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.
Jason Tougaw is many things – a writer, a teacher, a faculty member, a DJ. But is he his brain? The we-are-our-brains vs. we-are-not-our-brains debate is one of the many complex and compelling topics we discuss in this episode. His recent memoir, The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism (winner of the Dzanc Nonfiction Prize) is in itself a complex and compelling story that I recommend to anyone who fancies memoirs, neuroscience, California in the 1970s – or anyone who was ever a child. The title is a lyric from a certain sitcom theme song from the ‘70s-’80s, and if you’ve already guessed what it is, you’re a fellow traveler to whom I am passing along the ear worm. It’s the ideal title for this book in many ways. This past April, Jason’s book The Elusive Brain: Literary Experiments in the Age of Neuroscience was published by Yale University Press (and is next in my reading queue). The phrase “touching brains” comes from an article Jason wrote for Modern Fiction Studies in 2015 and is a useful one, along with his title word “elusive,” that hints at the mysterious relationship between the tangibility of the brain (the organ) and the intangibility of the self. It’s all a little bit philosophy and a little bit New Romantic.
Don’t miss Jason’s online column in Psychology Today.
Having 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.
In part two of our exciting season finale, we continue our conversation with Stephanie and Jennifer, but allow the interview to degenerate into guilty TV pleasures and the addicting nature of social media.
In our exciting, surprise two-part season finale, we interview Professors Stephanie Margolin (Hunter) and Jennifer Poggiali (Lehman) about theirwork around academic libraries and bathrooms. While the topic lends itself to fairly easy jokes, it’s fascinating and important, speaking to everything from student success to the human experience.
Jennifer and Stephanie talk about what sparked their research and how libraries and librarians can improve their spaces for their patrons.
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!
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.
I first met Dana Weinberg when I was a graduate student in the Queens College Applied Social Research program. She was, as you’ll soon hear for yourself, an incredible teacher. Her work at the time was around the sociology of nursing and we read Code Green: Money-Driven Hospitals and the Dismantling of Nursing, an amazing book which I often give to nursing students. It’s beautiful, both in terms of its prose and its ideas.
Dana also studies digital publishing from the inside as novelist DB Shuster. Her latest book, To Catch a Traitor is a is a Cold War spy novel. I was moved by Dana’s thoughts on DB Shuster helping her to find herself.
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.