Jean Halley, professor of Sociology at the College of Staten Island, writes about the lives of animals, both human and nonhuman. It was the latter that initially drew me to her work. In her 2012 book, The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets, she blends memoir with social theory in revealing the commonalities between violence and trauma in the lives of girls and women and the lives and deaths of cows via the U.S. beef industry. In her latest book, Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses(to be released in July), she continues the autoethnographic practice of weaving her own horsey life story with sociological, philosophical, feminist, psychoanalytic and Foucauldian threads in illustrating the numerous benefits afforded girls and their horse companions. For one, as Jean writes, “Horsey girl experience disrupts the normative white female-gendered binary of self-assertion versus care.” Moreover, as she writes, “I propose that horsey girls, in their challenge to gender norms, open up their world for their becoming in a way that moves toward the possibility of freedom.” Despite Jean’s admitted penchant for dark topics, this book affirms her optimism, and she describes Horse Crazy as largely a book about love.
Reading Horse Crazy got me thinking about my own girlhood and the place of horses in it, much of which I had forgotten. After we stopped recording, I confessed to Jean a special connection I’ve developed with the carriage horses that I see every morning on West 58th Street as I head to work at John Jay and they head to their jobs in Central Park. I had been thinking of it as a little crazy, but now I see I might just be a little horse crazy. And Jean understood immediately.
The four women that I talked with in this episode are exactly the types of people I’d be honored not only to work beside but to have in charge. And there’s a good chance they will be. Quadira Coles, Vanessa Gutiérrez,Wilmarie Feliz and Akanksha Anand are graduate students at John Jay College and are already making a difference. They are each nearing completion of a Masters program and are recipients of fellowships coordinated by the Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI). Combining theory and practice, the Tow Policy Advocacy Fellowship and the Pinkerton Community Graduate Fellowship are student development initiatives of PRI. These fellowships give graduate students the opportunity to participate in honest to goodness, substantive, boots on the ground work with professionals in the field. The Tow Fellowship (funded by the Tow Foundation) focuses on policy advocacy and the Pinkerton Fellowship (founded by the Pinkerton Foundation) focuses on juvenile justice, with graduate fellows placed at sites where they can develop clinical skills. Fellows complete year-long placements with local nonprofit organizations while taking coursework and participating in additional professional development to complement their fieldwork experiences.
While each of these women has her own backstory and perspective, the commonalities are evident: They all knew what they wanted to pursue from a young age, are all challenging the status quo, are committed to and passionate about social justice and human and civil rights, and they all find their work challenging but highly rewarding. They’ve been in school for a looooong time and deserve a break but probably aren’t going to take one. They’re striding along a professional path where they’ll continue to learn and grow and contribute to a better world and improved lives for the people with whom they interact. Three of them are graduating in May and one in December – they’re ready for whatever comes next.
Read about the other past and current fellowship recipients and learn more about the opportunities and application process on the Prisoner Reentry Institute site. For more information about Masters programs offered by John Jay College, see the Graduate Studieslist of programs.
I don’t know how Michael Rain finds time to sleep. He has so many ideas and projects and collaborations, and he’s ready to learn and take on even more. He was an ideal candidate for a fellowship with the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism where he continued to shape some of his already in-progress projects, like ZNews Africa, which he talks about in this episode. He also describes the origin, development and future plans for Enodi, a digital gallery that highlights the stories of first-generation black immigrants of African, Caribbean and Latin descent. In addition to those two enterprises, he completed a TED residency, culminating in a TED talk that’s been downloaded over a million times. I’ll save you the time Googling the Ghanian dish he talks about. You’re going to want it, too.
Andrea Balis, a faculty member in the history department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Elizabeth Levy, a children’s book author, have known each other a long time, so when they write together, they are, as Elizabeth puts it “one brain.” They’ve marshaled their experience working in theater, politics, writing and historical research to produce a book for middle-grade students (but really for students and history hounds of all ages, including my own) about the Watergate scandal. Despite the fact that the historical record tells us what happened, these authors manage to retell the story in a way that preserves the suspense and incredulity of the whole affair. Their book is Bringing Down a President: The Watergate Scandaland will be published by Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press in August 2019, marking the 45th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, the culmination of the whole sordid matter. In this episode, Andrea and Elizabeth read from their book, one playing the part of Fly on the Wall, a central character in their dramatic retelling. They also talk about their next joint project, a book (also for Roaring Brook Press) about the McCarthy era and the prevalent trend of poultry farming in mid-century U.S. Just listen, you’ll hear what I mean.
