Episode 46: Storefront signs and place-making in Brooklyn

What-the-Signs-Say-coverShonna Trinch and Ed Snajdr moved to Brooklyn in the early 2000s, just as the borough was beginning to witness a nascent sea change in its cultural position in New York City and in the world. As newcomers, they experienced their environment with a heightened sensitivity, and as anthropologists, they almost immediately began documenting and note-taking. What they paid particular attention to were storefront signs. Their new book, What the Signs Say: Language, Gentrification, and Place-Making in Brooklyn (Vanderbilt University Press), is the result of a decade of ethnographic research that deconstructs the public language of storefronts and the wide-ranging but often nuanced effects of these signs on a community’s inhabitants as well as on visitors, developers, and potential residents. While signage may seem like mere words to some, Trinch and Snajdr show how significantly interconnected signs are with so many urban issues – real estate, gentrification, race, and class. They address “old school” vs. “new school” signage, use of standard vs. non-standard language forms, the idea of “capitalism without distinction” and its relation to a democratic system, Brooklyn mothers and their impact on and power in a given neighborhood, and much more.

Shonna Trinch is a sociolinguist and faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at John Jay College, and Edward Snajdr is a cultural anthropologist and faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at John Jay College.

Make sure to listen to the entire episode so you don’t miss the celebration of CUNY scholars – both students and faculty – and our #FundCUNY message. And if urban sociology is up your alley, you might also be interested in Episode 1 with Richard Ocejo and Episode 41 with Sharon Zukin.

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Episode 45: Margot Mifflin on Miss America

Looking for Miss AmericaIf you watched the FX series Mrs. America this past Spring, you were, depending on your age, either reminded of or clued into the retrograde attitude of one Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-ERA political activist who wielded more power and influence than many of her contemporary legislative office-holders. So, too, the Miss America Pageant, turning 100 next year, has long set forth particular ideas of what a woman should be. While the Pageant has made some progress toward evolving, it, like Mrs. Schlafly, generally sought to preserve a traditional place for women. Mrs. America referred to a person, but Miss America was and still is an institution, one that has seen numerous controversies as well as some bright spots. As its future teeters on the edge, like many stalwart establishments in this moment, it’s the perfect time to look back at its century-long existence and examine what it hath wrought: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Margot Mifflin, Professor of English at Lehman College and the Newmark Journalism School  has done so. She is the author of Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood which will be released by Counterpoint Press on August 4. In this episode, she talks with our great friend and guest interviewer, Beth Harpaz, editor of CUNY SUM.

Read Beth’s full summary of the book here.

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Episode 44: Jean Halley returns

Jean Halley is Professor of Sociology at the College of Staten Island and is our first repeat guest (a little milestone for us!). We picked up where we left off last year, when we discussed her book Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses. Jean’s new work-in-progress is a memoir that includes themes of the Western U.S., race, violence, and memory itself. Most of these themes, along with her exquisite writing, can be observed in the essay “Killing Deer” which was published in Harper’s and which will find a place in her new collection. “I should tell you that the very real possibility of intending to do good, and instead doing bad, has haunted me my whole life,” she writes. “I knew about this particular kind of wrongdoing—it lived as close to me as skin. My family was full of good intentions and terrible happenings.” Jean has explored in depth the role that racism has played in her family and confronts and reveals how it has impacted her own life. In another short and powerful story from her memoir, “Joan Trestle: A Good Egg,” she writes: “Like many white people, even white people like me who know about and acknowledge the reality of boundless racism in our world today, I was surprised at Joan’s racism. Like many white people, I can go through life, naively, free from noticing the racism around me.” She reads the story in this episode.

Jean talks about her experience at the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism (CEMFOR) and gives us a sneak preview of another forthcoming project, a book she has co-authored (with Ron Nerio) about the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg that was known as the queerest space in Africa in the 1980s and in more recent years has been called the most violent neighborhood in the world.

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Episode 43: Stationery in the Time of…You Know…

Steve and Kathleen, your curators, haven’t recorded together since Episode 16 in Summer 2018, the one about academic libraries and bathrooms. Before that, they convened for Episode 11, the one where they prattled on about things like the MTA, DNA and cereal for far longer than anyone could have imagined. Episode 4 was the first time they recorded together. Back then, when Indoor Voices was still a toddler, they had grand plans of producing a joint “wraparound” session every few episodes. But we can see how that turned out. It took a global pandemic to get them together again, albeit remotely. Hopefully you, too, are finding a few much-needed bright spots in the form of socially distant reconnections with old friends right now. We hope you enjoy this episode and that you are healthy, comfortable and finding peace of mind in whatever odd places you can.

