Richard AlbaCollege: CUNY Graduate Center Department: Sociology Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: (212) 817-8773 By Erika Dreifus Richard Alba’s 2008 appointment as a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York marked the scholar’s return to his home city and to the University that gave him his first academic job. Born and raised in the Bronx, Professor Alba earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Columbia University before joining CUNY in 1974 as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lehman College and the Graduate Center. Since leaving his first CUNY post in 1977, Professor Alba has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most respected and influential scholars on the subjects of race, ethnic identity, immigration, population studies, and demography. He has returned to CUNY from the State University of New York at Albany, where he held the rank of distinguished professor and directed both the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis (which he also founded) and the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research. Professor Alba arrived in sociology via a detour: The self-described “math kid” seemed well on his way to a career in computer programming before pursuing the graduate studies that would make him a sociologist. After earning his undergraduate degree, he worked as a programmer for the Service Bureau Corporation (IBM) and then for the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia. It was at the latter place, he says, that he became aware of the exciting work going on in sociology. However it happened, his decision to pursue sociology has had profound effects on his own life and on the field. In fact, it’s a little difficult to keep up with his many scholarly engagements. He has authored or edited seven books (an eighth is on the way—more about that in a moment). Not surprisingly, these volumes cover a range of topics, from Italian Americans: Into the Twilight of Ethnicity (Prentice-Hall, 1985) to Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration (Harvard University Press, 2003), which was co-authored with Victor Nee and won both the American Sociological Association’s Thomas & Znaniecki Book Award and the Eastern Sociological Society’s Mirra Komarovsky Award. In 2009, Harvard University Press will publish Professor Alba’s next book (“my Obama book,” he calls it during our conversation three weeks after the election of Barack Obama to the United States presidency). To be titled Blurring the Color Line: A New Chance for a More Integrated America, this text takes a forward-looking perspective to describe a more integrated society and ways to accelerate the process of integration and, says Professor Alba, is intended for both scholarly and general audiences. Professor Alba has also pursued a prodigious (and prodigiously-funded) research agenda. His research reflects persistent concerns about inequality, whether in education or public health, whether in the United States or other countries. Both his concentration on comparative research and his sustained interest in what happens to the descendants of immigrants reflect and contribute to important trends in the field of sociology. Currently, for example, he is leading a large-scale project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to examine educational success among children of immigrants and in the United States and in several Western European countries. At the same time, he is also working with former Albany colleagues on a project supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to study the neighborhoods in which the children of immigrants are being raised in the United States. Professor Alba’s return to CUNY signals a further strengthening of scholarly areas for which CUNY is already highly regarded. The professor says he hopes to contribute to “the extraordinary intellectual site” that is his new academic home; CUNY is confident that he will. December 2008 [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"] [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Meena AlexanderCollege: Hunter College Department: English Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (212) 772-5200 By Erika Dreifus
You want a poem on being cosmopolitan.
Dear friend, what can I say? 1
To some extent, much of the poetry and prose penned by Meena Alexander, Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, is infused with the experience of living a cosmopolitan life, one inhabiting and crossing multiple cities, cultures, and languages. Born in India, Professor Alexander bears a first name that, as one biographer has noted, itself reflects her essential multilingualism and multiculturalism, since "Meena" means "'fish' in Sanskrit, ‘jewelling' in Urdu, and ‘port' in Arabic." 2
Professor Alexander spent her childhood in India and in Sudan, where her father's career had taken the family. In fact, her first published poems appeared in Arabic translation in Sudan during her teenage years. Having earned a bachelor's degree in French and English from Khartoum University, Professor Alexander proceeded to graduate study at Nottingham University in England, where she received her doctorate in English Studies at the tender age of 22. Her first scholarly books include The Poetic Self: Towards a Phenomenology of Romanticism (1979) and Women in Romanticism: Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Shelley (1989).
Beyond her achievements in literary scholarship and teaching-she launched her teaching career back in her native India; after resettling in the United States with her American husband she began teaching at Hunter College in 1987 and at the Graduate Center two years later-Professor Alexander is also a distinguished literary author and poet. Fault Lines, a memoir first published in 1993 by the Feminist Press at the City University of New York and released in an expanded edition a decade later, was named a Best Book of 1993 by Publishers Weekly. Illiterate Heart, a poetry collection published in 2002 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, won the PEN Open Book Award. Professor Alexander's other books include the acclaimed poetry collection Raw Silk; The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience (poems and essays); and Nampally Road, a novel.
Her newest book, also published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, is a poetry collection titled Quickly Changing River (2008). Over a cup of tea at the Graduate Center, Professor Alexander recently discussed Quickly Changing River and her many projects-in-progress. Describing the new poetry collection as a "watershed book" for her, she places it as part of a flow of current engagements. There is a prose memoir on her journey back to her birthplace. There are new poems, including a sonnet cycle on the crisis in Darfur. There is a volume of notes and essays on poetry, migration, and memory. There are presentations at international conferences and festivals, ranging from readings of Quickly Changing River to a roundtable on writing through cultures of terror. And, most recently, there is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship.
Professor Alexander's extraordinarily diverse interests and experiences converge as well in her teaching. She calls her teaching position at CUNY "a perfect fit," extolling the University as "a place of migrants" and her students as people who are "of the world." She offers literature seminars (one favorite is "Poetry and Place"; one in development is tentatively titled "Home Ground and Borderlands") as well as creative writing workshops in memoir and poetry.
As much as she is recognized and celebrated as a woman writer, as a writer of color, and as a postcolonialist writer, Professor Alexander takes a broad and expansive view of the materials that inspire her work as teacher, scholar, and practitioner. Asked in a Kenyon Review interview about her "position now in relation to the canon," she replied:
It's a very complicated and important question and it's difficult for me to think about. I think the mind is free and one ought to be able to draw upon whatever one needs. Why shouldn't I teach Wordsworth? Why shouldn't I draw on him for what I write? Why should I only draw upon women or women of color? It's ridiculous. There was a time when I read a great deal of poetry by women and it was very important to me to do that. I was fascinated by what it might mean to make poetry as a woman, because there are certain kinds of burdens that inform you or that you inherit. They're part of being in a particular body. And not just that, it's also the idea that aspects of what are called or thought of as ‘canonical literature' are not available to you. 3
For her part, Distinguished Professor Meena Alexander is shaping the content of the contemporary "canon" with her own evocative, expressive-and, yes, cosmopolitan-work. More information on Professor Meena Alexander
Personal Web site: http://www.meenaalexander.com
Alexander, Meena. "Poetry: the Question of Home." Available at http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19032 . Accessed 3 December 2007.
Basu, Lopamudra. "The Poet in the Public Sphere: A Conversation with Meena Alexander." Social Text 20.3 (Fall 2002): 31-38.
"Meena Alexander." BBC World Service Women Writers Pages. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/arts/features/womenwriters/alexander_life.shtml . Accessed 3 December 2007.
Gioseffi, Daniela. "In the Mercy of Time-Flute Music: An Interview with Meena Alexander." World Literature Today 80.1 (January-February 2006): 46-49.
Poems by Professor Meena Alexander
"Bengali Market," "Raw Silk," "Illiterate Heart," "August 14, 2004 [In Memory of Czeslaw Milosz, 1911-2004]," "Closing the Kamasutra," "Love in the Afternoon," "Fragments," "Rites of Sense," and "Letters to Gandhi."
"Cosmopolitan" (Poetry Daily Poem for Tuesday, February 12, 2008). http://www.poems.com/poem.php?date=13922
"Dialogue by a City Wall," "Field in Summer," "Fragile Places," "Green Parasol," "Lago di Como," "Raw Silk," "Rumours for an Immigrant," and "Fragile Places: The Poet's Notebook" (Poems from Raw Silk reprinted in Studio).
"Late There Was an Island: Poem Cycle" (9/11 Poems from Raw Silk). http://users.tellurian.com/wisewomensweb/PoetsUSA/Alexander.html
"Letter to Achilles" and "In Kochi by the Sea" (Poems in Ars Interpres). http://www.arsint.com/2006/m_a_6.html
1 These are the first lines in Alexander's poem, "Cosmopolitan", which opens her latest collection, Quickly Changing River (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2008). "Cosmopolitan" was the featured poem at Poetry Daily for 12 February 2008, and can be accessed at http://www.poems.com/poem.php?date=13922 .
2 Carolyn Waters, “Meena Alexander.” Postcolonial Studies at Emory Pages. Available at http://english.emory.edu/Bahri/Alexander.html . Accessed 3 December 2007.
3 Ruth Maxey, “Interview with Meena Alexander.” The Kenyon Review 28.1 (Winter 2006). Available at http://www.kenyonreview.org/issues/winter06/maxey.php . Accessed 3 December 2007.[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Eric AltermanCollege: Brooklyn College Department: English Email: Whatliberalmedia@aol.com by Jill Jarvis "I don't do well in offices," Distinguished Professor Eric Alterman informs me as he directs me away from his Upper West Side apartment and toward a shaded bench in sunny Riverside Park. Glancing at his watch, he notes that at the end of our interview he will be obliged to dash of to an electric guitar lesson, his third. "I have to keep up with my daughter," he adds. "She's nine."
Although he claims that he "never had a real job" before coming to CUNY, Professor Alterman has produced a copious amount of work. He is a highly accomplished historian, journalist, educator, and, in the superlative terms of some of his reviewers, the "smartest and funniest,"1 "most astute and meticulous," 2 and "most honest and incisive media critic writing today."3
In addition to teaching as a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College and at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Alterman writes regular columns for The Nation, Media Matters for America, and the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. He has published six books of political commentary, has a seventh forthcoming (Why We're Liberals), and is presently at work on a new manuscript. He is a senior fellow at several think tanks, a history consultant to HBO films, and, as he adds in wry reference to his 1999 homage to Bruce Springsteen,4 "also something of a rock historian."
The titles of this high-profile critic's national bestsellers are certainly provocative-see When Presidents Lie, or The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)Leads America, or What Liberal Media?¬-but Alterman's rigorous education has trained him to be, as he says, an "insanely self-disciplined" writer. "Footnoting every word," 5 Alterman manifests his ability to inflect his discussion of the politically-charged present with the grounding facts of history.
"I have an historical context for understanding what is going on," he acknowledges. "I can see that a lot of things that are happening have happened already. The New York Times and Newsweek write stories as if there's no history. What are we but our histories?"
Eric Alterman was born in Queens, the son of first-and-second-generation Americans, the nephew of decorated World War II war heroes, and the grandson of Yiddish-speaking Ukrainian immigrant workers. He describes his mother, who endured a lonely childhood on an isolated chicken farm in New Jersey and later resolutely completed both an MA and a PhD over the 21 years it took her to raise three children. Alterman's father distinguished himself by earning two engineering degrees from CUNY schools. The story of his family, Alterman points out in a tone of frank appreciation, is "the typical immigrant success story-a common but important story of CUNY."
As a young man, Alterman worried that he "might be crushed" by the obligation to validate his family's success by becoming a corporate lawyer. An alternative hatched in his tenth grade English and eleventh grade AP American History classes, where his talented teachers spiced classroom debate with the voices of contemporary politicians.
"I wanted to argue with these people," Alterman says he realized in those classrooms. His critical consciousness met the refining fire of discipline as Alterman earned his B.A. in History and Government from Cornell, his M.A. in International Relations from Yale, and his Ph.D. in US History from Stanford. One of Alterman's political columns is now aptly named "Altercation," as if in fulfillment of his tenth-grade aspiration.
When he was an undergraduate, Alterman once traveled to Washington D.C. to interview the radical independent journalist, I.F. Stone. The two developed a strong friendship over the following ten years. "He was like a great rabbi of the Talmud, writing to prevent the U.S. from engaging in unnecessary wars," Alterman recalls of the self-publishing intellectual who wrote vociferously against American involvement in Vietnam. "He was everything I thought a person should be."
As a parting gift, Stone gave Alterman a stack of his collected works. Alterman, on the sunlit Riverside Park bench, recalls that impressive row of volumes. Stone may not always have been right, he muses, but he was right about Vietnam. Alterman's reflection on Stone's legacy seems to illuminate certain core principles that motivate his own work:
"He wasn't always right, but he had the courage to admit when he was wrong. It's not about being right. You can be completely isolated. You can be completely wrong. What matters: did you bring integrity to the process of making up your mind? That's what I'm interested in. The people I most admire take evidence seriously."
Evidence, in fact, is at the heart of a dilemma for this interdisciplinary intellectual. "There has always been an enormous conflict between my academic and my journalistic self," Alterman admits. As both a scholar and a journalist, he must navigate between fields that might seem superficially similar but that are, as he puts it, "antithetical to each other" because they rely on very different standards of evidence to determine truth.
Nonetheless, these ‘antithetical' perspectives intersect in Alterman's work. Just as his historical knowledge modulates his journalistic sense, so do his pragmatic politics ground his intellectual vision. "I need to know: why does this matter," he says. "I need to understand the implications of things for the present-why do people behave the way they do today?" CUNY honors and recognizes the value of Alterman's ability to blend these disparate fields, namely by designating him a CUNY Distinguished Professor in 2007.
Alterman continues to invest his prodigious, border-crossing talent in the university system that once educated and transformed his own immigrant family. "Teaching at CUNY is challenging and fulfilling," he says, "in a way that teaching at Cornell, Yale, or Stanford wouldn't be. At CUNY, I teach people who have the same gifts but not the same opportunities." As a teacher, Alterman urges his students to think beyond the mechanical how-to of the journalist's craft. He pushes them to critically assess the deeper function of journalism as a vital tool of communication in a democratic society.
"Journalism is damned important," he insists. "We don't study it, and we ought to." Citing John Dewey's The Public and Our Problems, he describes journalism as being at the heart of a healthy culture of communication in which citizens must be informed to make critical decisions. "Democracy is about function, practicality," Alterman explains, animated. "Truth is discovered in discourse. It's a product of values. It's practical."
He also insists that serious investment in public education may be the only way to make progressive change in our class-divided American society. "Here there's a two-tiered system," he says. "I'm talking systemically. We allow the elite to replicate itself. And we don't take seriously mass education."
Just as Professor Alterman prepares to leave Riverside Park to perfect his electric guitar technique, it occurs to me that what he has said of a journalist's social obligation might just as well apply to the democratic calling a great teacher: "The idea is that you've got to give people the opportunity to figure out what they believe."
In all his capacities-and perhaps in the occasional office-Professor Eric Alterman does exactly this.
1 San Francisco Chronicle.
3 The National Catholic Reporter.
4 It Ain’t No Sin to be Glad You’re Alive: The Promise of Bruce Springsteen.
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Sanjoy BanerjeeCollege: The City College of New York Department: Chemical Engineering Email: firstname.lastname@example.org By Erika Dreifus
On March 1, 2008, The Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York welcomed its newest faculty member when Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering Sanjoy Banerjee arrived from his previous academic home at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). In addition to his faculty appointment, Professor Banerjee will serve as Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Technologies at CCNY (soon to be renamed the Energy Institute).
Born in Calcutta, India, Professor Banerjee received his bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology; he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo in Canada. He spent eight years with Atomic Energy of Canada, ultimately as Acting Director of Applied Science, and then served as Westinghouse Professor in the Engineering Physics Department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1980 he joined the faculty of UCSB, where he was Vice Chair of the Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Department (1981-83) and Chair of the Chemical Engineering Department (1984-89), which rose to national prominence under his leadership. Author of more than 190 articles, book chapters, and refereed conference proceedings, Professor Banerjee holds four patents and has received many awards, amongst them the prestigious Melville Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Danckwerts Memorial Lectureship from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (UK) and recently, the Donald Q. Kern Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
After nearly three decades at the University of California at Santa Barbara, what inspired Professor Banerjee to make the transcontinental shift to CUNY? He considered this question during a recent conversation in his sunny, if still sparsely decorated, new office at The Grove School.
Relationships with friends and colleagues, for one. Professor Banerjee cites his longtime connections with Andreas Acrivos and Morton Denn, former and current Directors of CCNY's esteemed Levich Institute, who also hold Albert Einstein Professorships, as factors in his decision. During several visits to the University, Professor Banerjee became convinced that he could be a part of something very unique here. Launching the Institute, he is starting "with a fairly clean slate," with immense potential. And he has a lot of support, not only from CUNY, but from the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) Faculty Development Program, which has awarded the energy project a $500,000 grant.