Nancy K. Miller is a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her latest book, published in January by Columbia University Press, is My Brilliant Friends: Our Lives in Feminism. Her title evokes that of Elena Ferrante’s widely read Neapolitan novels, and that is neither coincidental nor derivative. Though she was already deep into her own manuscript when the first volume of the quartet, My Brilliant Friend, appeared, Nancy was galvanized by the story of the lifelong relationship between Lenù and Lila. Seeing similarities in her own intense female friendships, she deftly weaves a few relevant bits of their friendship into her narrative. In My Brilliant Friends, Nancy writes about her complicated, life-affirming, sustaining, sometimes painful friendships with Carolyn Heilbrun, Naomi Schor, and Diane Middlebrook. The relationships span from the 1970s to the 21st century, and as such, coexisted with considerable cultural and societal changes for women. Moreover, these friendships are in high relief set against the backdrop of academia and the thrills and agonies of professional writing careers. Nancy talks and writes about the “B-sides” of friendships, the emotional undercurrents that often aren’t acknowledged as relationships unfold, and the importance – or sometimes just dumb luck – of “built-in protections” that help sustain friendships across time.
Another friend, Jason Tougaw, is Nancy’s conversation partner in this episode. (I had my own conversation with Jason about his memoir, The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism, in Episode 19.) As Nancy’s former student and now her colleague and friend, he was the ideal interviewer to elicit a rich, intimate dialogue. They discuss a range of ideas including the structure of her book and of the friendships therein, the function of memory, and the ethics of writing about other peoples’ lives. There’s an overarching theme of balance and finding the right distance between friends – exemplified in the Goldilocks fairy tale – that occurs throughout the conversation. Nancy uses the concept of “cline” to address the space in a relationship between people, a kind of grammar of relation that allows for movement and negotiation, even within the bonds of intimacy. I predict you’ll find this episode as thought (and feeling) provoking as I did.
To learn more about Nancy K. Miller’s work, have a look at her web site. You can also read CUNY SUM’s synopsis here.
Are you a junior faculty member at CUNY? Do you know about the Faculty Fellowship Publication Program, affectionately know as FFPP (or a varied combo and quantity of Fs and Ps that still gets the point across to those in the know)? If not, you absolutely should. For those tenure-track faculty who have so availed themselves, they know it’s a valuable support and information opportunity that helps in myriad ways on the road to tenure and promotion. The five women I talked with for this episode are proud alumnae and consummate FFPP ambassadors. They talk about how they discovered the program (it’s not always front and center in new faculty orientations) and what it’s meant to them in the four years since their initial participation. So far they have set the record for the longest continuing constellation to emerge from the FFPP, maintaining monthly meetings to discuss and critique one another’s works in progress (and talk about their lives, too, which is all part and parcel). If you’re like me, after listening to their conversation, you’ll be inspired and envious. To learn more about the members of this group and their research, take a look:
Elizabeth Alsop is an exemplar of interdisciplinarity. She is a comp lit scholar (PhD, CUNY Grad Center), a field which is interdisciplinary by definition, and she is also a film and TV scholar. Though, really, it should go without saying that screen narratives are among the texts that comparatists study alongside more traditional forms of literature. We talk about the tension in this area of study and, not surprisingly, find ourselves easily agreeing about film and TV’s rightful place in the canon. As someone who constantly longs for more than the “phatic” (i.e. small) talk about TV described here by journalist Dan Engber, this conversation was super satisfying and enjoyable. If there are any TV scholars hiding out there, please make yourselves known. Elizabeth and I would love to confabulate and discourse with you!