If you can relate to any of the things we talked about in this episode, we will be surprised and thrilled. Let us know!

A few teasers:

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Episode 42: Elissa Bemporad on pogroms and blood libels

Legacy of Blood book coverElissa Bemporad is associate professor of history at Queens College and the Graduate Center, where she specializes in Russian and Eastern European Jewish history, gender, and genocide studies. In her newest book, Legacy of Blood: Jews, Pogroms, and Ritual Murder in the Lands of the Soviets (Oxford University Press, 2019), she explores two extreme manifestations of tsarist antisemitism in the Soviet Union from 1917 to the early 1960s. The Jewish Book Council selected Legacy of Blood for a 2019 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Modern Jewish Thought and Experience. Elissa previously won a National Jewish Book Award for her 2013 book, Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk. She is interviewed in this episode by our friend and colleague, CUNY SUM editor Beth Harpaz.

Many thanks to the folks at CUNY TV for recording this episode.

Read about Legacy of Blood in Graduate Center news and via CUNY SUM.

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Episode 41: Sharon Zukin on economy as place

Innovation Complex coverSharon Zukin (see also), Professor Emerita of Sociology at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy. In her new book, just out this week from Oxford U. Press/Academic, Sharon covers hackathons, meetups,  Brooklyn’s “Innovation Coastline” and myriad other inventions that would make our grandparents’ heads spin, as well as the impact of the digital/tech economy on workers and on residents.

Sharon is interviewed in this episode by her colleague Richard Ocejo. Richard is Associate Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the CUNY Graduate Center and was our very first guest here on Indoor Voices. The two share a deep knowledge of and zest for the city as well as for the multi-faceted terrain of urban sociology. They discuss the meaning of the term “innovation complex” (yes, there is a nod to psychoanalysis), recent NYC mayors, Amazon HQ2, the evolution of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and of course, C. Wright Mills.

Bonus material:

Event: Another Silicon Valley? New York as tech city (March 10, 2020)

New York Tech Dossier: The Dark Side of New York’s Tech Economy

Coming soon: A short video made by Sharon on the tech ecosystem and CUNY SUM feature of The Innovation Complex

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Episode 40: Rediscovering a story of Puerto Rican migration


To read Guillermo Cotto-Thorner’s novel, Manhattan Tropics, is to immerse oneself in the experience of the post-war Puerto Rican migration to New York City. Originally written in 1951, in the author’s native Spanish, Trópico en Manhattan follows the central character, Juan Marcos, as he moves to El Barrio where previous Puerto Rican migrants had settled. The book was in danger of being forgotten altogether, lost in the jumble of history. Thanks to the efforts of a few people who recognized its significance, it is now recovered and discoverable in a bilingual edition published by Arte Público in Spring 2019.

Cristina Pérez Jiménez, assistant professor in the English department at Manhattan College, learned about the original novel from her graduate school literature professor, the late Juan Flores. She became fascinated with the book and its author and told her colleague Bret Maney about it, suggesting it as a translation project. Bret, an assistant professor in the English department at Lehman College, had theretofore translated technical, not literary, texts. But he entered a selection in a translation competition, won the prize, and the rest is (recovered) history. There’s more to the story, of course, which Bret and Cristina share in this episode.

Cristina wrote the compelling and extensively researched introduction, delving into primary sources at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies/Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College, and Bret’s skillful translation (including a Neoyorquismos-Inglés-Español glossary) deftly captures the feel of another time. The novel specifically describes and pays homage to the lives of Puerto Ricans moving to New York in the 1940s and 50s, but its prescience and universality are noteworthy. And in addition to the fascinating and lively details of the time and place, the novel also has a captivating and suspenseful plot. The translation and its introduction are pleasurable as well as educational.

Bret Maney and Cristina Pérez Jimenez
Bret Maney and Cristina Pérez Jimenez


Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Manhattan Tropics

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Episode 39: Podcasts – pedagogy & prose

podcast-microphone-14591791709IOGallons of ink have been spilled, or probably more accurately, trillions of bytes have been generated, on the subject of podcasting, so I won’t waste any time telling you how amazingly popular and robust an audio format it is. The introduction to a recent blog post from John Jay College’s Office for the Advancement of Research provides a tidy contextual summary, and if you keep reading the post, you’ll learn about – ahem – a couple of really cool podcasts produced at John Jay. And there are many many more. The CUNY Office of Communications revamped CUNY’s podcast portal in 2019 in order to bring more attention to the many podcasts coming out of the various colleges and departments all around the university.