Summarizing his work for a non-specialist, Professor Banerjee explains its focus on developing technology and enhancing existing infrastructure to efficiently store electricity that comes from renewable but intermittent sources (the sun and wind are two such sources). Initially, the goal is to meet the energy needs of the residential (and possibly industrial) sectors. But Professor Banerjee also sees possibilities for these storage technologies to influence the transportation sector, since more efficient electricity storage will allow for better hybrid and electric vehicles than we have currently. The trick, he says, is to "make electricity readily transportable, like gasoline." For these research purposes, he says, New York City, with its strong commitment to solar power and low-emissions transportation systems, amongst other factors, is a particularly hospitable environment.
Although he misses his family (his youngest child, an eleventh-grader, is currently continuing high school studies in California), Professor Banerjee is happy to be in New York. And CUNY is happy to have him here.
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Emily BraunCollege: Hunter College Department: Art Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (212) 650-3756 by Erika Dreifus Named a Distinguished Professor in 2007, Emily Braun teaches at The City University of New York's Graduate Center and at Hunter College, where she joined the faculty in 1992 as Assistant Professor. And in a way, her dual CUNY homes reflect an undeniable truth about this Distinguished Professor's professional life: She wears multiple hats.
As a leading expert on Italian modernism and culture of the Fascist period, Professor Braun has published and lectured widely on both European and American art, on topics ranging from futurist gender theory to Thomas Hart Benton. As a curator, she has shaped major exhibitions on Italian art and Jewish cultural history. As a contributing author, she has twice received the annual Henry Allen Moe Prize for Catalogues of Distinction in the Arts. She is also a National Jewish Book Award winner for The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons (Yale University Press, 2005), which she coauthored with Emily Bilski to accompany the exhibition by the same title that they also co-curated for the Jewish Museum, New York.
Professor Braun, a native Canadian, earned her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1979, and proceeded directly to graduate studies in art history at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. That uninterrupted sequence is understandable, given that Professor Braun says she already knew she wanted to become an art historian at the age of twelve. She is not the only one in her family with artistic inclinations. Her grandfather was a skilled miniaturist, and her eldest sister, Marta Braun, is a prominent historian of photography.
Graduate school proved a formative time for Professor Braun. It was then that she developed her particular interest in the intersections between art and politics, began to challenge prevailing interpretations in the field, and identified areas lacking sufficient attention in English-language scholarship. Her dissertation on Italian painter Mario Sironi (1885-1961) evolved into Mario Sironi and Italian Modernism: Art and Politics under Fascism, and was published by Cambridge University Press in 2000.
Beyond the classroom, she began contributing to major publications; she edited Italian Art in the 20th Century, published by the Royal Academy of Arts in 1989. She also started to acquire curatorial experience (at the Lila Acheson Wallace Foundation, where she worked as a Fine Arts Consultant from 1982-84). For the past twenty years, Professor Braun has served as curator for The Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Collection, and she has been the curator for The Alex Hillman Family Foundation Collection since 1990.
Not surprisingly, then, Professor Braun appreciates the work experience CUNY graduate students bring to the classroom. She estimates that 80 percent of the students in Hunter College's M.A. program in art history, and an equal proportion of doctoral candidates in art history at the Graduate Center, are already working in New York City museums, galleries and libraries. Professor Braun, who advises a mix of M.A. and Ph.D. candidates, notes that her students are "very smart," excellent communicators, and are competitive with the best in any graduate program.
At the moment (Fall 2007), Professor Braun is on a sabbatical semester. She has just published an essay on the influence of Charles Darwin on the art of Gustav Klimt for the Neue Galerie in New York. Typically, her course offerings feature a survey on modernism and postmodernism, or Cubism and Futurism at Hunter and a seminar at the Graduate Center (she looks forward to launching a new seminar on the Metaphysical painter and sculptor Giorgio De Chirico [1888-1978] in Spring 2008). In the meantime, she is completing several essays and starting work on a book manuscript on European art in the immediate post-World War II era.
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Peter CareyCollege: Hunter College Department: English Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: (212) 772-5074 By Jill Jarvis
Ask him why the Hunter College Creative Writing MFA program is rapidly becoming a magnet for the nation's apprentice writers, and CUNY Distinguished Professor Peter Carey, its executive director, is quick to attribute this success to someone else.
"I work with terrific people," Professor Carey demurs when I pose the question in Hunter's Wexler Library, where he has just read from his most recent novel, His Illegal Self. He credits Hunter College President Jennifer Raab's tenacious support, his colleagues' impressive literary and pedagogical gifts, and his students' great vigor and seriousness with Hunter's recent metamorphosis into a dynamic and competitive program that draws aspiring writers across the country-even away from the more renowned writing programs-to 68th Street. Then, still diffident, Professor Carey concedes that he does happen to "know something about advertising."
Not long after his own lackluster career in organic chemistry at Monash University (Australia) came to a crashing halt--he had a bad car accident just before final exams--nineteen-year-old Peter Carey sought an alternative métier in advertising. In the agencies of Melbourne, London, and Sydney, he learned many things about advertising. One of them was how to turn around the creative reputation of an agency.
"This is really not so different from changing around an MFA program," Carey says. "It takes a great faculty, enormous energy, and a crazy belief that you can build the best program in the country. I thought it would take five years; it has been five years. Today it is clear that something great is happening on the corner of Lex and 68th."
Hunter MFA students have the opportunity to intern with literary giants like Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie, and the Hunter Distinguished Writers Series roster reads like a who's who in contemporary literature. Many of these writers-Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Junot Diaz, Walter Mosley, Colum McCann, Nathan Englander-join class discussions, and some of them later turn up as permanent faculty. The Village Voice recently tagged Hunter's as the best MFA program in New York City, a sign that its reputation is flourishing. While Professor Carey might not take due credit for the lively buzzing of this literary hive, his MFA students are not so reticent.
"In many ways, Peter is the program," says Jessica Soffer, '09. "We all huddle around his feet, waiting for him to say something brilliant about the writer's life, about a particular sentence or twist or structure or rhythm, and the really beautiful thing is that he never lets us down. If that's not shaping a program, I don't know what is." Her classmate, Liz Moore '09, agrees that "Peter has a vision all his own about what MFA programs can be," and Alex Gilvarry, '09, elaborates: "He has created something pure at Hunter. He believes in what he is doing; he believes in the students; he believes he can make it the best program around-and I tend to think he just might."
Peter Carey was born in-and writes prolifically of-Australia, though he has lived in New York City since 1990 ("Like many things in my life," Carey says jovially of moving to New York, "I didn't really mean to do it.") His writing education began in advertising, too, where coworkers exposed him to Faulkner, Joyce, and Kerouac. "I started to read," Carey told Radhika Jones of The Paris Review. "I read all sorts of things in a great huge rush...I read haphazardly but with great passion." He also started to write (perhaps haphazardly, but clearly with great passion), and abandoned several novel manuscripts before turning his attention to short stories. In 1974, Carey published a collection of stories, The Fat Man in History-the overnight success that launched his literary career.
Peter Carey is now celebrated as Australia's greatest living novelist and a major literary figure of our time. After The Fat Man in History, he went on to publish some twenty books: another story collection, a children's book, several works of nonfiction, and ten novels. Of these novels, one was short-listed for the Booker Prize (Illywacker) and two have won it (Oscar and Lucinda; The True History of the Kelly Gang). Oscar and Lucinda is one of just six novels nominated to win the 40th anniversary Best of the Booker Prize, to be selected by public vote this July (to cast your vote, CLICK HERE). A comprehensive list of Carey's awards fills a page of small print (aside from double Booker and Commonwealth Prizes, he has won every major Australian literary award at least twice), while a bibliography of the 1,200 interviews, articles, reviews, and criticism about him and his work fills a tome.
"Peter is the literary god of now and yet," says student Jessica Soffer. "There he is: self-deprecating, doubting, sometimes with his shirt buttoned incorrectly and you think, I'd like to talk to this man forever...this is brilliance." The Distinguished Professorship, an honor reserved for just 2% of CUNY faculty, recognizes Carey's incontrovertibly profound-if unassuming- contributions to literature and to the University.
Though he has been called an expatriate writer, Carey claims not to feel like one (an expatriate, that is). Although it is unlikely that he'll return permanently, Australia is his first home. "I didn't come here intending to stay forever," he says of New York, a city which he has come to love, "but now I have a son who was born here and another who came when he was four...I'm very entangled. I'm like so many people in New York who have their hearts in two places."
Australia seems to have as intimately informed Carey's creative and intellectual sensibilities as he has (re)written its stories. The enduring influence of his original home might be best inferred from Carey's own words: "Landscape forms character, of course, and ours is a killer," Carey has said. "In America, the narrative is, Go west. You might eat a few people on the way, but basically it will be wealth and success. [In Australia,] we just get lost and we die... It's a hostile place, with droughts and fires. There's no frontier that triumphs over space in Australia. Also we have a big Irish component, a folkloric culture, about being robbed, tortured, and oppressed. And then we have the convict narrative, which is certainly about loss. And under all of this lies the knowledge that the land we love is stolen. The horror of the destruction of aboriginal society is there every day. In Australia we trust loss and we are very suspicious of success. We have an affection for outcasts and oddballs."
Professor Carey tells me that he used to be a really "terrible teacher." He didn't complete university, let alone attend an MFA program, so he has no models for what he does. Before joining Hunter's faculty in 2003, he taught intermittently at NYU, the New School, Columbia, Princeton, and Barnard to make a living. "I'd be forever deciding that I wasn't going to teach anymore, just going to be a writer all the time," he says. But at Hunter, something struck a chord, and he stayed. What was different?
"Hunter students tend not to come from wealthy families," he explains, adding that, as an Australian, he is fixated on issues of colonialism and imperialism that also concern many of his first- and second-generation immigrant students. "They're not entitled. They've gone around the block, they tend to be older, they have been through life, and they have stories to tell. They're really serious. What a crazy, courageous, harebrained thing for them to be doing-and they're here."
"If you're going to teach," he adds, "You've got to do it well." But, when asked to describe his teaching style, Carey deflects once again: Don't ask me," he says with a shrug. "Ask the students."
So I did exactly that.
"Peter laughs at his own jokes. It's wonderful and nothing I anticipated. He is The Peter Carey, after all. He's chatting away about narrative tension and policeman walks by the classroom and his finger shoots up in the air and he yells, 'Police!' in the middle of narrative tension. There's something so wry about his humor, and so haphazard that it makes you believe writing can be that way too. Random and sardonic and not at all what you expected. ... Then there is a way in which writing for Peter doesn't seem so fraught as it does for many writers. What a hopeful thing for us to learn."
"I have taken from Peter a great number of very specific beliefs about writing: the importance of physical setting in creating a mood and allowing the reader to relax into a scene; the importance of remembering to include the weather; the significance of a character's little quirks--if you offhandedly make one of your characters a smoker, he better be smoking or craving a cigarette repeatedly throughout your piece; how to get across a character's physical appearance when writing in the first person; how to 'kill your darlings' when a scene or line or chapter just isn't working; and, perhaps most importantly, that beautiful, carefully thought-out sentences can do a lot of the work."
author of The Words of Every Song (Random House/Broadway, 2007)
"My first novel comes out in 2009. I wouldn't have developed the discipline or the drive to finish it without his example. Peter takes writing and writers very seriously...My edition of [Microsoft] Word features a miniature Peter Carey who pops up on my laptop to remind me not to suck. He tells me to draw maps when describing any physical space. Tells me that dialogue merely floats across the surface of action. And ask me that obvious but often disregarded question: what would it really be like? Peter continues to affect my writing on a practical level every day."
author of The Unknown Knowns (Scribner, 2009)
"Peter has affected every single sentence I've written since my first workshop with him. He taught me to investigate my language, something I wasn't at all doing. He walked me through a few awful paragraphs I had written, showed me what I was doing, and then he showed me how it should be done. Of course, I liked my version better, but in the end he was right. He got his message through, and I learned.
As a teacher, he's living proof that writing can be taught. As a writer, he's proof that any story can be told, and if the language to tell it doesn't exist, well-that can be created, too."
1 From Radhika Jones' 2006 Paris Review interview.
2 See Andreas Gaile’s 1967-2005 full bibliography from “Fabulating Beauty” .
3 From Radhika Jones' 2006 Paris Review interview.
4 See James McCloskey's (Hunter MFA /06) interview with Peter Carey in The Brooklyn Rail for more details.[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
William CollinsCollege: Lehman College Department: English Email: Office Phone: (718) 960-8550 By Jill Jarvis Entertainment Weekly is not the first place to which one might turn for reviews of contemporary American poetry, though it could be a good venue to lure in some of America's non-habitual poetry readers. Billy Collins, whose poetry has been lauded in that publication's pages, might agree. "I like poetry to ambush people," he has said. "Poems that come at you when you least expect it-which is why I like seeing them on busses, trains, and billboards."
Entertainment Weekly's 2005 review of Collins' The Trouble With Poetry begins with this hook: "Do poems scare or bore you? Try Collins on for size!"1 As a teacher, I have given my eleventh-grade students his "Introduction to Poetry" and observed the results. Having witnessed the startled and delighted impact of this poem on that skeptical crowd, I can testify: Collins might just have a knack for curing poetry anxiety. He certainly has a knack for shaking a laugh out of even the most recalcitrant reader of poetry.
This Lehman College Distinguished Professor of English could easily be called-and often is-the most beloved poet in America. Collins is the author of ten poetry collections: Pokerface (1977); Video Poems (1980); The Apple that Astonished Paris (1988); Questions about Angels (1991); The Art of Drowning (1995); Picnic, Lightning (1998); Sailing Alone Around the Room (2001); Nine Horses (2002); The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems (2005). His newest collection, Ballistics, is due to be published on September 9, 2008.
In recent decades, Billy Collins has developed the mass popular appeal of a rock star-Katherine Marsh of the New York Times noted that his sold-out 2001 reading from Sailing Alone Around the Room "caused the literary equivalent of Beatlemania."2 Collins is alternately hailed, in Entertainment Weekly and elsewhere, as "hilariously funny," a "modern-day Robert Frost," "Billy the Kidder," the Jerry Seinfeld/Oprah/Rodney Dangerfield of Poetry, and "not only a wildly successful seller of books (as poets go, anyway) but also a charming public reader who can pack auditoriums."3 Collins has received abundant accolades, including awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He served as the United States National Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, and was the New York State Poet Laureate from 2004-2006.
This poet advocates placing poetry in unexpected places, but there's more to it than that: "The real question," he has said, "is what happens to the reader once he or she gets inside the poem."4 Collins uses various metaphors for the intimate link between poet and reader-taking the reader gently by the hand, helping the reader into a potentially precarious canoe, then setting off-but the point, he says, is to be conscientious of and responsive to his readers, and to take them somewhere. Known for his directness, Collins often writes as if in invitation to a single person. "I don't know who the person is," he has noted, "but I have an idea of speaking or whispering these poems to one listener, and I hope I'm aiming for a very intimate connection."5 He calls this ‘hospitality' (rather than accessibility, a term he recommends be banished), and suggests that once the hospitable poet has invited and welcomed the (possibly tentative) reader into the poem, a journey to more startling places can begin.
Collins' proclivity for plain speech does not mean that he does not appreciate difficult poetry. He does, after all, hold a PhD in English Romantic Poetry, and he wrote a dissertation on Wordsworth and Coleridge. "I have a taste for specific kinds of difficulty," Collins counters when I bring this up, adding: "I am interested in poetry not as a form of arcane coding, but as containing a great say-ability. It's a matter of taste. Some poets are just not aware of your presence. I am as interested in the poet as the poet is in me."
In his inimitable fashion, Collins insistently defies William Butler Yeats' assertion that "A poet...never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table." Case in point:
Every morning I sit across from you
at the same small table,
the sun all over the breakfast things-
curve of a blue-and-white pitcher,
a dish of berries-
me in a sweatshirt or robe,
This plain-speaking and playful poet can track his poetic sensibilities back to the influence of ‘two mothers': to Mother Goose, "the mother of all poets, who teaches us all to love rhythm and rhyme, to delight in strange little stories," and to the mother who raised him in Jackson Heights, Queens.