We also talk about Elizabeth’s role at the GC’s Teaching and Learning Center, teaching in general, the lay of the land at SPS (where she is a faculty member and academic director of Communication & Media and Liberal Studies), open ed resources*, how to watch TV, how smart Emily Nussbaum is, how to contend with FOMO, and her upcoming book Making Conversation in Modernist Fiction which will be published by The Ohio State University Press Theory and Interpretation of Narrative series in the Fall of 2019.
In July 1947, a large group of motorcyclists – part of a “Gypsy Tour” rally – either descended upon or delighted Hollister, CA, with their presence, depending on who’s telling the story. This is the Rashomonesque tale that Sarah Hoiland tells in her recent article “Impromptu Fiesta” or ‘Havoc in Hollister’: A Seventy-Year Retrospective” in the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. It’s a compelling story about motorcycle culture, media sensationalism and women’s dis/empowerment. Beth Harpaz, editor of CUNY SUM, wrote a synopsis of the particulars of the event and Sarah’s research journey.
In this episode, Beth returns as guest host to talk with the author. Sarah Hoiland is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Hostos Community College in the Behavioral & Social Sciences Department. As a feminist ethnographer, she is researching the historical and contemporary representations of women within the male dominated world of motorcycle club subculture. Her forthcoming book, Righteous Sisterhood: Constructing a Feminist Biker Identity in a Misogynist Subculture, is sure to be a great ride.
If there are soulmate equivalents for jobs, Edgardo Sanabria-Valentin has found his. After earning a Ph.D. from NYU-School of Medicine (he studied the mysterious persistence of the H. pylori bacteria in the human digestive tract), he moved to Boston for a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Harvard Medical School and then gave the biotech industry a whirl for a few years. But fate intervened and presented an opportunity to work with PRISM (Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Math) at John Jay where he is able to share his valuable knowledge with students interested in entering STEM fields. In his five years at John Jay, he has garnered awards, grateful students and alumni, multi-faceted career satisfaction and a homegrown kombucha starter.
To learn more about the mechanisms and impact of the unique PRISM program, read this article co-authored by Edgardo’s colleagues, including Anthony Carpi and Nathan Lents. If you’re looking for a worthy cause for your holiday or end-of-year giving, consider supporting PRISM. Here’s how.
Listening to Debra Caplan’s description of the Vilna theater troupe in early 20th century Lithuania, I was rapt, imagining myself a century ago with my ear up to an old-timey radio. Debra is an Assistant Professor of Theater in the Dept. of Fine and Performing Arts at Baruch College, and the stories in her book Yiddish Empire: The Vilna Troupe, Jewish Theater, and the Art of Itinerancy (U Michigan Press, 2018) do warrant a dramatic retelling, given the stark juxtaposition of the grueling conditions under which the actors worked and their astounding success and popularity.
The stories Debra shares about researching, writing and publishing the book are quite vivid, too. As co-founder of the Digital Yiddish Theater Project, Debra, along with other Yiddish theater scholars, has been using digital humanities in the study and preservation of Yiddish theater for several years. For this book, she overlays a modern tool on her old timey subject matter that constitutes an entire project of its own. “Visualizing the Vilna Troupe” is a fascinating and highly ambitious data visualization that looks like a beautiful uber-Spirograph.
This interview was conducted by our CUNY colleague, Beth Harpaz, the editor of SUM, the web site that showcases CUNY research. You may have heard Beth when she was on the other side of the microphone in Episode 18. Beth has journalist chops and podcast passion and is the ideal interlocutor to share her excitement about Debra’s book. You can read Beth’s SUMmary here.
Bonus book + podcast endorsement: Check out Beth’s interview with Lisandro Pérez, Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Studies at John Jay, where they talk about his recent book Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution The Making of Cuban New York. It was the inaugural podcast presented by CUNY’s Gotham Center for New York City History in partnership with New Books Network. (Have you noticed we’ve got the raw data for a Spirograph of our own incorporating the entities mentioned in this post?)
One last thing: Should this subject matter get you in the mood, Debra and Beth highly recommend the production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” in Yiddish and directed by the legendary Joel Grey, which runs through Dec. 30 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan.