city’s biggest media outlets), and the job overlap is significant (she brings loads of relevant expertise to her academic post). The skills that she advocates for, shepherds and teaches at CUNY have always been crucial to journalism, but they are especially critical in the digital information realm and even more essential – for everyone –  in the current news production and consumption culture. She talks about what she calls this “triage situation”; the importance of context, history and detail in reporting; the value of “failing up”; and her multi-faceted role as veteran news researcher, teacher and reference librarian.

As if that weren’t enough to fill a plate and an episode, there’s more. Barbara’s writing a biography of 19th century grifter-turned-philanthropist, Sophie Lyons. She talks about the genesis of the project, her research process and gives us a sneak peak of Sophie’s fascinating life.

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Episode 12: Uncovering hidden stories

Linda Villarosa with The Campus editors
Linda Villarosa (center) with editors of The Campus Magazine, the oldest student-run publication within CUNY.

Linda Villarosa always knew she would be a writer, but when she was a little girl in Colorado, she probably couldn’t imagine that something she wrote would have a direct impact on New York State taking measures to address a critical life-and-death issue. She writes effective and affecting stories (read some of them here), directs the journalism program at City College and is a proud alumna of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. You’ll be inspired by her embrace of new challenges and complete lack of writing angst.

 

 

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Image courtesy of City College

Episode 11: Cereal and Hostful Confessions

In this guest-free episode, Steve and Kathleen take a break from highlighting CUNY scholars and aim the mic at themselves, indulging in some hostful repartee. It begins and ends with cereal (or serial), and in between, listeners are treated to perhaps more information than is necessary about their hosts. Revelations include ambiguous criminal activity, secret ethnic lineage, and obsessions with NYC MTA material culture, handedness and the aforementioned cereal. Steve also lifts the curtain on his status.

Following the admirable model of actor Dax Shepard on his Armchair Expert podcast, we offer a post-recording fact check/errata/clarification. If you’re reading this before you listen, you’ll get an idea of the curiosities in store:

  • Kathleen’s vest was not addressed to her, as she knows better than to open mail not addressed to her. But the packing slip clearly indicated that the company had sent her the item in error. It turns out that she did nothing illegal. The moral question remains.
  • Steve was referring to the new ABC sitcom “Alex, Inc.” that is based on the origins of Gimlet Media, not a small replica of Jim nor a mini gym, as Kathleen was envisioning.
  • CUNY can boast three Guggenheim fellows this year.
  • We dismissively referred to the wildly popular podcasts Serial and S-Town.
  • Steve occasionally enjoys professional development at varying speeds via Udemy.
  • MTA motormen (correct term seems to be train operator) vs. conductors: who does what?
  • It’s the pothos plant, which goes by many other names, that Kathleen feels confident will thrive even in a subterranean workplace devoid of natural light.
  • Ancestry DNA results include a category called “low confidence regions” which, despite its benign name, has the potential to damage identities and/or families.
  • Steve descends from the Romaniote, according to Steve and his still harmonious family.
  • On sluggers and handedness.
  • A dream deferred on London’s Brick Lane.
  • It turns out you don’t have to make do with a variety multipack of breakfast cereals. Homogeneity, like most things, is available online!

Listen to Episode 11 now!

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Episodes 8 & 9: A digital humanities double header

 

It was just a coincidence that I interviewed these two women right before NYC Digital Humanities Week (Feb. 5-9, 2018). In episode 8, I chat with my colleague, Robin Davis, grilling her about the thesis that she completed for the CUNY Graduate Center’s MA in Computational Linguistics. It’s titled “Nondescript: A Web Tool to Aid Subversion of Authorship Attribution.” After listening to her, I guarantee you’ll be intrigued and want to keep thinking about the topic. Fortunately, Robin offered some suggestions:

The second interview, Episode 9, is with Micki Kaufman, also a GC student, who’s working on her dissertation for a PhD in History. Her project is called “Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me:’ Quantifying Kissinger.” She uses computational text analysis and visualization techniques to work with material from the Digital National Security Archive’s Kissinger collections. As serious and important as this project is, Micki prioritizes fun. Just listen; she’ll explain.

Digital Humanities is a large, encompassing, often ill-defined field. If you keeping hearing about it but aren’t sure what it is, these two interviews will help shed some light. Robin’s project is not strictly DH, since computational linguistics is actually a science, but the fields are definitely cousins, as Robin says, and I find that similar parts of my brain are used in trying to gain an understanding. Robin and Micki are both good at describing complex concepts in a way that’s clear and enjoyable to take in. Bottom line: These two projects are both very cool and socially relevant.

Listen to Episode 8 now!

Listen to Episode 9 now!

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Episode 6: Fruitcakes, folkways and photo ops

book cover

I discovered Claire Stewart’s book during a random Google jaunt and was thrilled to see she was a CUNY faculty member. I quickly acquired and devoured her book, which is a mashup of history, anthropology, sociology and popular culture – my favorite kind of stew. I visited her at City Tech where we recorded in the conference room of the Hospitality Management department, and afterwards she gave me a tour of the impressive kitchens and dining room (those enviable, enormous standing mixers!) where the teaching and learning and cooking and dining happens. I got the chance to meet other faculty in the program, and as a student in a chef’s toque came into the faculty offices with a plate of gorgeously plated food of some kind, I privately noted how extremely different their workday is from mine. I also got to sample some delicious, freshly-baked-by-students Danish. Claire and I discovered that we share an interest not only in the intersection of food and culture, but we geeked out about our love of digging deep for information and are both mystified that everyone doesn’t think research is the most fun activity in the world (Nancy Drew did figure in this conversation). We’re also both grateful that we were able to finally find the ideal place to satisfy our intellectual and employment needs. Thanks, CUNY! You can learn more about Claire’s professional experience and writing here.

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Episode 5: “Dope fiends” take the stage

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I took a vicarious walk on the wild side with Barry Spunt, author of Heroin, Acting, and Comedy in New York City (Palgrave Macmillan 2017), a companion to his Heroin and Music in New York City (Palgrave Macmillan 2014). His meticulously well-structured books contain the messy, dangerous, passionate, tragic stories of dozens of New York City denizens from the music and entertainment realm. They read like mesmerizing oral histories. We talked about his research and writing process and praised the holy New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. We did not talk (much) about the Boston Red Sox.

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Episode 2: A Pas de Deux*: Two Social Movements

I had the pleasure of a relaxed yet stimulating conversation with Barbara Katz Rothman about her book, A Bun in the Oven: How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization. In the spirit of resistance, rather than recording in the confines of an institution, we met in Barbara’s NYC apartment, replete with the ambient sounds of traffic and jackhammering in the distance. Earbuds or headphones are recommended for the full effect.

There are several ways to summarize the complexities that Barbara delves into in her book, but I especially like this quote from deep within chapter 9 which gets to a part of the heart of it: “​That tension between larger social systems and individual choices is the grand philosophical question of all time, the issue of free will. And it is the focus of the sociological imagination – how much of what is experienced as so deeply personal is actually structural.”

Enjoy the interview – AND the book!

* Listen in to hear BKR discuss the significance of Frenchness.

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