"Shakespearean quatrains would leak into her talk," Collins says of his mother. "She was a great reciter of poetry that she had memorized in high school." When he tells me this, I imagine poetry sneaking easily into unexpected places-the family breakfast table, the dinner table, the car. I detect traces of such maternal influence when Collins now extols not just the meaning but the pleasures of poetry, as he did in a 2001 conversation with Ira Glass at The Poetry Center in Chicago: “the pleasure of rhythm, the pleasure of musicality, the pleasure of companionship.”
It was the English metaphysical poets, however, who actually compelled Collins to write. "I went through the full metal jacket of Catholic education," he has said of his Catholic-elementary-through-Jesuit-undergraduate-college training. 7 As an undergraduate at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, young Billy Collins had a formative moment with John Donne.
While reciting Donne's "The Flea" to a friend on the college lawn-"Cruell and sodaine, has thou since/Purpled thy naile, in blood of innocence?/In what could this flea guilty bee,/Except in that drop which it suckt from thee?"-the poet-to-be did not simply delight in Donne's seductive wit and clever language. "I wished I had written that poem," Collins admits. "I envied him. I wondered if I could write a poem as good. Literary influence is a euphemism for jealousy. It's the desire to emulate that drives creative work."
But Collins' first book of poetry was not published until well after he completed a PhD at University of California (Riverside) and joined the faculty of Lehman College in 1968. For the past four decades, Professor Collins has earned his living teaching everything from basic composition ("subject-verb agreement") to graduate-level literary analysis ("Joyce, Yeats"). "You'd get the bends if you were a diver," Collins says cheerfully of this vacillation in his teaching duties, and in the same breath notes that at CUNY, a "university unprecedented in size and mission," he has always felt like he fulfilled a vital need for his students.
Throughout those early decades at Lehman, Collins quietly penned his poems, occasionally publishing one in an obscure literary journal. When he sent a fifty-poem manuscript to the renowned editor Miller Williams, Williams paper-clipped eight of these and sent the packet back to Collins with a note urging him to write thirty new poems as good as those eight and pitch the rest. "That paperclip," Collins tells me, "was worth a graduate degree in creative writing." Since that paperclip, Collins has composed a body of poetry to inspire waves of fresh literary jealousy in new generations of poets.
When I ask him what exactly a National Poet Laureate does, Collins laughs. "It's a mysterious job," he concedes. "You spend two years explaining that to yourself and to everyone else." One of his most significant duties, it turned out, was to fulfill an assignment from Congress. Congress asked Collins to write a poem commemorating the first anniversary of September 11th according to these specifications: be patriotic, be optimistic, mention the heroes, express reverence for the dead. Articulating the private and public trauma surrounding that unspeakable event was so daunting it became impossible. "But you can't just tell Congress you're busy," Collins points out. "I said I'd think about it, but I didn't think I could do it."
After he had finally decided to read Walt Whitman in place of a new composition, the Poet Laureate awakened at dawn with a flash of insight. "If I wrote an elegy for the dead," he realized, "that would remove the poem from the political rhetoric." He also had the idea of using the alphabet as a simple framing device, as so many schoolchildren do in their first poems. "Once I had the alphabet and the elegy," he tells me, "I had a box in which to write. I could do it." The resulting poem was never, and will never be, published in a book, and Collins only read it twice in public. Titled "The Names," the poem begins with stark and striking emotion: "Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory./ So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart." You can listen to Collins read the full poem here.
Professor Collins' other Laureate legacy is a project called Poetry 180. The hand-picked poems in this anthology are intended to provide a daily dose of poetry to young minds in high schools throughout the nation. The anthology's title belies its mission: not only to fill each day of a school year, but to trigger an about-face in some of these minds. Pleasure, as Collins points out, is underrated in poetry, "because poetry gets associated with the pain of the classroom. Unfortunately, when poetry gets taught, meaning becomes the first and last emphasis." It seems that high schools are another great site for poetic ambush.
According to Collins, the poems of Poetry 180 are to be listened to, savored, but not analyzed. This is not a substitute for analysis, he reminds me, but a supplement to it; not an excuse to avoid reading ‘difficult poetry' but a chance to fall in love with the rhythm and rhyme of language. I detect, in this, Collins' effort to pass on the legacy he inherited from his own poetry-reciting mother, from Mother Goose, from Donne. The anthology begins with Collins' own "Introduction to Poetry," a perfect anthem:
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.9
Professor Collins is gratified to received letters from high school teachers who say that the daily readings from Poetry 180 have convinced some of even their most difficult students ‘come over' to poetry. "If you stop the daily recitation, these students get vocal," Collins reports with satisfaction. "They get addicted." I suspect, too, that some of these students feel the hot sting of literary jealousy that will trigger new creation, and predict that Billy Collins' legacy will thereby continue to flourish.
2. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9402EFDE153BF93BA25752C1A9679C8B63 “The Selling of Billy Collins”
3. From Mary Jo Salter’s 2002 NYT review of Nine Horses. For full review, see http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0DE2D6163AF933A15753C1A9649C8B63 .
4. Elizabeth Farnsworth of PBS, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec01/collins_12-10.html .
5. Grace Cavalieri interview: http://www.gracecavalieri.com/poetLaureates/billyCollins.html
6. In interview with Grace Cavalieri.
7. Now that you’ve read the first poem, read the other 179 here: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Nicholas FreudenbergCollege: Hunter College Department: Health Sciences Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (212) 481-4363 By Joshua Martino
When one meets him, Nicholas Freudenberg exudes friendliness, patience, and humility. But this calm demeanor belies intense convictions and an activist spirit that can intimidate the most high-powered executives. For this CUNY Distinguished Professor of Urban Public Health is an unrelenting advocate for change in his field, and in recent years, that has meant confronting corporate practices regarding tobacco and fast food. “American history is defined by the struggle between government and markets,” Professor Freudenberg explained during an interview at his tidy office in the CUNY Graduate Center. “And during the last two decades, the pendulum has swung entirely in favor of big businesses.” Globalization emboldened corporations by offering new markets and cheap labor. New international companies proved more difficult to regulate. These conditions, Professor Freudenberg believes, have allowed corporations to profit at the expense of public health. He points, for example, to the unhealthy choices that abound for the American consumer: portion sizes are growing; until recently, foods processed with trans-fats stuffed supermarket shelves; and advertising for unhealthy products proliferates, often targeting children and teenagers. The result: an ongoing obesity epidemic that is intensifying despite major media attention. Dr. Freudenberg possesses the training and experience to confront this crisis. He graduated from Hunter College in 1975 and earned his doctorate at Columbia University four years later. He has been at CUNY ever since, joining the Hunter College faculty in 1979. During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when the virus was poorly understood, he published two books about obstacles to AIDS education. Indeed, his vast list of publications reveals him to be both a researcher and an academic activist. “Some scientists believe that the words research and advocacy don’t belong in the same sentence”, said Freudenberg, “but I think scholars have an ethical obligation to bring their findings into the policy arena, especially when the health of the public is at stake.” In his current focus on corporate fostering of harmful lifestyle choices, Professor Freudenberg employs the phrase “disease promotion.” Although some might argue that these choices are ultimately a matter of individual responsibility, Professor Freudenberg highlights their pernicious effects on the greater good. “Corporations are entitled to spend billions of dollars to promote products that contribute to unhealthy lifestyles,” he said in our interview. “Our society must decide if the results are a worthwhile price to pay. The cost of illnesses related to these choices is a huge burden on society in the form of rising health care costs, labor hours lost to illness, and pollution.” Professor Freudenberg insists that his aim is not to punish corporations, but rather to limit their influence. “Protecting health is a public responsibility,” he says. “It is not fair to mandate that of corporations. The ground rules must be set publicly to prevent disease promotion.” Some of those rules must confront advertising of unhealthy products aimed at traditionally underrepresented groups, which to Dr. Freudenberg compares to racial and ethnic profiling: “Just as it’s inappropriate to target children, likewise it is inappropriate to target other vulnerable groups.” Legal and public health experts successfully challenged such corporate misdeeds in the mid-1990s, when researchers discovered that even as tobacco companies were telling Congress that their products were not addictive, those same companies were increasing the products’ nicotine content. Congress rescinded tobacco tax breaks and raised the cigarette prices. Still, tobacco companies continued to seek new customers. To further protect public health, anti-smoking activists revised their tactics to undermine and limit the influence of tobacco companies and other industries who sell harmful products. Thus, the last decade saw laws forbidding public advertising for tobacco products and limiting corporate sponsorships for cigarette-makers. At the same time, anti-smoking campaigns appeared everywhere from billboards to prime-time commercials. Smoking rates fell, often dramatically in locations where anti-cigarette campaigns were strongest, and those regions also witnessed declines in rates of lung cancer and heart disease. In these victories, Professor Freudenberg sees opportunity for further progress. The model for fighting tobacco addiction and related diseases can be applied to the obesity epidemic. The key is to once again undo corporate influence. Professor Freudenberg caused controversy in April 2010 when he told the New York Daily News, “It’s not acceptable to market unhealthy products to children, and I think the retirement of Ronald McDonald would be a step in the right direction.” Criticizing a beloved corporate mascot might not be popular, but Professor Freudenberg believes it to be necessary, given that the massive marketing power of fast food, soft drink, and alcoholic beverage companies too often drowns out awareness of healthier options. Are corporations responding to heightened awareness of their role in public health? Dr. Freudenberg seems skeptical. He notes that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have ad campaigns promoting health and activity, but these he refers to as “corporate do-goodism that doesn’t acknowledge the role of these companies in promoting poor health.” He notes that even though the nation’s top nutrition scientists have observed that it is healthier to consume fewer calories, the food companies continue to encourage people to eat more. Government and public health officials must help the public understand these conflicting messages. Neither education nor regulation alone will solve all the problems, but cumulatively; they can build a future where healthy choices will be easy choices. New York is the ideal setting for Dr. Freudenberg to work toward that future. Advertising is omnipresent because customers themselves are everywhere, packed into subways, crowded on sidewalks, and organized into niche neighborhood markets. From labeling fast food with nutritional information to restricting smoking in public places, New York has led American cities in limiting disease promotion. Dr. Freudenberg also works with several community partnerships, including the New York City Health Equity Project, which prepares high school students to assess community and school food options and take action to improve unhealthy food environments. Teaching at CUNY is also essential. “As a public institution, we have the opportunity and responsibility to define what public institutions can do,” he says. “We can provide a platform for training the next generation of researchers and for sponsoring public forums on key policy debates.” With Dr. Freudenberg among its leading faculty, the University’s new School of Public Health will start to shape that platform based on four major themes: creating healthier cities, promoting healthy urban aging, reducing chronic diseases, and reducing health inequities. Dr. Freudenberg sees his work at CUNY as a way to return benefits to the taxpayers who fund the CUNY colleges. Says this Distinguished Professor: “It has been a great privilege to teach and do research here all these years.” [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Fred GardapheCollege: Queens College Department: English Email: firstname.lastname@example.org by Jill Jarvis When CUNY Distinguished Professor Fred Gardaphé was seven years old, he was chased by the police for the first time. This was in his home neighborhood of Melrose Park, Illinois, a predominantly Italian-American community just outside Chicago where young Gardaphé -now an eminently accomplished and law-abiding scholar-was then the ringleader of a petty shoplifting operation. With the police hot on his trail, the quick-thinking seven-year-old knew he could not run home. He dashed into the public library, where no one would think to look for him. "I grew up in a culture of violence, and I almost got sucked in," Dr. Gardaphé reflects now from his spartan new office at Queens College in Flushing, one of three offices he works from. The few books on the shelves here stand in impeccably organized rows. "I used academia as an escape. I found this as refuge and I return to it whenever I need to." Calling himself "a city kid at heart," Dr. Gardaphé seems to be quite at home in CUNY's urbane and dynamic community. Dr. Gardaphé is a leading expert in the field of Italian-American Studies-a field in which he is a pioneer and which he fostered at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he nurtured and established an Italian-American Studies Program and directed the American Studies program for ten years. In January 2008, Dr. Gardaphé came to teach in the Queens College English department and to direct Italian American Studies at the John D. Calandria Institute for Italian-American Studies. He is eager to engage CUNY's consortial intellectual resources to expand and strengthen the nascent field. "I want to see Italian-American history and contributions presented and interpreted," Dr. Gardaphé explains. "The goal is to institutionalize Italian-American studies so that we don't continue to have this loss of memory that lets kids unknowingly insult their parents. Italian-Americans assimilated so quickly; we started to believe our own stereotypes. Only through education can we provide realistic alternatives to media made identities." "I never thought about being Italian until I left my neighborhood," he notes, describing his earliest experiences crossing the railroad tracks that separated his neighborhood from that of an African-American community: "From an early age, I was aware of race. I was very conscious of crossing that line." A scan of Dr. Gardaphé's publications indicates that he has since thought extensively about what it is to ‘be Italian', and of the implications of crossing ethnic and cultural lines-with prodigious results. These publications establish Dr. Gardaphé as a pre-eminent literary critic (Dagoes Read: Tradition and the Italian/American Writer, 1996), cultural critic (Leaving Little Italy: Essaying Italian American Culture, 2004), literary historian (Italian Signs, American Streets: The Evolution of Italian American Narrative, 1996), columnist and editor (Fra Noi newspaper, Voices in Italian America literary journal), anthologist (From the Margin: Writings in Italian Americana, 1991), and even a playwright (one-act plays "Vinegar and Oil," 1987, and "Imported from Italy," 1991). Gardaphé's latest book, From Wiseguys to Wise Men: Masculinity and the Italian-American Gangster (2006), interrogates the American fixation with gangster images and examines how machismo figures into constructions of Italian-American masculinity. With such extensive intellectual contributions to his credit, Dr. Gardaphé is now working to record his own memories. The title of this forthcoming memoir is Living With the Dead. The dead are very present in Dr. Gardaphé's life. To illustrate this, he lists a series of murders that took place within his family not long after his own early shoplifting escapade: first his godfather's, then his father's, then his grandfather's. All these men were killed in separate incidents before Gardaphé had entered adolescence. "The dead began piling up early," he says. "I had to grow up quickly...but I understood from an early age that the dead were very much alive." Dr. Gardaphé's sustained dialectic with the unquiet ghosts of his past seems to reflect what he highlights as a shared cultural trait: "Italians never leave the dead alone." While this professor is in fact three-quarters Italian, Gardaphé is a French name-a fact that he has alternately hidden and hidden behind. Dr. Gardaphé's maternal grandparents' families emigrated from Bari, Italy, and he grew up conversant in their remote Italian dialect, Barese, while his paternal grandmother emigrated from Calabria and grandfather from Francophone Canada (the surname comes from Nice). Gardaphé left his Chicago neighborhood to attend Fenwick Preparator, then an Irish-Catholic dominated High School, where he could hide his Italian-ness behind his French name until his address betrayed his full identity. After completing high school, Gardaphé took refuge from the violence of the Vietnam War by pursuing an associate degree at Triton College (River Grove, Illinois), where he found mentors who taught him to be "responsibly radical," instilled in him the rigors of good scholarship, and trained him with exacting editorial skills. "Triton was better than fightin'," he quips, then admits to feeling guilty about not going to war (his grandfather was a veteran of World War I, and his father of World War II). When he adds that "College was like my witness protection program," the decision assumes added gravity. In his early twenties, Gardaphé opted out of violence-both organized crime and military enlistment-in favor of other battles. Courses in radical education reform taken while completing his BS in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison inclined Gardaphé toward pedagogic revolution. "The best teaching experience" of his life happened at Prolgoue Learning Center, an alternative Chicago street school founded by radical Franciscan nuns where, as he puts it, "there was no separation between the streets and the academy." At this school, teachers were also counselors and the ‘problem' students who had been turned out of all Chicago's public schools participated fully in administrative decisions and hiring. But shortly after one of Gardaphé's students was murdered weeks after graduating from high school, the radical young teacher left to pursue a Masters Degree in English at the University of Chicago. This was followed by a PhD in Literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago with an emphasis on cultural criticism and American multicultural literature. Dr. Gardaphé remains a revolutionary at heart. His intellectual concerns directly fuel activist work within the Italian-American community, and he seems strikingly comfortable in multiple worlds. This ability to cross boundaries and to integrate elements of disparate realities, he notes, has defined his career: "I was not ashamed of being educated while on the streets, and in academic circles I am not ashamed of having come from the streets." This might explain why such a profoundly accomplished scholar and critic is at the same time so warm, welcoming, and grounded. He writes in unpretentious, accessible prose and is a passionate teacher who claims that "all college teachers should have high school experience; you learn where these kids are coming from. Too many people go to graduate school, wipe high school from memory, and lose touch." Dr. Gardaphé has clearly not ‘lost touch.' He studies comic routines to enhance his own class performances and firmly believes that the best thing a teacher can do-aside from displacing stereotypes with historical awareness-is listen to students. Dr. Gardaphé likes to teach a class in which he juxtaposes fictional portrayals of American gangsters to realistic accounts. At the first class of the semester, students can easily rattle off names of high-profile (and often fictional) gangsters-John Gotti, Tony Soprano-and they can name dozens of ‘wiseguys' in American popular culture. However, they find it difficult to name a single contemporary ‘wise man'. "America loves wise guys," Dr. Gardaphé explains, making a sour face at mention of pop culture gangsters. "We want our boys young, handsome. We love troublemakers. We need a trickster figure in contemporary society who we believe can literally get away with murder. It's right there in the name: God-father. A fantasy that man can become god." Dr. Gardaphé does not share such fantasies of immortality. By the end of their semester in his class, students know a great deal more about the real stories of historical gangsters-and they can even name a few wise men. Cultivating wisdom proves much more elusive than celebrating wiseguys, but Dr. Gardaphé clearly finds the former project more compelling. "The key to my career," he says, "has been to learn how to gain a sense of myself, who I was, am and will be, while gaining knowledge about others, and then helping students to find their own selves inside their education." 