In this episode, I talked with three of my colleagues about how they use podcasting in their work as faculty members. We hear from Christen Madrazo and Alan Winson, both faculty members in the English department at John Jay, and from Nora Almeida, a library faculty member at New York City College of Technology.

Some of the projects you’ll hear about in the episode:

  • Life Out Loud, a literary nonfiction podcast series at John Jay, directed by Christen Madrazo
  • Upper West Side Radio and Bar Crawl Radio, projects created and produced by Alan Winson
  • Almeida, Nora. “Podcasting as Pedagogy.” Critical Library Pedagogy Handbook, Vol. 2. Nicole Pagowsky and Kelly McElroy (Eds.). ACRL Press, 2016.
  • Some of the podcasts created by students in Nora’s place-based interdisciplinary course.

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Episode 38: Twelve years of writing on justice

J Journal artAdam Berlin and Jeffrey Heiman teach in the English department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. For the last 12 years they have produced a biannual literary journal whose 24th issue will be published this month. The overarching theme of J Journal: New Writing on Justice is justice, expansively defined. Each piece examines contemporary justice issues through superb, entertaining and stirring creative writing in the form of fiction, poetry and personal narrative. Editors Adam and Jeffrey have seen the number of submissions grow significantly over the years as the journal reaches more readers and inspires more writers to contribute to the prestigious publication. J Journal has received national recognition, climbing up in the Pushcart Prize rankings year after year. Submissions come from all over the world — many from inside prison walls — and the authors’ backgrounds are as diverse as their subject matter and writing styles.

Cover art J Journal, issues 1 and 23
Vol. 1, No. 1 (2008) & Vol. 11, No. 2 (2019)

According to the editors, the journal’s consistent cover art (issues 1 and 23 pictured here) “speaks of the bold aesthetic within and of John Jay College’s commitment to advocacy for justice.” Consistency and commitment are cornerstones of this project. Adam and Jeffrey spend every Friday in their neighboring offices in a quiet corner of the English department working on the myriad tasks involved in producing such a high quality publication.

In this episode we talked about what goes into putting the journal together, the production and editorial logistics as well as the intellectual and creative thinking. We are grateful to another English Department faculty member, Alan Winson, who generously donated his otherwise free Friday morning to masterfully record the conversation. Alan has a fantastic podcast of his own, so after reading some back issues of J Journal, put in your earbuds and listen to Bar Crawl Radio for an eclectic roster of guests and lively banter over drinks and bar food.

Follow J Journal  and @BarCrawlRadio on Twitter.

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Episode 37: An aesthetics of fluidity and ambiguity

The title above is a perfectly encapsulating phrase from Julia Miele Rodas’ beautifully written and illuminating Autistic Disturbances: Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe. The book is an engaging read for anyone who, like the author herself, finds words “delicious.” Rather than reinventing the wheel, I once again defer to our friends at CUNY SUM for their excellent SUMmary of Julia’s book. Michael Bérubé’s review also does a fine job of commending and contextualizing it. In our episode, Julia is interviewed by her fellow Victorianist and disability studies scholar, Olivia Moy, a pairing that makes for a rich and intimate – in fact, delicious – conversation.

Julia Miele Rodas & Olivia Moy

Julia is Professor in the English Department at Bronx Community College and is co-chair of the Columbia University Seminar in Disability, Culture, and Society. She also co-edits the book series Literary Disability Studies and is a founding co-chair of the CUNY Disability Scholars group. You can learn more about Julia here and follow her on Twitter @JuliaMieleRodas and @LiteraryDisblty.

Olivia is Assistant Professor of English at Lehman College, where she specializes in Romantic and Victorian poetry. She also serves as faculty for the (Dis)abilities Studies minor, is faculty advisor for the Lehman LGBTQ+ Alliance, and is founding director of the student group The CUNY Rare Book Scholars. Last fall, she had her first disability studies-related article, “Simian, Amphibian, and Able: Reevaluating Browning’s Caliban,” published in Victorian Poetry.  You can follow her on Twitter @profoliviamoy.

Bonus material courtesy of Julia:

Autistic influences

Do Good

  • ASAN, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
  • The Kennedy Center (provides support and community for autistic people and their families)

Bonus bonus: Early in their conversation, Julia offers the idea of “silence as a form of articulation.” That stuck with me, and it so happens that as I was typing up this post, the CUNY SUM newsletter appeared in my inbox, and it features “The Art of ‘Silence’ in the Poetry of Northern Ireland’s Medbh McGuckian.”

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