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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Episode 36: Mark Carpentieri on the flat tire shuffle

Mark Carpentieri teaches public speaking at Queensborough Community College and is the owner of M.C. Records, a blues/roots music label based on the South Shore of Long Island. Mark is also a graduate of Queens College. In this interview, Mark shows the connection between public speaking and running a label, talks about the need for online teaching and learning, and explains what makes a good blues drummer. Suffice it to say, this interview covers a lot of ground.

As someone who loves music, talking to Mark about his life in the music industry was a real treat. As was his optimism about the music industry and about higher education.

A few links to check out after you listen:

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Episode 35: Ray Patton on the contested story of punk

Ray Patton is Associate Professor of History and Faculty Director of the Honors Program and Macaulay Honors College at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His book, Punk Crisis: The Global Punk Rock Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2018), is a meta-analysis of concurrent happenings in punk culture and global society during the Cold War. In addition to exploring issues surrounding communism, capitalism, neoliberalism, globalism, tiermondisme and a few other -isms, Ray analyzes not only how punk culture played out in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe but in the U.S. and Jamaica. He also addresses the significant connection between punk and the immigrant experience.

Punk was created and consumed, but it was also used. In 1980s politics across the globe, the primacy of cultural themes – over economic and political ones – makes for complex controversies. As an enigmatic movement that resists alignment with any one political perspective, in the 20th century, punk inadvertently lent itself to co-opting by an array of political operators; some unexpected groups and individuals claimed punk to further their agendas.

In this episode, Ray is interviewed by David Pearson, a fellow punk scholar and adjunct assistant professor in the music and general studies departments at Lehman College. David’s CUNY GC dissertation, “Constructing Music of Rebellion in the Triumphant Empire: Punk Rock in the 1990s United States,” picks up where Ray’s – by virtue of the Cold War’s end – leaves off. But the narrative that Ray analyzes in Punk Crisis is far from over. His consideration of punk as a response to political correctness and to inequality is relevant as these same provocative themes – we might call them crises – confront us in our current moment.

Ray and David met for the first time via this recorded phone conversation and found that they had much in common. In addition to their intellectual interest in punk, it so happens that Ray once played saxophone in a 3rd wave ska-punk band and David is a saxophonist currently performing in the afrotronik funk band Digital Diaspora.

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Episode 34: Dissecting the digital humanities with Matthew Gold

If you’re a regular listener (we hope so!), you may remember that in 2018 we had a DH double header. Because we can’t get enough of the stuff, we’re back with more, this time featuring CUNY Graduate Center’s Matthew Gold in conversation with our friend and CUNY SUM editor, Beth Harpaz. Matthew is associate professor of English and director of the Masters program in digital humanities at the Graduate Center and he’s co-editor, along with Lauren Klein, of Debates in the Digital Humanities (U of Minnesota Press, 2019). I won’t keep you, but I’ll just say, as a grammar geek, how much I enjoyed Beth’s final question for Matt. A seemingly simple question has an appropriately rich and complex answer. Enjoy their illuminating conversation!

Bonus content:

A Q&A that Beth conducted with Matt earlier this month.

Follow Matt Gold on Twitter

Follow Debates in the Digital Humanities on Twitter

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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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