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Peter Godfrey-SmithCollege: CUNY Graduate Center Department: Philosophy Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (212) 817-7093 By Emily B. Stanback What is the basic unit of life or living organization? Does life exist in basic units at all? What does it mean to be an individual, a distinct living thing? These are the kinds of questions—equally important to philosophy and biology—that are routinely taken on by Peter Godfrey-Smith, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. Although his scientific interests range broadly, from the human mind to Darwinian evolution to octopuses, Godfrey-Smith's work is consistent in its effect, opening up new ways of thinking about science, philosophy, and the natural world. On a spring afternoon in his office at the Graduate Center, I asked Godfrey-Smith how he came to develop such richly interdisciplinary interests. He was, he told me, a "classic humanities guy" who was drawn only later to science. As an undergraduate at the University of Sydney he pursued a degree in philosophy, an early interest of his: "It was an extremely good philosophy department, one of the best anywhere, and it was sort of a Golden age there at Sydney. " While an undergraduate, he began working on the philosophy of mind, and it was a time when "people were starting to think of taking a more evolutionary and biological approach" to questions of cognition, consciousness, and subjectivity. But it wasn't until graduate school at the University of California, San Diego that he began to develop scientific expertise. Realizing that the philosophical questions he was asking had direct scientific relevance, Godfrey-Smith undertook what he describes as a crash course in biology, evolutionary biology, and the mathematical underpinnings of the biological sciences. Now Godfrey-Smith is one of the foremost figures in what is known as the philosophy of science, a field that, he has written, "aim[s] to understand how science works and what it achieves." In part, work like Godfrey-Smith's seeks to bring scientific ideas into contact with broader academic debates; it "refines, clarifies, and makes explicit the picture that science is giving us of the natural world and our place in it." By taking a rigorous theoretical approach to science, Godfrey-Smith is also able to question and critique the assumptions, habits, and practices that can both limit scientific thinking and distort the ways that non-scientists conceive of the natural world. Take, for example, the ways that we talk about and think about evolution. Godfrey-Smith writes that Darwin's Origin of Species is a "fairly concrete" text that focuses on "actual-world organisms and environments" —but soon after it was published, people began to generalize Darwin's main ideas, a tendency that continues to this day. A philosopher, Godfrey-Smith is, of course, not against abstraction. But his work on evolution does endeavor to point out where common generalizations don't account for biological realities, and he seeks to develop new ways of thinking about evolution that do a better job of describing the natural world. Of the common Darwinian metaphor "tree of life, " Godfrey-Smith writes, with characteristic judiciousness, "Life is only roughly a tree, but a great deal follows from its being roughly a tree." What he would like, one senses, is for us to pay careful attention to the ways that abstractions like this get it right—and how they can meaningfully broaden our understanding of the world—but to equally attend to the interesting and provocative ways that abstractions can fall short. Some of the particular problems we face in thinking about Darwinian evolution have to do with what innately makes sense to us, given our experience as human beings. Godfrey-Smith reminds us that humans are, biologically and evolutionarily, a "special case," and human-centric ideas can therefore lead us astray when we think about concepts like inheritance, reproduction, and individuality. Generally speaking, it makes good intuitive sense (and good biological sense) to count each human being as an individual: when two human beings reproduce, their genes combine to form a new, genetically distinct human being—and thus the human species continues and evolves. Naturally enough, we may be tempted to similarly assume that each tree, animal, and flower is its own individual entity with distinct parents and a distinct origin. But, Godfrey-Smith explains, "once you look at living things and try to find the boundaries, it's very hard to see where one thing begins and one ends." Consider an aspen grove, which seems to consist of distinct, individual trees but actually consists of scores of trees that have all grown from a shared root system. Is it possible to think of each tree as an "individual" in any scientifically meaningful way? Further, can one think of each new sapling as a birth of sorts, or must one think of it as the continuing growth of an already existing entity? And what of a honeybee colony that is sustained through communal efforts and in which only one female (the queen) reproduces, and all other females are sterile? In biological and evolutionary contexts, can each bee "count" as an individual even though most can never reproduce? Or does it make more sense to think of the colony as a unit with a specialized division of labor and a collective reproductive system? As Godfrey-Smith outlines in Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection , which won the prestigious 2010 Lakatos Award for "an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, " it's not just aspens and honey bees that challenge a human-centric approach to evolutionary concepts. Similar complications are posed by scores of other living entities—strawberries, violets, viruses, the Portuguese Man o'War, aphids, fungus, lichen, marmosets, and grapes, to name a few—suggesting the extent to which our intuitive understanding of nature can fail to account for its realities. In addition to evolution, Godfrey-Smith has also recently published on the human / animal divide, putting pressure on the "difficulties and deficiencies we have in writing about animal minds. " Here, as elsewhere, Godfrey-Smith interrogates our habitual, metaphorical, and intuitive ways of thinking about biology and nature, which, he says, often lead us to both underestimate and overestimate the capacities and experiences of animals. The stakes of this work are largely scientific and philosophical, but, according to Godfrey-Smith, "there are also enormous implications for animal ethics." When I talked to Godfrey-Smith about octopuses, a recent animal interest of his, I particularly sensed his enthusiasm for the natural world. Godfrey-Smith explains that most of the animals we think of as "intelligent" —humans, dolphins, birds, chimpanzees—are closely related, evolutionarily speaking; all are vertebrates and are "built on basically the same plan." Octopuses, however, are invertebrates of the cephalopod family, and are related to fellow mollusks like snails, slugs, clams, mussels, and scallops. "Far, far away on the tree of life, " Godfrey-Smith describes, "octopuses evolved large nervous systems and complex behavior, " and the octopus's and human's highly distinct evolutionary paths have led to some striking and surprising similarities: eyes that are, structurally and functionally, nearly identical, and the shared capacity for learning and memory. Godfrey-Smith thinks of the octopus as a "second experiment" in advanced neural evolution and reflects, "it would be a shame if they didn't exist because then there would be only one experiment, " the one that led to the complex nervous systems of vertebrates like humans. If the octopus's similarities to "intelligent" vertebrates raise provocative philosophical questions, so, too, do its differences. Most of an octopus's ½ billion neurons can be found in its arms. That their neurons, unlike ours, are so decentralized creates an epistemological quandary. Godfrey-Smith muses, "Does the different design of the nervous system imply a different sense of self? Is there a single self? Or is that the wrong question? " When asked what it's like to be in the presence of cephalopods, Godfrey-Smith reports that, "informally, from hanging out with octopuses and cuttlefish, they seem to have different personalities" —but emphasizes that it's difficult to tell what impressions constitute meaningful observations and what is due to projection. "We have to remember how different they are from us, " he cautions, "but also not block out the possibility of personality" and other concepts we're used to thinking of in distinctly human terms. Before joining the Philosophy Department at the CUNY Graduate Center in fall 2011, Godfrey-Smith held faculty positions at Stanford University, the Australian National University, and Harvard University. Godfrey-Smith is quick to point out that as an octopus enthusiast he is in good company here at CUNY, despite its urban location. (Other CUNY octopus scholars include Brooklyn College's Jennifer Basil and Frank Grasso.) He has also found an intellectual home in the Committee for Interdisciplinary Science Studies at the Graduate Center, where he is a core faculty member. As to his transition from Harvard to CUNY, Godfrey-Smith says that "it's been good. I like the atmosphere here, I like the students. " A course he taught this spring, "The Evolution of Meaning, " has helped him with his current research, which looks at "problems of meaning and interpretation and signs" by exploring "sender-receiver interaction systems and how they fit into an evolutionary context" —and he says that it has been a "real pleasure" to be able to focus on these issues. Anyone familiar with Godfrey-Smith will have no doubt that this new work on signs and systems will continue his larger project of interrogating the limits and possibilities of scientific concepts, and of translating science to open up new ways of thinking about the world around us. [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Godfrey GumbsCollege: Hunter College Department: Physics and Astronomy Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: (212) 650-3935 By Emily B. Stanback What is the basic unit of life or living organization? Does life exist in basic units at all? What does it mean to be an individual, a distinct living thing? These are the kinds of questions—equally important to philosophy and biology—that are routinely taken on by Peter Godfrey-Smith, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. Although his scientific interests range broadly, from the human mind to Darwinian evolution to octopuses, Godfrey-Smith's work is consistent in its effect, opening up new ways of thinking about science, philosophy, and the natural world. On a spring afternoon in his office at the Graduate Center, I asked Godfrey-Smith how he came to develop such richly interdisciplinary interests. He was, he told me, a "classic humanities guy" who was drawn only later to science. As an undergraduate at the University of Sydney he pursued a degree in philosophy, an early interest of his: "It was an extremely good philosophy department, one of the best anywhere, and it was sort of a Golden age there at Sydney. " While an undergraduate he began working on the philosophy of mind, and it was a time when "people were starting to think of taking a more evolutionary and biological approach" to questions of cognition, consciousness, and subjectivity. But it wasn't until graduate school at the University of California, San Diego that he began to develop his scientific expertise. Realizing that the philosophical questions he was asking had direct scientific relevance, Godfrey-Smith undertook what he describes as a crash course in biology, evolutionary biology, and the mathematical underpinnings of the biological sciences. Now Godfrey-Smith is one of the foremost figures in what is known as the philosophy of science, a field that, he has written, "aim[s] to understand how science works and what it achieves." In part, work like Godfrey-Smith's seeks to bring scientific ideas into contact with broader academic debates; it "refines, clarifies, and makes explicit the picture that science is giving us of the natural world and our place in it." By taking a rigorous theoretical approach to science, Godfrey-Smith is also able to question and critique the assumptions, habits, and practices that can both limit scientific thinking and distort the ways that non-scientists conceive of the natural world. Take, for example, the ways that we talk about and think about evolution. Godfrey-Smith writes that Darwin's Origin of Species is a "fairly concrete" text that focuses on "actual-world organisms and environments"—but soon after it was published, people began to generalize Darwin's main ideas, a tendency that continues to this day. A philosopher, Godfrey-Smith is, of course, not against abstraction. But his work on evolution does endeavor to point out where common generalizations don't account for biological realities, and he seeks to develop new ways of thinking about evolution that do a better job of describing the natural world. Of the common Darwinian metaphor "tree of life," Godfrey-Smith writes, with characteristic judiciousness, "Life is only roughly a tree, but a great deal follows from its being roughly a tree." What he would like, one senses, is for us to pay careful attention to the ways that abstractions like this get it right—and how they can meaningfully broaden our understanding of the world—but to equally attend to the interesting and provocative ways that abstractions can fall short. Some of the particular problems we face in thinking about Darwinian evolution have to do with what innately makes sense to us, given our experience as human beings. Godfrey-Smith reminds us that humans are, biologically and evolutionarily, a "special case," and human-centric ideas can therefore lead us astray when we think about concepts like inheritance, reproduction, and individuality. Generally speaking, it makes good intuitive sense (and good biological sense) to count each human being as an individual: when two human beings reproduce, their genes combine to form a new, genetically distinct human being—and thus the human species continues and evolves. Naturally enough, we may be tempted to similarly assume that each tree, animal, and flower is its own individual entity with distinct parents and a distinct origin. But, Godfrey-Smith explains, "once you look at living things and try to find the boundaries, it's very hard to see where one thing begins and one ends." Consider an aspen grove, which seems to consist of distinct, individual trees but actually consists of scores of trees that have all grown from a shared root system. Is it possible to think of each tree as an "individual" in any scientifically meaningful way? Further, can one think of each new sapling as a birth of sorts, or must one think of it as the continuing growth of an already existing entity? And what of a honeybee colony that is sustained through communal efforts and in which only one female (the queen) reproduces, and all other females are sterile? In biological and evolutionary contexts, can each bee "count" as an individual even though most can never reproduce? Or does it make more sense to think of the colony as a unit with a specialized division of labor and a collective reproductive system? As Godfrey-Smith outlines in Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection , which won the prestigious 2010 Lakatos Award for "an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, " it's not just aspens and honeybees that challenge a human-centric approach to evolutionary concepts. Similar complications are posed by scores of other living entities—strawberries, violets, viruses, the Portuguese Man o'War, aphids, fungus, lichen, marmosets, and grapes, to name a few—suggesting the extent to which our intuitive understanding of nature can fail to account for its realities. In addition to evolution, Godfrey-Smith has also recently published on the human / animal divide, putting pressure on the "difficulties and deficiencies we have in writing about animal minds." Here, as elsewhere, Godfrey-Smith interrogates our habitual, metaphorical, and intuitive ways of thinking about biology and nature, which, he says, often lead us to both underestimate and overestimate the capacities and experiences of animals. The stakes of this work are largely scientific and philosophical, but, according to Godfrey-Smith, "there are also enormous implications for animal ethics." When I talked to Godfrey-Smith about octopuses, a recent animal interest of his, I particularly sensed his enthusiasm for the natural world. Godfrey-Smith explains that most of the animals we think of as "intelligent"—humans, dolphins, birds, chimpanzees—are closely related, evolutionarily speaking; all are vertebrates and are "built on basically the same plan." Octopuses, however, are invertebrates of the cephalopod family, and are related to fellow mollusks like snails, slugs, clams, mussels, and scallops. "Far, far away on the tree of life, " Godfrey-Smith describes, "octopuses evolved large nervous systems and complex behavior, " and the octopus's and human's highly distinct evolutionary paths have led to some striking and surprising similarities: eyes that are, structurally and functionally, nearly identical, and the shared capacity for learning and memory. Godfrey-Smith thinks of the octopus as a "second experiment" in advanced neural evolution and reflects, "it would be a shame if they didn't exist because then there would be only one experiment," the one that led to the complex nervous systems of vertebrates like humans. If the octopus's similarities to "intelligent" vertebrates raise provocative philosophical questions, so, too, do its differences. Most of an octopus's ½ billion neurons can be found in its arms. That their neurons, unlike ours, are so decentralized creates an epistemological quandary. Godfrey-Smith muses, "Does the different design of the nervous system imply a different sense of self? Is there a single self? Or is that the wrong question? " When asked what it's like to be in the presence of cephalopods, Godfrey-Smith reports that, "informally, from hanging out with octopuses and cuttlefish, they seem to have different personalities" —but emphasizes that it's difficult to tell what impressions constitute meaningful observations and what is due to projection. "We have to remember how different they are from us, " he cautions, "but also not block out the possibility of personality" and other concepts we're used to thinking of in distinctly human terms. Before joining the Philosophy Department at the CUNY Graduate Center in fall 2011, Godfrey-Smith held faculty positions at Stanford University, the Australian National University, and Harvard University. Godfrey-Smith is quick to point out that as an octopus enthusiast he is in good company here at CUNY, despite its urban location. (Other CUNY octopus scholars include Brooklyn College's Jennifer Basil and Frank Grasso.) He has also found an intellectual home in the Committee for Interdisciplinary Science Studies at the Graduate Center, where he is a core faculty member. As to his transition from Harvard to CUNY, Godfrey-Smith says that "it's been good. I like the atmosphere here, I like the students. " A course he taught this spring, "The Evolution of Meaning, " has helped him with his current research, which looks at "problems of meaning and interpretation and signs" by exploring "sender-receiver interaction systems and how they fit into an evolutionary context"—and he says that it has been a "real pleasure" to be able to focus on these issues. Anyone familiar with Godfrey-Smith will have no doubt that this new work on signs and systems will continue his larger project of interrogating the limits and possibilities of scientific concepts, and of translating science to open up new ways of thinking about the world around us. [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"] [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Tania LeonCollege: Brooklyn College Department: Music Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (718) 951-5000 x2596 by Erika Dreifus
As one recent article notes, "it would be difficult to find a more active musician," than Tania León, a member of the Brooklyn College faculty since 1985 and, as of 2006, one of CUNY's Distinguished Professors. Few artists can match her talents and accomplishments in the multiple realms of performing, composing, and conducting; few individuals could devote such energy not only to their own work, but to promoting awareness of others'.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1943, Professor León responded early to music's call. In a 2007 interview, she credited her grandmother with initiating her musical education. Noticing that young Tania (then about 4 years old) was drawn to the radio, where she seemed to seek out classical stations, her grandmother brought the little girl to a local conservatory, and insisted that the teachers instruct her despite her tender age. By the time she immigrated to the United States in 1967, Professor León had studied piano, solfege, and music theory. She had also earned a degree in accounting and business administration, "in the event," as James M. Spinazzola noted in a 2006 monograph , "that her hopes for a performing career did not come to fruition."
