Episode 33: Heidi Diehl on writing, teaching, and zeitgleich

Lifelines, a novel by Heidi Diehl

Absorbing, elegant and intimate, Heidi Diehl‘s debut novel, Lifelines (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2019), follows the lives of several characters moving back and forth between places and times – Germany and Oregon and the early 1970s and the early 21st century. We travel with Louise, an American artist, as well as a small group of her family members and loved ones as they contemplate art, creativity, and truth, each in his or her own way. Pleasingly nonlinear, the novel allows access to different characters’ perspectives at irregular intervals. While stories about artists often reveal the act or aftermath of creating, through her characters Heidi reveals the various subtle or surprising seeds of inspiration that artists can happen upon. In addition to a theme of pathways, Heidi embraces the concept of simultaneity, of everything happening at once – zeitgleich, in German – and in the final chapter, this comes to fruition in a satisfying kaleidoscopic convergence.

Heidi is an adjunct lecturer and assistant director of the freshman composition program at Brooklyn College where she teaches expository and creative writing. In this episode, we talk about the origins of Lifelines and how the long and messy process of writing her own fiction helps Heidi identify with her students who often struggle with the practice. She also teaches graduate students who are new to teaching writing and highly recommends John Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.

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Episode 32: Ready to teach this Fall? Let Jill Grose-Fifer inspire you.

Dr. Jill Grose-Fifer is an associate professor in the psychology department at John Jay College. She thinks deeply about her teaching and works hard to keep it interesting, effective and relevant. She is thus far the only two time winner of John Jay’s Distinguished Teaching Prize. Earlier this year, she co-authored a book with Patricia J. Brooks and Maureen O’Connor called Teaching Psychology: An Evidence-Based Approach. It’s a practical and scholarly guide for teachers whether they’re new to the job or looking to shake things up. But don’t be fooled by the title. This is a useful guide for teaching any subject. And there’s a companion web site with lots of lesson plans and learning activities that you might even consider putting into action this semester (I see you still working on your syllabus). I’ve had the good fortune to work with Jill on presentations for faculty where we preach the gospel of information literacy, but I was grateful for the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about the book, her students and her career (she was a registered optometrist in the UK before moving fully into academia) in a relatively quiet moment in between semesters.

A transcript of the interview is available here.

Related content:

  • Jill’s interview with TLC @ John Jay Podcasts on Teaching and Learning

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Episode 31: David Puglia on the Baltimore “Hon”

What comes to mind when you think of Baltimore? The Wire? John Waters movies? The Orioles? Freddy Gray? Maryland crabs? Mayoral shenanigans? Like any city, Bawlmer (in the local dialect) conjures up positive and negative associations. If you’re a native or resident of Baltimore, you’re likely to pretty quickly come up with “hon.” This little word evokes mixed and big feelings and manages to provide an elaborate illustration of this quirky and fragmented place. David Puglia explains the story and implications of “hon” in his book Tradition, Urban Identity, and the Baltimore Hon: The Folk in the City (Lexington Books 2018). David is a folklorist, an assistant professor in the English Dept. of Bronx Community College and a native Bawlmorean. I’ll rely on our friends at CUNY SUM for this perfect encapsulation of his book.

You can read more about David’s work on CUNY Academic Commons. And if you want even more “hon” talk after listening to our conversation, you can pop over to New Books Network to listen to another interview with David.

Follow David on Twitter!

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Episode 30: Jean Halley on girls and horses

Horse Crazy cover
Jean Halley

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.

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Episode 28: Graduate fellows follow dreams, take on world

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.

Quadira (MPA program) is doing her fellowship at the Legal Action Center. She is featured in “The Next Generation of Women in Politics and “Tow Fellow Selected for Political Leadership Training Program.” Vanessa (ICJ) is placed at Sanctuary for Families. Wilmarie (Forensic Mental Health Counseling) is at Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO). Akanksha (Forensic Mental Health Counseling) has a fellowship with The Bridge.

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 Studies list of programs.

(Photos by Arpi Pap, http://www.papstudio.com/)

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Episode 27: Michael Rain, digital storyteller

Photo by Brandon Sugiyama, a fellow Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism Fellow

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.

Michael recently completed a podcast certificate program produced through a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the Made in NY Media Center. The latter is a vibrant, multi-disciplinary collaborative workspace in DUMBO, Brooklyn where we recorded our conversation. While I was there, I got the chance to sit in on a listening session – basically a participatory pitchfest – for the PRX Google Podcast Creator’s Program. Podcasts are happening, people!

Follow Michael on Twitter

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Episode 26: Balis & Levy revive Watergate

Liz Levy and Andrea Balis
L to R: Elizabeth Levy, Fly, Andrea Balis

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 Scandal and 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. 

You can pre-order Bringing Down a President now.

Related content:

  • Episode 9 with Micki Kaufman, “Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me:’ Quantifying Kissinger”
  • A 2018 podcast wherein Prof. Allison Pease interviewed Andrea about her teaching
  • A 2016 interview I did with Andrea about her teaching

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Episode 25: Nancy K. Miller and the “pals of her desk”

My Brilliant Friends coverNancy 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.

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Episode 24: The group that won’t quit


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:

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Episode 23: Making conversation with Elizabeth Alsop







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.

Discover more of Elizabeth’s work here.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter

*Here’s Steve Ovadia’s article on the technical challenges of OER.

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