But the early signs of that performing career indeed proved promising, and once in New York, Professor León found further success as a concert pianist (while also studying composition, trombone, and bassoon). Her work as a composer and conductor, therefore, emerged unexpectedly. As she told Frank J. Oteri in a 1999 interview: "...I never thought that I would develop a career in these two fields. I totally wanted to be a pianist."
But fate had other ideas. A chance meeting with Arthur Mitchell in 1969 proved life-changing ("He has been a father, a brother, in a way my family," Professor León told Anne Lundy in a 1988 interview)1. Mitchell asked León to accompany his new dance troupe: Dance Theatre of Harlem. From piano accompanist León soon became the troupe's music director. She began composing for Mitchell, too. "[O]ne day," Professor León recalled in her conversation with Oteri, "Arthur said, ‘why don't you write a piece, I'll do the choreography' and that was the beginning of the whole thing...."
"It was not until the late 1970s that León considered a career as a composer," Spinazzola has noted. "She was fond of a vast array of musical styles, but feared that her diverse approach to composition would not be taken seriously by the critical New York public." Her search for her own composition voice was important. "This metamorphosis," wrote Spinazzola, "began with the final conversation she had with her father before his death, during which he told her that he had heard a recording of her music, but could not hear her in the music. For León this was a powerful, pivotal moment which prompted her to draw upon the music indigenous to her native culture. She found further inspiration on a 1979 visit to her former home." The National Endowment for the Arts commissioned her first orchestral work, Concerto Criollo (1980). She has also composed chamber music, works for solo piano, and works for solo and ensemble voices. Her first opera, The Scourge of Hyacinths (1994), resulted from a commission by the Munich Bienniale, where it won the BMW Prize for best new work of opera theater; Professor León also wrote the opera's libretto, basing it on a play by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, with whom she collaborated again on a theater work titled Samarkand (2005). Professor León's deep love for literature is reflected as well in the Atwood Songs (2007), featuring poetry by the famous Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, and in Reflections (2006) and Singin' Sepia (1996), inspired by the work of American poet Rita Dove.
Professor León's career as a conductor, as it happens, was also triggered by her connection with Mitchell. At the 1971 Spoleto Festival in Italy, where Dance Theatre was touring, Professor León was offered the opportunity to conduct the Juilliard Orchestra (which was accompanying the troupe). "I was encouraged by Arthur Mitchell and Gian-Carlo Menotti to work with the orchestra. They encouraged me to do that, and I had never done it in my life. It was my very first time, but I picked up the baton and I conducted the performance," she told Lundy.
Professor León's subsequent training included studies with Laszlo Halasz, Vincent La Selva, Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. For two years she attended rehearsals of the New York Philharmonic as the guest of Zubin Mehta. After her tenure at Dance Theatre, she found more time to fulfill guest conducting engagements; she has led many of the world's finest ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra of Johannesburg, the Orquesta de la Opera de Bellas Artes (Mexico City), and the Beethovenhalle Symphony Orchestra (Bonn).
Considered an advocate of contemporary music, including music from Latin American composers, Professor León has also worked hard to bring new music to new audiences. With fellow composers Julius Eastman and Talib Rasul Hakim, she organized the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert series. Later, she co-founded the American Composers Orchestra Sonidos de las Americas (Sounds of the Americas) music festivals which took place in New York City and featured music by Mexican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Argentine, and Cuban composers.
Professor León's many awards include a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award and the Fromm Residency at the American Academy in Rome. She has also been recognized with honorary doctorates from SUNY-Purchase, Colgate University and Oberlin College, and has held visiting lectureships or professorships at Harvard University, the Musikschule in Hamburg, Yale University, Ithaca College, and the University of Michigan. Her participation is frequently sought in myriad settings, spanning award panels, conferences, and residencies. To say that she maintains an active travel schedule would be an understatement, as a glance at her personal Web site attests.
But her academic home remains Brooklyn College's Conservatory, where she began teaching as an adjunct instructor in 1985 (she was offered an associate professorship there the following year). Since then, Professor León has, in her own words, taught "every single subject" the Conservatory offers, from core classes to advanced theory and orchestration.
"My chosen purpose in life is to be a musician, a composer, a conductor. This is the way I am making my contribution to mankind," Professor León told Lundy back in 1988. An extraordinary contribution it is.
1 Anne Lundy, “Conversations with Three Symphonic Conductors,” The Black Perspective in Music 16.2 (1988), 213-226.[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Gail LevinCollege: Baruch College Department: Fine and Performing Arts Email: Gail.Levin@baruch.cuny.edu Office Phone: (646) 312-4062 By Erika Dreifus Professor Gail Levin's interests and areas of expertise are so prodigious that it's difficult to know just where to begin a one-to-one conversation with her. Should we focus on her latest book, Becoming Judy Chicago (Harmony Books, 2007)? Or perhaps on her acclaimed biography of Edward Hopper (named one of the five best artist biographies in the Wall Street Journal), and her eight-year experience as curator of the Hopper Collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art? Or maybe we'll begin by discussing the two projects she's been working on during her current sabbatical: a biography of Lee Krasner and research on Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Should we talk about Professor Levin's teaching at Baruch College-in art history, American studies, and women's studies-or her teaching at the Graduate Center? Should we delve into her own artistic accomplishments and goals, as an artist, photographer, and writer? It's a bit daunting, this discussion we're embarking on in her Baruch office one warm spring day, shortly after 2008 Commencement, a few months after the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York conferred upon her the distinction of CUNY Distinguished Professor.
In the end, we ramble a bit, but since there are so many interconnections at work here (the Judy Chicago biography, for instance, threads together Professor Levin's interests in and work on art history, women's studies, and Jewish studies), it all seems to make sense. Not surprisingly, given this professor's international reputation as a skilled biographer, we return frequently to the subject of biography.
During our discussion I dare to pose what I worry may be a hopelessly naïve question: I ask Professor Levin what "unauthorized" really means, when the adjective precedes the word "biography." I'm puzzled because as I prepared for our meeting, I'd read that Becoming Judy Chicago was an "unauthorized biography" of the famed artist, but I couldn't reconcile that description with all I'd also read about the ways Chicago herself facilitated the project.
"Unauthorized," explains Professor Levin, really means "written without any intrusion or censorship," noting that she'd never want to work on a biography that could only be written if "authorized"-vetted-by the subject. Chicago, she says, "has been a longtime fan of biography," and understands its value. Professor Levin only dedicated herself to the Chicago biography after ensuring that the artist was interested in the project and that Chicago would grant written permission to quote from all her published works and unpublished papers archived at the Schlesinger Library, and to reproduce photographs of the artist, her family, and her art. Without being asked, Chicago offered her would-be biographer access to personal papers and journals still in her own possession. All the artist requested in return, says Professor Levin, was the chance to read and comment on the first draft. As Professor Levin reports in the book's Acknowledgments, "I was then free to write what I wanted....[Chicago's] response upon reading was to ignore her critics and to offer only a few factual corrections and the comment: ‘It was very painful for me to relive so much-nevertheless, it was my life.' I have pried deeply and found in Chicago a person of integrity and strength."
The biographer's craft itself is a subject that engages Professor Levin quite intensely. "Biography needs to be studied," she says. Having participated in the New York University Biography Seminar and CUNY's Women Writing Women's Lives seminar series, she is "heartened" by the establishment of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY, seeing it as a step toward fuller acknowledgment of the value of biography in the academy and the need for practitioners to emphasize the importance of standards in the field. Professor Levin considers herself a scholar with a mission to not only make clear the validity and importance of biography within the community of art historians, but also to "expose" biographies of artists which don't hold up to rigorous standards of scholarship. This concern for authenticity and integrity also informs Professor Levin's broader work on ethics in the visual arts; she co-edited a collection of essays on that subject with Elaine A. King, published in 2006 by Allworth Press.
Of course, teaching is also central to this Distinguished Professor's working life. She has called Baruch College her academic home since 1986 (she'd also served as a visiting instructor there in 1974). A graduate of Simmons College, where she took an honors B.A.; Tufts University, where she earned an M.A. in fine arts; and Rutgers University, where she completed her doctoral studies in art history, Professor Levin says that she has "really missed teaching" during the time she's been on grant-funded and sabbatical leave. She is especially fond of her Baruch students ("they are so terrific"). Although not many of the College's students may have realized it, she recently joined their ranks: In preparation for research in Japan connected with her Kuniyoshi project, Professor Levin audited a Japanese language class at Baruch. An avid global traveler, Professor Levin particularly appreciates the international backgrounds of her Baruch students. "Teaching at Baruch is like world travel," she asserts.
Professor Levin expresses special enthusiasm about the classes she teaches that introduce students to the arts within New York City. Not surprisingly, she has taken her students to see and write about Judy Chicago's famous feminist art installation, The Dinner Party, at the Brooklyn Museum ("And even the men-some decided to take their mothers along," she told an interviewer for the Windy City Times, with evident satisfaction.)
To the extent that some of her artistically-inclined students report that their families expect and want them to follow career paths that seem more "practical" and lucrative, Professor Levin can empathize. All her life, she says, she has painted, drawn, and taken pictures. When she was in college, her parents threatened to disown her if she pursued a career as an artist; her own painting teacher told her that painting was "dead." Her mother and father were only mildly placated when she turned her love of art into preparation for a career as an art historian. I suspect that these days, they'd be very proud of their daughter's choice.
1. Gail Levin, Becoming Judy Chicago: A Biography of the Artist (New York: Harmony Books, 2007), 459.[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
John MattesonCollege: John Jay College of Criminal Justice Department: English Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: (212) 237-8586
The Person Behind the Pulitzer: Getting to Know Professor John Matteson
by Erika Dreifus
It's not every day that the average person has the chance to sit down and chat with a Pulitzer prizewinner. But on a recent spring afternoon I had just that opportunity when I met with John Matteson, Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York and author of Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father (W.W. Norton, 2007), which has won the 2008 Pulitzer in biography.
Generations of readers know Louisa Alcott from her famous tale of the March sisters-Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy-and their indomitable Marmee, as chronicled in Little Women (1868). Fewer, however, remember Louisa's father. A contemporary and friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott was an eminent thinker and educator, a philosopher who sought to wed his theories to practice in his own life and in the raising of his own four daughters (Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, and May). Matteson's book is the first to offer a cradle-to-grave examination of the lives of both Alcotts and the intricacies of their father-daughter relationship. In the words of Bookmarks magazine, Eden's Outcasts is both "prodigiously researched and eminently readable"; it is a book that offers many reading pleasures, including what a Los Angeles Times reviewer described as a most "rounded, detailed and compelling portrait of Louisa, Bronson, their family and their times" and "a valuable context for appreciating that enduring masterpiece ‘Little Women.'"
Such praise notwithstanding, it has not been a straight and easy path to Pulitzer success for Professor John Matteson. Originally trained as a lawyer (he earned his bachelor's degree in history from Princeton University in 1983 and a law degree from Harvard three years later), Matteson decided to pursue an academic career only after several years as a litigator. At that point, he says, only one graduate school admitted him (Columbia's). Not having quite completed his dissertation, he nonetheless applied for a position that seemed tailor-made for him in 1997: teaching literature and law at John Jay College. He was not offered the job, but was careful to follow up and express his continuing interest in working at the College; when August came around and John Jay needed a full-time substitute to teach literature and composition, he was offered four sections. Although at the time his dissertation remained unfinished, Matteson did have a wife and preschooler to support; he accepted the heavy workload. (In some respects, imagining Matteson's life at that time inspires a comparison with his description of Bronson Alcott as a young husband and father: "He was struggling to serve three masters at once: the necessity of earning a living; the care and nurture of his children; and the ceaselessly demanding appetite of his mind."1 )
By the time the tenure-track literature and law position was reoffered, Matteson had proven himself as a teacher, colleague, and dedicated member of the John Jay community; he won the job. Matteson waxes eloquent about his academic home. "We are a school revitalized," he says, crediting the efforts of President Jeremy Travis and Provost Jane Bowers and the contributions of many "superb new faculty members."
Eden's Outcasts may be a work of literary history, but it possesses its own biography, too. Unlike many first books penned by professors in the humanities, it is not a revised doctoral dissertation (for the record, Matteson's Columbia dissertation is titled "Blasphemy, Prudence, Slavery: Ethics in Law and Literature in the Age of Emerson"). In 2001, Matteson published a scholarly article on Emerson, Herman Melville, and Daniel Webster in The New England Quarterly that caught the attention of literary agent Peter Steinberg. The agent contacted Matteson, and discussions ensued about book proposals rooted in the 19th-century literary and philosophical history that had captivated Matteson and would also appeal to a general audience.
Initially, Matteson considered writing a book focused on 19th-century utopian communities, including Fruitlands, the short-lived community Bronson Alcott spearheaded. But as he immersed himself in the research, Matteson discovered much more about Bronson as both a philosopher of child-raising and as a parent. Exploring Bronson's relationship with his famous daughter also appealed given Matteson's own close relationship with his daughter. A proposal emerged; fortunately, one publishing house was willing to buy it; and Eden's Outcasts (the title alludes to the Alcott family's ultimate failure with Fruitlands) was on its way.
Asked to name some of the writers who have influenced his work, Matteson has many responses. In terms of "learning a writing style," he cites his longtime admiration for the writings of John Steinbeck and George Orwell. In studying biography, he has found it helpful to read David McCullough's books. Matteson also expresses gratitude for the intellectual contributions of a CUNY Writing Fellow he came to know at John Jay College, David Yaffe, and for the advice of a Princeton professor, Victor Brombert, who, as Matteson writes in the acknowledgments prefacing Eden's Outcasts, "[taught] me how to write with love."
Indeed, in conversation Matteson expresses repeatedly a sense of obligation to treat his subject(s) not only with love, but also with respect. In an age when many writers may be tempted to sensationalize their works, Matteson takes the opposite approach while managing not to idealize the individuals he is writing about. One of the more controversial elements of Eden's Outcasts, for example, concerns Matteson's suggestion that Louisa May Alcott may have suffered from bipolar disorder. Rather than simply issue an eyecatching claim, Matteson presents his evidence and interpretation; admits candidly that "no definitive interpretation of Louisa's emotional condition has emerged"; and cites Madeleine Stern, whom he calls "the brilliant Alcott biographer" and who believes "that Louisa's vortices were simply part of her writing method and do not reflect any mental abnormality." He also shares the opinion he sought and received from the reigning expert in the field of bipolar disorder among artists, Kay Redfield Jamison, carefully quoting her conclusion that the evidence "'does not irrefutably show, but is consistent with, the strong likelihood that Louisa May Alcott suffered from a form of manic-depressive illness.'"2
Louisa's possible bipolar disorder is not the only surprise Matteson encountered in researching and writing the book. At the outset, he says, he expected the relationship between Bronson and Louisa to be far less complicated than he discovered it to be. And like this reader, he expected the Alcott family's circumstances to be far more comfortable than the historical record revealed them to be. In truth, not totally unlike the March family's dependence on wealthy personages like Mr. Laurence and Aunt March, the Alcotts depended to a remarkable degree on the generosity of others. Matteson writes, for instance, that as the 1860s dawned, the family's friend Emerson "continued in his generous ways. Whenever the family seemed more pinched than usual, a small sum would magically appear from under a book or behind a candlestick. Although Emerson tried to keep his contributions to the Alcotts' fortunes anonymous, Louisa was not fooled for a second." 3 Finally, Matteson did not expect the story of Bronson Alcott and "nurturing" to be quite so complex. This last point is something Matteson may be able to explore further as he continues with his plan to edit and annotate some of Bronson's writings on child-raising.
In the meantime, Matteson is immersed in his next biography, a study of Margaret Fuller (whom readers will meet in her cameo appearances in Eden's Outcasts). He will spend next year on sabbatical, but will return to take part in the John Jay English department's newly-approved degree programs and to occupy its new office space. An Eden, perhaps, for one who is now as far from a literary "outcast" as any writer can possibly be.
1 Eden's Outcasts, p. 52.
2 Eden's Outcasts, p. 305.
3 Eden's Outcasts, p. 260.[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"] [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Pyong Gap MinCollege: Queens College Department: Sociology Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (718) 997-2810 By Joshua Martino
Before Professor Pyong Gap Min graced the halls of academia, he swept them. His first job in the United States was as a janitor in Atlanta. It was 1972, and he earned $1.75 per hour. Min had graduated only two years earlier from Seoul National University in South Korea with a B.A. in history and visions of studying in the United States. His story, like those of the immigrants in his numerous books, papers, and articles, proves that one should never underestimate the determination and talent of the newest Americans. Appointed a Distinguished Professor in Sociology at Queens College as of February 2010, Min appreciates the unlikely trajectory of his academic career. After completing his history M.A. at Georgia State University (GSU), Min stayed to pursue a Ph.D. in Educational Philosophy. He wasn’t expected to excel—as one of only a few Asians in the humanities, Min was advised to consider the then-new field of Asian American Studies. But he loved philosophy, and he thrived. Min’s department chair didn’t believe that a mere student had written Min’s dissertation on John Dewey, let alone a student who was not a native English speaker. Still, academic success could not push aside the racial boundaries that Min would describe in his later work. No departments would hire him, Min believes, because few thought that a Korean could teach Western philosophy. To broaden his academic credentials, Min pursued a second Ph.D., in sociology, at GSU. But even with a second doctorate, he could not find an academic position. He submitted his curriculum vitae to 110 departments, but none interviewed him. After Min won a prestigious National Science Foundation research grant to study Korean immigrants in Los Angeles in 1986, he met Ivan Light, a distinguished sociologist at UCLA who eventually helped him find an academic position. Min was hired to teach sociology at Queens College in 1987. Flushing was a long way from Atlanta, and sociology was a far cry from philosophy, his first love, but Queens turned out to be closer to home than Min could have imagined. There lived one of the largest Asian-American populations in the United States. These immigrants and the generations born after them would inform Min’s scholarship for the rest of his career. When Min arrived in Queens, he found a Korean community at odds with its neighbors. In his research, Min discovered that some African-Americans believed that Korean shopkeepers in their neighborhoods siphoned money from the community and refused to hire blacks. As conspicuously successful businessmen, the Korean storeowners became boycotters’ targets during times of racial strife. The situation fit perfectly the “middleman theory,” the sociological concept that particular ethnic minorities serve as economic middlemen between the highest and lowest rungs of society. Sociologists had observed that earlier in history, European Jews filled this role as money-lenders and tax collectors. In New York and Los Angeles, Min discovered, Koreans found themselves caught between wealthy white corporate suppliers and impoverished black customers. In his 2008 book, Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival: Korean Greengrocers in New York City, Min explains how changes in the structure of inner-city black neighborhoods nearly eliminated boycotts against middleman merchants. In an open society, new ethnic groups quickly refill the niches of established immigrant groups. Boycotters could not target one particular group, Min writes. He notes that African and Caribbean blacks, Pakistanis, and South Asians were opening businesses in African-American neighborhoods. Also, the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of black neighborhoods has discouraged African-American from seeing these areas as exclusively black. For these reasons, Min cautiously predicts that there will no longer be major racial boycotts of immigrant-owned stores or even riots in traditional inner-city black neighborhoods. Some of Min’s most fascinating studies have examined how the American experience affects Asian-American racial and ethnic identity. Scholars have often agreed that religious groups in an assimilated society have an advantage in maintaining their ethnic culture. Hinduism and Judaism are closely tied to their ethnic cultures and identities, so Indians and Jews in the United States have more easily preserved their cultural heritage than other immigrants. By contrast, Korean Protestant immigrants have difficulty in transmitting their cultural traditions and ethnic identity through religion because Korean Protestantism has not incorporated elements of Korean folk culture such as food, holidays and music. According to Min’s newest book Intergenerational Transmission of Ethnicity through Religion: Korean Protestants and Indian Hindus, most second-generation Korean Protestants are very religious, yet their faith does not help them to retain Korean culture and identity. In fact, as second-generation Korean Protestants become more religious, they lose ethnic identity. Min has published prodigiously and instructed thousands of students, but he believes his legacy lies in another project: In September 2009, Queens College opened its Research Center for the Korean Community. Min serves as the director of the new center, which conducts active research on Korean-Americans and disseminates information to the Korean community and the Korean government, hosts regular lectures, academic conferences, and maintains a bilingual library on Koreans in the United States. The center was made possible by a generous (and anonymous) donation of $200,000 from a local Korean businessman. Min also sees the center as an opportunity to give back by sharing a lifetime of research with the community that inspired it. [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"] [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Leith MullingsCollege: CUNY Graduate Center Department: Anthropology Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: (212) 817-8009 By Erika Dreifus
Few scholars have influenced quite so many fields quite so profoundly as Leith Mullings, whose research, writing, and teaching have spanned cultural anthropology, feminist studies, public health, and African-American studies. And few can match her intellectual legacy, reflected both in the work of those whom she has mentored, and in her own extraordinary scholarly contributions, which include developing the concept of the "Sojourner Syndrome." Mullings's 2007 appointment as a Distinguished Professor caps more than two decades of teaching at CUNY, and a career replete with accomplishment.
It also adds a new chapter in a distinguished family record in the annals of CUNY history. In 1952 Professor Mullings's father, Hubert Mullings, graduated magna cum laude in accounting from City College, which would have been impressive enough-without the fact that he completed his degree while working fulltime as an accountant and raising five children. As CUNY Matters noted in a Winter 2001 article: "The family consisted of [Hubert's] wife, Lillieth, two-year-old triplets Pansy, Pauline, and Paul, three-year-old Sandra, and six-year-old Leith. And thereby hangs a CUNY story in several volumes." Hubert Mullings, who became one of New York State's first licensed African-American CPAs, later taught accounting at Baruch College and at Bronx Community College. In 1975, he earned his MBA-from Baruch. His wife returned to college in the 1950s and earned a degree in nursing from Queens College, facilitating a nursing career at Queens Hospital, where she became head nurse in the Intensive Care Unit.
Leith, their eldest child, fulfilled the two-year liberal arts component of a five-year Bachelor's in nursing from Cornell-New York Hospital at Queens College. From there she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Chicago, earning her doctorate in anthropology in 1975. After teaching at Yale and Columbia Universities, Professor Mullings returned to CUNY, where she has chosen to remain. She taught at CCNY and in the Ph.D. Program in Anthropology in the 1980s, moving to the Graduate Center in 1988, where she was named Presidential Professor in the Ph.D. Program in Anthropology in 1999.
As her educational background might suggest, Professor Mullings possesses a reputation for an interdisciplinarity that is at once broad and deep. She is an anthropologist renowned for her critical study of race, class, gender, as well as health, and has done fieldwork in Africa and the urban United States. She has authored (or co-authored/edited) no fewer than eight books, including Therapy, Ideology, and Social Change: Mental Healing in Urban Ghana; On Our Own Terms: Race, Class and Gender in the Lives of African American Women; Stress and Resilience: The Social Context of Reproduction in Harlem (with Alaki Wali); and Freedom: A Photographic History of the African American Struggle (with her husband, Manning Marable); and Gender, Race , Class & Health (co-edited with Amy Schulz). She has written numerous articles on topics that range from gender to globalization. One of her most significant recent articles, "Interrogating Racism: Toward an Antiracist Anthropology," was published in 2005 in Annual Review of Anthropology; it critiques approximately 200 books and scholarly articles concerning racism's shifting contexts and meanings in transnational societies. In 1993-94 she won the prestigious French-American Foundation Prize, the Chair in American Civilization at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris; in 1997 the Society for the Anthropology of North America bestowed on her the Prize for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America.
Professor Mullings's development as an anthropologist evolved naturally from her interest in illness and health. During a conversation in her Graduate Center office, she explains that she "became curious about the social, political, and economic aspects" surrounding these major issues. Ideally, she says, the discipline of anthropology begins with the premise "that everything can be understood through historical and cross-cultural study." Professor Mullings is one anthropologist who does not stop with understanding, but who tries to apply that understanding to addressing social problems.
To that end, her scholarship over time reflects a unifying theme: "the interrogation of inequality," and investigations of how inequalities of race, class, or gender, in particular, shape people's lives. These urgent questions lend Professor Mullings's work a distinctly engaged quality, and foster a blending of her academic work with more public, community-oriented activities; she is frequently invited to speak at medical schools, schools of public health and community organizations, as well as academic departments.
As a teacher of both undergraduates and graduate students, Professor Mullings has offered an almost breathtaking array of classes over time. Her latest Graduate Center courses include "The African Diaspora," "Topics in Anthropology," "Anthropology for the Public," and "Multiculturalism: Critical Perspectives on Culture, Class and Conflict." She also supervises a number of graduate student projects, on topics ranging from the African-descended communities in Brazil, to archeological sites in Ecuador, to the child welfare system in New York, to an ethnographic study of an American prison town.
Professor Mullings may be her parents' eldest child, but she's not the only one of the five to have engraved the family name in CUNY history. The triplets-Pauline, Pansy, and Paul-proved, as CUNY Matters noted, "a triple CUNY threat. Pauline followed in her father's path, taking a Bachelor's in accounting from Baruch, then a Columbia law degree." Now an Acting Supreme Court Judge of the Criminal Court of New York, she has been an adjunct professor of criminal law at Lehman College. Paul Mullings started at Baruch but ultimately earned his bachelor's degree from Queens College; with a master's degree in health administration, he is currently Chief Operating Officer for the Howard University Hospital. Pansy Mullings earned her bachelor's degree at Hunter College, and attended Fordham University, where she also pursued graduate work in sociology before earning a law degree at New York University. She is currently a Deputy Commissioner for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. And for her part, Sandra Mullings earned both a bachelor's and master's degree at Queens College. She taught elementary school in Yonkers for six years, then matriculated at Yale Law School. After a career (including a partnership) in a New York City law firm, she left her practice to teach in the Law Department at Baruch College. And the story continues into the next generation, with Leith Mullings's daughter, Alia Tyner, who is completing graduate studies in sociology at the Graduate Center.
In the meantime, Professor Leith Mullings continues teaching, researching, and writing. Her next book, an edited volume titled Beyond Race: New Social Movements in the African Diaspora, will be published in 2008. She is also embarking on a study (with Queens College professor Jeff Maskovsky) exploring the concepts of freedom in 21st century social movements. As an executive board member of the American Anthropological Association, she has a significant role in the major debates and issues facing the discipline (at this writing, these include the ethical concerns associated with the U.S. Military's Human Terrain System Project). And if you visit her office on a weekday afternoon, as this writer did not long ago, you are likely to find there one of Professor Mullings's advisees, taking the first steps in her own career by seeking guidance (and, of course, reading suggestions) from the renowned Distinguished Professor. [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Elizabeth NunezCollege: Hunter College Department: English Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (212) 772-4051 By Joshua Martino
There are few students of literature and creative writing luckier than those who study with Elizabeth Nunez, CUNY Distinguished Professor of English. Not only can Professor Nunez gracefully quote great writers, with a selection from John Keats or T.S. Eliot to punctuate a point; she is also a great writer herself. Early this fall, I was delighted to find myself lost in her latest novel, Anna In-Between (Akashic Books). Critics who praised the book in Publishers Weekly and The New York Times Book Review were just as enthusiastic. Yet perhaps none of her readers or students is as grateful for her work as is Professor Nunez herself. "Books are the center of everything I do," she told me when we met in late September. "I read books, write about books, teach books, and I also write books. I feel fortunate." The first chapters of Professor Nunez's life were written in Trinidad, where she was born and educated through high school. Opportunities beckoned from the United States, including the chance for the aspiring author to work with writers she admired at the famed Yaddo and MacDowell artist colonies. Nunez has always been writing, from her earliest days at New York University, where she earned her PhD, to her busiest years as Distinguished Professor and Provost at Medgar Evers. She has published seven novels, including Discretion (2002), Grace (2003), Prospero's Daughter (2006) and Bruised Hibiscus (2000), which won the American Book Award. Anna In-Between, Nunez's most recent novel, is the tale of Anna Sinclair, an editor at a venerable New York book publisher. We meet Anna during her yearly visit to her parents on the Caribbean island where she grew up. But even as Anna arrives, she is lost. None of the lush tropical life or the lively people that Nunez richly describes offers Anna a sense of place. Even in her parents' house, even in her native land, Anna feels far from home. Indeed, Anna appears to be an intruder. In once-familiar but now exotic food, and in the local patois that now sounds strange to her, Anna cannot help but stumble upon constant reminders of the culture she lost by emigrating to the United States. She even senses that she may impose on her parents' happy marriage by being unregretfully divorced and single. Yet the actual intruder in the Sinclair home is the cancer growing in Anna's mother. Once discovered, the illness--and her mother's mortality--forces Anna to revisit wounds she hoped would heal when she left home twenty years before. Poor Anna must also face her own metastasizing sense of unbelonging. Anna cleaves to no race, no nation, and no culture; she is stuck between pride and resentment for her father, embracing and fighting her mother, happiness and loneliness; she is both the colonized and the colonizer. To Nunez, such complexity is the stuff of good fiction. "Most people live in gray areas," she said. "Most are not comfortable to choose one side." Our lives, she believes, are comprised of the "irreconcilable opposites" of a Keats poem. Thus, although Anna finds few simple answers, Nunez's readers encounter a compelling and lifelike novel. Like her author, Anna looks to literature to add meaning to her experiences. When the portent of death reduces her mother to tears, Anna remembers T.S. Eliot: "I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker/And in short, I was afraid." In our conversation, Professor Nunez quoted the same poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," to describe how Anna is stranded between opposites:
And I have known the eyes already, known them all-- The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? And how should I presume?To some extent, Professor Nunez can also apply these verses to her own life, particularly to her experience as a writer. Although Professor Nunez insists that she writes for all audiences, she notes that publishers have at times seemed intent on branding her work as African-American or Caribbean-American fiction. Her previous publisher, Ballantine Books, released her first four novels under the company's African-American imprint. When those books, which featured black characters and Caribbean settings, earned acclaim from readers and reviewers of mainstream literary fiction, the publisher printed Professor Nunez's fifth novel, Prospero's Daughters (2006), under the company's main imprint. It became her most commercially successful book. Anna's experience is related. Her parents are proud that Anna is a senior editor at the prestigious Windsor Books. Yet Anna is too ashamed to tell them that she actually edits novels published under Windsor's label for writers of color, and that her boss dismisses some of these books as "street lit" or "ghetto lit." When, at her parents' house, Anna reads a literary manuscript that contains none of the stereotypes stripped from pop culture that fill the "street lit" genre, she knows that winning her boss's approval for this novel will be almost impossible: "This is the essence of racism, Anna thinks, this refusal of people to see themselves in the lives of others whose skin color is different than theirs." According to Professor Nunez, race-based publishing categories (even subtly racial categories like "street lit") limit authors of color. She wonders if isolating black authors into race-specific categories implies that their audiences must also be black. Because these categories are rife with commercial "street lit" books, writers of color with more literary ambitions can find it challenging to locate artistic role models. Nunez herself recalls that as a young girl who wanted to write, she could discern few Caribbean women who wrote the kinds of books she enjoyed. If not for the generosity of her mentors--notably, the writer John Oliver Killens--her only role models might have been writers whom she studied in her literature classes, like Jane Austen, brilliant authors whose experience nonetheless seemed far-removed from that of a Trinidadian girl who longed to write and publish novels. Role models are important, Nunez believes, because writers are "always working against a lack of confidence." Nunez told me that successful authors ought to feel responsible for undiscovered talent. From finding new authors for anthologies to co-founding the National Black Writers. Conference at Medgar Evers College, Nunez strives to support up-and-comers whom other writers might treat as competition. She also mentors young writers through her teaching, although she recognizes certain limitations: "I can teach the craft of writing," she said. "But the best teachers for writers are books." Still, as teachers go, Elizabeth Nunez is indeed distinguished, as are the many books bearing her name on their covers. [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
James OakesCollege: CUNY Graduate Center Department: History Email: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: 212-817-8439 By Erika Dreifus 2008 is barely half over, but already it’s proven to be a pretty good year for James Oakes, an American History specialist who teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In January, the Board of Trustees approved his appointment as a Distinguished Professor, capping a CUNY career that began when Oakes, born in the Bronx and raised on Staten Island, entered Baruch College as a freshman in 1970. And in February, the Lincoln & Soldiers Institute at Gettysburg College announced that that his latest book, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (W.W. Norton, 2007), had won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, an award recognizing the year’s best books on the Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Keep in mind that as the 2007-2008 academic year began Professor Oakes had already received another significant honor: He has spent this sabbatical year as a Cullman Center Fellow at the New York Public Library, close enough to return to his Graduate Center office to meet with students and with colleagues and, one sunny afternoon in May, with me. Our conversation began by tracing Professor Oakes’s personal CUNY history. His ties to the University go back to his undergraduate years. As he explained to the Board in January , he arrived at Baruch College 38 years ago anticipating that he’d spend his college years preparing for a career in international banking. But for reasons that remain somewhat opaque to Professor Oakes, a freshman English composition professor called him to her office at the end of his first semester and told him that if he majored in business he would “be bored to tears.” Whether his composition professor’s prediction was correct will remain an unsolved mystery because, as Professor Oakes told the Board, “she was followed shortly thereafter by a teacher of American history, Selma Berrol, who told me in the first weeks of her introduction to American history that I had the makings of a good historian and two years later suggested to me that I get a Ph.D. I was not even sure I knew what a Ph.D. was at that point. I was a Catholic school working-class boy from Staten Island.” It was during this time at Baruch as well, Professor Oakes says, that he discovered and became inspired by the work of historian Kenneth Stampp, known especially for his scholarship on slavery, the American Civil War, and Reconstruction. And when Oakes indeed began that graduate training Professor Berrol had recommended, he did so at the University of California, Berkeley, where Stampp became his advisor. After Berkeley, Oakes taught at both Princeton and Northwestern Universities. During these years he published his first books, including The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders (Knopf, 1982), and Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South (Knopf, 1990). He had also devoted much thought—and energy—to considering elements of a sound graduate education in history. By the end of the 1990s, he had returned to CUNY, where he has been able to not only continue his stellar scholarship, but also to implement his ideas about the roles of reading, research, and writing in the training of new historians in a top-flight graduate program. As he told the Board, it has been a rewarding return:
I came to life intellectually at the City University and for that I am profoundly grateful. I spent eight years at Berkeley. I went to Princeton, spent five years there and twelve years at Northwestern. When the offer came from The Graduate Center it was partly just the attraction of coming home but it was also—for me, at that moment in my intellectual life—a lifeline, the last chance, I thought, to see if I could continue as a scholar. When I got here I found myself, for the first time in a very long time, in a department with colleagues who were genuinely enthusiastic about their own scholarship and about each other’s scholarship, who every day poked their heads into each other’s offices and asked, How are you doing? How is your book coming? Listen to what I just found. The tone of intellectual excitement at The Graduate Center was set at the top, I think, by a person who, if I may say so, is in my experience the finest academic administrator it has ever been my privilege to work with.The admiration is mutual. At the January Board meeting, President Kelly described Professor Oakes as “one of the Graduate Center’s most effective teachers and most dedicated citizens.” President Kelly also lauded Professor Oakes’s scholarship, calling Oakes “one of the world’s most distinguished authorities on the history of American slavery” and noting that the most recent book, The Radical and the Republican, “is well on its way to becoming a classic text in antebellum political history.” In his own introduction to this lucid, lively, and engaging book, Oakes writes: “Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are among the people I most admire in all of nineteenth-century American history. It frustrates me that it took so long for them to come together. So I’ve brought them together in this book, standing them side by side, so as to measure them in each other’s light and see them from each other’s perspective. ”1 He states outright that his book is not an effort to offer a dual biography of the men, “much less a study of their lives and times.” It does, however, throw new light on the relationship between two key strands of those lives and times: radical abolitionism and political antislavery. The book is grounded in strikingly attentive close readings of their words, of “the things Lincoln and Douglass had to say about slavery and race, about politics and war, and about each other.”2 And on these subjects, they had quite a lot to say. Grappling with all this material, and making sense of the undeniable contradictions, inconsistencies, and less admirable pieces of the story, is no small feat. I asked Oakes to explain how, exactly, he developed his skills in textual analysis. “Historians are good at context, but not always good at text,” he concedes. Early on in his graduate teaching career he began to insist that before students criticize a book they had to demonstrate that they had read and understood it. For many years he taught a graduate seminar in “theory” in which he again asked students to suppress their otherwise healthy impulse to contextualize the authors and instead to focus on reproducing the arguments of the texts themselves. Although he can’t reduce his close reading practice to a process or a formula, he does recall the contribution of a graduate school professor who insisted that Oakes write a paper about the New Deal—not about the reigning scholarship of the New Deal. Perhaps because the book engages so intensely with issues that continue to affect American life so profoundly in our own day—racism, freedom, and reform to name only a few—Professor Oakes was asked almost as soon as it was published to explain its contemporary resonance. “I should have predicted that reporters would inevitably ask me to compare Abraham Lincoln to George Bush,” he wrote in a column for History Network News. What he did not expect was the reaction of fellow historians “who find my book helpful in their own work—a model, of sorts, for the way radicals and liberals, reformers and politics, interact in settings other than that crisis of slavery and the Civil War.” Although wary of “applying” his book’s lessons to contexts outside the one described within its pages, Professor Oakes conceded that in a broad sense, his book offers “a defense of political engagement, with ‘politics’ defined in an old-fashioned, colloquial sense of organized activity aimed at influencing state policy. When we abandon that, we’ve given up.” As far as his own field of study goes, Professor Oakes seems unlikely to “abandon” that anytime soon, either. His current project focuses on the history of emancipation. His connection with CUNY grows stronger every day, too, and not only thanks to the Graduate Center: His young son—images of whom alternate with those of Abraham Lincoln on the screensaver on Professor Oakes’s office computer and who, the father notes with some pride, has a copy of the iconic photograph of Lincoln reading with his young son, Tad, in his room at home—is now enrolled in the Hunter College Elementary School. “He is in love with the place, and so am I,” Professor Oakes told the Board in January. “I hit the jackpot.” The University returns the compliment.
Reviews of The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics including the following: Eric Foner, The Nation, 18 January 2007. James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books, 29 March 2007. David Waldstreicher, Boston Globe, 4 February 2007. For an interview with Tavis Smiley in which Professor Oakes discusses The Radical and the Republican, please click here.
1. The Radical and the Republican, p. xx.
2. The Radical and the Republican, p. 289.[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Ruthann RobsonCollege: CUNY School of Law Department: Law Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (718) 340-4447 by Jill Jarvis The titles of some of Professor Ruthann Robson’s writings on legal theory might pass as the titles of novels: Sappho Goes to Law School. Lesbian (Out)Law. Lavender Bruises. Mostly Monogamous Moms. Lov(h)ers. Incendiary Categories. Her poetry has appeared in publications that might at first seem unlikely homes for poetics. The following, excerpted from her poem “authenticity,” was published in Legal Studies Forum in 2005:
i thought fiction was poetryit is theory
i thought theory was a solution
it is practice
Legal Studies Forum, volume 29, issue 1 (2005)Something here hints at a habit of confounding your typical categories, doesn’t it? Ruthann Robson’s career is characterized by a certain defiance of traditional categories. She can be described by all of the following: CUNY Distinguished Professor of Law, pioneering legal theorist in the field of lesbian jurisprudence, award-winning novelist, accomplished poet, experimental essayist, and dedicated mentor and teacher. Since 1990, Robson has taught constitutional law, family law, feminist legal theory, and sexuality and the law at the CUNY Law School. In 2007, she was named a Distinguished Professor in recognition of the magnitude of her scholarly and creative accomplishments. “Seventeen years ago,” Robson remembers, “I could name everything published with the word ‘lesbian’ in it.” Though she doesn’t say this, many would argue that it is because Robson herself has single-handedly written lesbians out of legal invisibility and onto the map of U.S. jurisprudence that what was a fact seventeen years ago is no longer true. There is now a flourishing wealth of articles published in ever major law journal that cite her authority and influence; a 2004 scholarly symposium was held to honor the profound impact of her work; the New York City Law Review published an entire issue devoted to articles inspired by her scholarship. Professor Robson did not plan to become a lawyer. As a graduate student in philosophy, she was attracted to social justice work. After her roommate convinced her to take the LSAT, Robson went to law school, graduated, clerked for two judges, then went to work in Florida Rural Legal Services practicing poverty law. “This is not what people from clerkships do,” she points out. When federal regulations on legal services became increasingly restrictive, Robson decided that it was no longer the social justice that she had become a lawyer to practice. She decided to teach instead, and she also began to write about lesbians—another unorthodox move. Other scholars counseled her that she would be “committing academic suicide” by focusing on lesbian legal issues. They were wrong. CUNY School of Law warmly welcomed Professor Robson in 1990. Since then, Robson’s innovative theoretical writing has identified how the law’s traditional categories have erased and damaged lesbians and has pushed discussion of lesbian legal rights light-years beyond the simplistic ‘for’ or ‘against’ marriage debate. The issue, she insists, is not how to fit lesbians into existing hetero-normative social and legal categories; the problem is that those categories neither recognize nor protect the complexities of lesbian identities and lives. Because feminist jurisprudence can still be homophobic, and because queer laws that combine the rights of lesbians with those of gay men gloss over the ways that lesbians are specifically affected by sexism, Robson calls for ‘relentlessly lesbian’ jurisprudence that takes lesbian survival as its sole raison d’etre. Robson is also a prolific creative writer whose work challenges the definitions of the genres that it spans. “I find myself writing what I can’t find to read,” she says, which suggests that her creative writing, like her academic, breaks new ground. Robson’s 1989 collection of stories Eye of a Hurricane (Firebrand Books) won the Ferro-Grumley award for outstanding fiction on lesbian life; her novel A/K/A was a 1998 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award; her poetry collection Masks was nominated for both a National Book Critics Circle and ALA Stonewall award. In her 2003 essay “Notes from a Difficult Case,” Robson uses taut, precise language to describe her near-deadly misdiagnosis at the hands of an arrogant doctor at a famous cancer hospital. Rather than suing for damages, she wrote the damage down. Of this, she says: “I was trying to get through something, and I thought it would be valuable to others.” Robson has a keen sense of responsibility to her audiences. Whether fiction, poetry, theory, or something between, her writing reflects an impulse to articulate recessed truths in a form that will impact others’ lives. “I am interested in accessibility,” she says. “Sometimes the audience is me. I’m trying to figure out what I think. I can start breaking down boundaries—but then I must bring it back to a place that is accessible, that makes sense to other people.” On her website, Robson has posted this telling lyric from the Greek poet Sappho: “If you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble.” “I really am squeamish,” Robson admits. Considering the brave breadth of her subject matter, this is somewhat surprising. She continues: “But this fragment says to me: don’t be squeamish. If you’re going into this, be ready to deal with what it is you find. Don’t like the consequences of what you find yourself writing? That’s a sign that you’re on the right track. Why make an argument for something you already believe?” Reflecting on her multifarious career as academic theorist and writer, Robson says simply, “I think of myself as a teacher.” She credits CUNY, an historically anti-elitist institution that values social justice and pedagogy to “an unparalleled extent,” as an intellectually challenging and nurturing institutional home. “I don’t know if I could have chosen to stay at a different law school,” Robson acknowledges matter-of-factly. “I wouldn’t have been happy elsewhere. It might have been easier at other places. At schools where teaching isn’t stressed or valued like it is at CUNY, they may have lighter teaching loads with less demanding students. It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is dramatic. Our students are engaged. They analyze. It’s exciting. I’m transferring the knowledge and skills to them so that they can go out and do the kinds of public interest work that I would do. They’re going to use this knowledge to improve the world.” Professor Ruthann Robson has become, to hundreds of readers, students, and colleagues, the bold and encouraging mentor that she herself never had. “People always told me that what I wanted to do was impossible,” she says. Perhaps it is the experience of carving her own unconventional path beyond the usual boundaries that has so sharpened Robson’s sense of possibility, both political and poetic. “I never say impossible to anyone,” she adds. “I might say, ‘have you thought of this’, or ‘here’s how someone else has done things’, or ‘there might be more steps to this than you thought’—but I never say impossible.”
1 “Politics of the Possible: Reflections on a Decade at CUNY School of Law.” 4 New York City Law Review. 245-257 (2000).
2 “Politics of the Possible: Reflections on a Decade at CUNY School of Law.” 4 New York City Law Review. 245-257 (2000).[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Grace SchulmanCollege: Baruch College Department: English Email: Grace_Schulman@baruch.cuny.edu Office Phone: (646) 312-3941 By Erika Dreifus Poet and literary educator Grace Schulman began teaching at Baruch College of The City University of New York as an adjunct in 1971, during a phase in her life when she was, in her own words, “writing in obscurity.” The following year Schulman received a full-time appointment at Baruch; after more than a quarter-century of teaching and service there, she was appointed a Distinguished Professor in 1999. Today she is also the author of six poetry collections, most recently The Broken String (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), most of which was written on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the editor of The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking, 2003). Professor Schulman, who has cited Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Donne, William Shakespeare, Dante, Hart Crane, and W.H. Auden among her literary models, was born in New York City. Her mother, who was also a writer, helped nurture an early affinity for the craft. “We played with words,” Professor Schulman recalls when we meet in her Baruch office, describing a joint notebook in which mother and young daughter pooled their pieces. At age 14 (through one of her father’s friends), Professor Schulman was introduced to the poet Marianne Moore, beginning a formative friendship. Professor Schulman attended Bard College before earning her undergraduate degree from American University in 1955. She completed graduate study back in New York, at New York University, where she received her doctorate in 1971 and wrote a dissertation on the Moore’s poetry (that work was later published as Marianne Moore: The Poetry of Engagement). As Professor Schulman noted in a 2004 interview on the Leonard Lopate Show , Moore herself was far more interested in Schulman’s development as a poet than in her progress as a literary critic and scholar. No doubt Moore was pleased to see Professor Schulman’s poetry published in journals and anthologies as well as in the individual collections. Publishers Weekly described Professor Schulman’s most recent book, The Broken String, as one that “goes all-out in attempting to represent joy: the kind that comes from works of art, in classical music, in jazz or on canvas, and the kind that comes from attention to everyday details.” At the same time, the magazine noted, “Schulman…sounds most convincing when her palette grows darker,” pointing to one poem, “Death,” that “belies its stark title by presenting, in dense five-line stanzas, many cultures’ ceremonies of mourning, from the Jewish ‘Kaddish that sanctifies and praises being’ to a New Orleans brass-band funeral.” Musing on her recent work, Professor Schulman herself notes recurrent themes and subjects: New York City, immigrant life, and her own family background. In addition to the critical study of Moore, Professor Schulman has edited a collection of Moore’s poems (the aforementioned Poems) as well as one of Ezra Pound’s criticism. She is also an accomplished literary translator. Besides the Guggenheim award, her honors include fellowships from the Karolyi Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, as well as multiple fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony and New York University’s Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Even beyond the time and energy she has devoted to her own work, and to writing about others’, Professor Schulman has sustained an intense and multi-layered engagement in the world of contemporary poetry. She is recognized for 35 years’ dedication as Poetry Editor for The Nation magazine as well as for her years directing the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y. She has also served as a vice-president of the International PEN organization and founded a major literary competition, Discovery-The Nation (now known as the Discovery/Boston Review Award), honoring emerging poetic talents. Asked how she managed to balance her multiple commitments to the poetry community for so many years, she responds simply: “I love reading poems [by others].” She has taken particular pleasure, she says, in discovering the work of new poets. Always, her commitment to Baruch has remained steadfast. She notes that during her service at the 92nd Street Y the poets she invited to appear there also visited Baruch (she made their Baruch readings “a condition” of the offers to appear uptown). She currently serves on the advisory committee for Baruch’s Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program, which brings distinguished writers to the campus each semester as visiting professors. “I love doing things for Baruch,” Professor Schulman says, and that love is evident when she speaks of her courses and students. She expresses a sense of being “privileged” to teach her undergraduates (“they are unspoiled,” she explains). Currently, she teaches two courses each semester. In one, “Great Works of Literature,” students read works by writers from various eras and cultures: Jonathan Swift, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Ueda Akinari, Frederick Douglass, Anton Chekhov, and Chinua Achebe, among others. But, drawing on the diversity and internationalism of the Baruch student population, Professor Schulman also solicits student participation in designing the course, asking the class members to bring in contemporary poems representing their own cultural backgrounds for group study. In the second course, a poetry workshop, Professor Schulman emphasizes her role as helping her students see, observe, “pay attention” in new ways. To that end the class includes a number of specially-designed exercises as well as illustrative readings. For example, an exercise titled “No Ideas but in Things” asks students to study an item selected from a list (a hammer, two cut lemons, four oranges, a window, blue). They must, according to the instructions she gives them, “concentrate on what [they] see, but use taste, smell, touch, if they help. Then write about it, putting in lots of particulars.” Schulman refers them to model poems by William Carlos Williams and William Blake for inspiration. “I want to write poetry for the rest of my life,” Professor Schulman says, and to help make that possible, she has recently cut back on her editing and critical writing projects. In the meantime, Baruch College and the CUNY community are indeed fortunate to count Grace Schulman as a Distinguished Professor.
Links to information about and work by Grace Schulman: Grace Schulman bio-bibliography from the Poetry Foundation Grace Schulman in the News “Poet’s Choice,” (column by Robert Pinsky), The Washington Post, July 8, 2007 “Poems of Praise from a ‘Baruch’ Life,” article on Grace Schulman, CUNY Matters, July 2003 Poems
“The Broken String,” “Late Snow,” and “Northern Mockingbird,” from The Broken String (2007) “Apples,” from The Broken String (2007), featured on National Public Radio “Waves,” from The Cimarron Review (Fall 2006), featured on Verse Daily “American Solitude,” from Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems (2002) [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Michael SorkinCollege: The City College of New York Department: Architecture Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: (212) 650-7118 Distinguished Professor Profile: Michael Sorkin By Jill Jarvis On city streets throughout the world, lost strangers seek out Michael Sorkin to ask for directions. "It doesn't matter which city," muses this CUNY Distinguished Professor of Architecture and director of the prestigious graduate program in Urban Design at The City College of New York School of Architecture. "They pick me out of a crowd to ask." It could be that Professor Sorkin's welcoming demeanor inspires trust, or that his sharp, wide-ranging intelligence exudes a knowledgeable gravity-or perhaps something about his own profound love of cities simply attracts those lost within them. One of the world's most influential theorists of Urban Design, Professor Sorkin is at home in any city; he has, indeed, visited almost every city on the planet. "Most of what I know about urbanism," he has said, "has been accumulated through tourism." Among his favorites: Fez, Prague, Paris, Jaipur, Tokyo, and ("of course!") New York City. "I love cities. I am an inveterate consumer of cities," Sorkin tells me. We sit in his Soho studio, a ninth-story workshop where industrious-looking architects bend over workstations just beyond his open office door. Sorkin has devoted his career to the study-and the re-imagining-of cities. He calls cities "great organisms, engines for constructing adjacencies" and explains that the true test of a good city is what happens a person becomes lost within it. There is a vital distinction, Sorkin points out, between losing one's way in the alienating homogeneity of a modern suburb or a desolate housing project and finding one's way through a heterogeneous urban maze that creates opportunity for chance discovery and exchange. "We have to build new cities," Sorkin insists. "Half the world's population lives in cities, and every week a million people move to cities. The system is simply not working." Sorkin advocates visionary, rational urban planning that respects cities as resistance points against what he perceives as the homogenizing forces of global culture. "It is critical," he has said, "that the city be rethought from both a technical and from an artistic perspective: the winnowing of cultural difference must be resisted by bold invention and new ideas of locality." For three decades, the Michael Sorkin Studio has been a site of such bold invention. The studio is committed to "practical and theoretical projects on all scales," with a particular focus on urbanism and sustainability and a penchant for designing unsolicited counter-plans. The studio also houses Terreform, an advocacy and research nonprofit that Sorkin directs (and calls the "activist arm" of his professional commitment). "Intervening at crisis points is what my career has always been about," he notes. Recent projects designed here include a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem; a sustainable Chuncheong New City in South Korea; a reclaimed Zhabei waterfront district in Shanghai; a green industrial village in Sendai, Japan; a masterplan for a Turkish community nestled against the Black Sea; the conversion of Arizona military bases into sustainable communities; unsolicited counter-plans for threatened waterfront properties; a masterplan for the imaginary city of Neurasia ("location unknown"); and a radically sustainable re-visioning of Sorkin's favorite city of all-the city of New York. Michael Sorkin was not raised in New York, but rather in the suburbs outside Washington, D.C. "The greatest thrill of my childhood," he recalls, "was coming to New York City and riding the subway train." When his mother gave him a copy of City College alumnus Lewis Mumford's canonical The City and History, young Sorkin was "intoxicated" by photos of the planned city Vallingby, and he was likewise inspired by Jane Jacobs' seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities. As a teen, Sorkin rode his bicycle around the D.C. area to study progress at local construction sites. Much later-and after completing an English MA thesis on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and Alice in Wonderland-Sorkin fulfilled his early inclinations by receiving architectural training at Harvard and MIT. His distinguished academic career has since included professorships at the Institute for Urbanism and the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (of which he was also Director), Cooper Union, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, and at the Universities of Pennsylvania, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Nebraska. Sorkin has published 15 books and countless articles, and he was for ten years the Village Voice's architectural critic; his Exquisite Corpse and Local Code are now considered classics of Urban Planning theory and criticism. Since Professor Sorkin assumed directorship of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY in 2000, he has transformed the program's focus and scope. This small, highly selective MA program competes with Harvard and Columbia to attract an elite group of 12-15 students from around the world into its rigorous design and theoretical program. As Sorkin points out, "CUNY has the best collection of urbanists in the world"; he strives to leverage this tremendous reserve of talent by attracting those urbanists to teach in his program. He also initiated the Lewis Mumford Distinguished Lecture series to draw the world's premier urbanists to speak each year at City College. The series was inaugurated by Jane Jacobs in 2004, and will next feature Paul Auster. Sorkin also introduced-and teaches-a major studio component to the program. He urges his students to model systems at every scale and compels them to consider how every aspect of a project affects the whole design: "It is necessary to think of everything at once, or to oscillate rapidly back and forth," he says with an energy that I imagine must invigorate his classrooms. Students first complete an abstract, large-scale theoretical design project; they next focus on plans for a specific New York City site in transition, like Willett's Point, Sunset Park, or Sunnyside Yards. Finally, Sorkin takes his students to an international, environmentally fraught site where they must confront "unresolved questions in the air" as they design architectural solutions. Such sites have previously included Wuhan, China-a thoroughfare of nine provinces being overtaken by, in Sorkin's words, "hyperdevelopment"-and Nueva Loja, Ecuador, a town plagued by the impact of catastrophic oil pollution. Sorkin has also led students to grapple with complicated design questions closer to home, such as those in post-Katrina New Orleans or the Tijuana river on the US-Mexico border. He intends to expand such travel programs, and is particularly keen to offer scholarships that will provide for equal exchange with faculty and students from these international sites. Struck by the range of Sorkin's many projects, I ask what seems to be an unsophisticated question: What is the connection of all this theoretical designing to reality? Do any of these magnificent theoretical projects get built? In response, he pulls a set of large prints from beside his desk. The prints bear designs-in this case, an aerial map of a redesigned Lower East Side, one located in a radically self-sufficient New York of the future. "All of our theoretical projects are possible," Sorkin tells me. "We're not talking about radical differences, but about using available means." In the "new" New York, for example, he proposes removing a traffic lane from each street to turn vehicular asphalt into green pedestrian space. "It is the duty of theorists to raise the stakes," he continues. "It is our duty to offer alternatives, to show possibilities, to raise expectations. No imaginative act should be forbidden." I look more closely at this artful remapping of a corner of Manhattan. It is overwhelmingly green, not gray. I study the patterned twist of its narrow streets, the verdant patchwork of its irregular blocks, and the cobalt water of a river whose streams curl inland. I glimpse what Sorkin means when he says that his goal is to "create possibilities on every scale to form a better whole," and I realize that this looks like a great city in which to get lost. [/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]
Joseph StrausCollege: CUNY Graduate Center Department: Music Email: email@example.com Office Phone: (212) 817-8602 By Erika Dreifus Like many who devote their professional lives to music, Joseph N. Straus, who was named a CUNY Distinguished Professor in June 2008, recalls learning to play an instrument as a child (in his case: the cello). But this particular cellist then discovered music theory as a high school student taking a class at Harvard Summer School. And the rest, as they say, is history. As an undergraduate pursuing a double major in English Literature and Music at Harvard College, the future expert on composer Igor Stravinsky wrote an honors senior thesis on the relation of music to drama in The Rake’s Progress, an opera written by Stravinsky with a libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. After his college graduation, Professor Straus spent a fellowship year in Paris studying with the famed music educator Nadia Boulanger. By that time, he says, he knew that music theory was something he wanted to study and think about on an advanced level; he earned a Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University in 1981. For the next four years Professor Straus taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He arrived at The City University of New York in 1985 as an Assistant Professor, teaching at both Queens College and the Graduate Center. For the four years prior to his Distinguished Professor appointment, he was a Presidential Professor at the Graduate Center. A past president of the Society for Music Theory, Professor Straus is recognized for multiple contributions to the scholarship of twentieth-century music. His first book, Remaking the Past: Musical Modernism and the Influence of the Tonal Tradition (Harvard University Press, 1990) was followed by The Music of Ruth Crawford Seeger (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and Stravinsky’s Late Music (Cambridge University Press, 2001). Currently Professor Straus is completing a book to be titled Serialism in American Music, which will also be published by Cambridge University Press; this work, he promises, will challenge some prevailing myths about what is known as the “twelve-tone” system or method of composition. In addition to his direct teaching and dissertation advising, Professor Straus has helped shape the development of countless students who have encountered him through his three textbooks, and he has edited or co-edited another four volumes. While continuing to teach, research, and write about music theory in a traditional context, Professor Straus has also, more recently, combined his expertise with an engagement in the newer field of disability studies. Initially drawn into the latter subject when the elder of his two sons was diagnosed with autism, Professor Straus became aware, about five years ago, of the “nonmedical literature” on disability as a social and cultural phenomenon. Finding the work “incredibly exciting and world-transforming,” he also perceived a gap in the field—where music belonged. Professor Straus estimates that these days, about half his scholarly work is related to the field of disability studies. One of his co-edited volumes is Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music (Routledge, 2006), which is the first book-length publication in the emerging field of disability and music. Last semester, Professor Straus taught the first-ever Graduate Center seminar on the subject, “Introduction to Disability Studies in the Humanities.” The course combined scholarly readings with music and literature. A week focusing on “Narratives of Overcoming, Cure, and ‘Normalization,’” for example, asked students to read several academic chapters and articles (including Professor Straus’s own “Normalizing the Abnormal: Disability in Music and Music Theory”), and to be prepared to discuss Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”), and Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major. Not surprisingly, Professor Straus’s longtime interest in Stravinsky has also found a place in his new scholarly focus, with his most recent published article focusing on “Disability and ‘Late Style’ in Music,” providing close readings of works by Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Béla Bartók, and Aaron Copland. In this article, Professor Straus argues that what have been considered “markers of lateness” in the composers’ later works may be more accurately understood “in relation to the disabled bodies of their composers.” While acknowledging that “New York is a great place to do anything in the arts,” Professor Straus emphasizes that the Graduate Center is perhaps New York City’s best contribution to his scholarly development. The ability to work at the Graduate Center with his colleagues and students, to share and exchange ideas and to collaborate with an extraordinary cohort—this, he believes, is the most precious gift New York offers him. And for those who may be wondering, the Distinguished Professor whose lifelong love of music began with boyhood cello lessons is still a practicing cellist. Occasionally, he says, he plays chamber music with friends. One suspects Stravinsky must be part of their repertoire. 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Douglas WhalenCollege: CUNY Graduate Center Department: Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Phone: (212) 817-8806 By Emily B. Stanback It is telling that Douglas Whalen graduated from Rice University with multiple majors: in English, German, linguistics, and anthropology. In a recent conversation in his Graduate Center office, Whalen, who was named a CUNY Distinguished Professor in early 2011, credited conventions of the times for this early academic feat. It seems highly likely, however, that his innate intellectual enthusiasm also played a part. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the undergraduate who mastered four major fields of study has since built a diverse career as a linguist, leading researcher in speech production and speech perception, and founder and president of The Endangered Language Fund (ELF), which supports efforts to document and preserve languages that are in danger of extinction. "I get restless and it's all interesting," Whalen tells his interviewer, but in talking to him one senses an intuitive coherence to the ideas and issues that he has revisited over the course of his career. Whalen suspects that his interest in language was piqued by middle school Latin—"I had a terrific teacher," he recalls. After his formal introduction to linguistics at Rice, Whalen decided to pursue graduate studies in the field. It was while working towards his Ph.D. at Yale under Alvin M. Liberman that Whalen became intensely interested in phonetics and began researching "speech sounds," which our brains recognize as auditory elements of linguistic communication. It may seem like it's easy to distinguish between speech and other kinds of sounds, from the patter of rain to the blaring of a car horn. Yet, Whalen suggests, when you try to get machines to recognize and interpret speech, the complexity of the process becomes evident. Befitting its intricacy, speech perception has inspired a vigorous scientific debate, in which Whalen has long been an active participant. There are those who have asserted that speech is processed first and foremost as any other sound would be, before the brain begins to recognize or understand it as linguistic communication. There are also those who, like Whalen, have long asserted that speech sounds are immediately processed as, well, speech—and that the perception of speech is fundamentally related to the production of speech. In a 2006 paper published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Whalen compared the brain's reactions to speech sounds (in this case "nonsense syllables" like "ta" and "tog"—the building blocks of language, one might say) and non-speech sounds (in this case, piano notes and chords, as well as percussion instruments including the slapsnare and swishsnare). The nonsense syllables and the musical sounds registered differently in the brain. According to Whalen, moreover, the same would be true even if one were to hear people speaking in a language completely unknown to them. Thus the brain of an English-speaking listener would immediately register Mandarin Chinese words as speech, even on a first exposure to the language. The one known exception? The clicks that are common in some South African languages. For Zulu speakers, the clicks register in the brain as speech sounds, but for English speakers they register as non-speech sounds. In the early 1990s, Whalen attended a meeting of the Linguistics Society of America on endangered languages, which, unlike English, Mandarin, and Zulu, are likely to die out in the very near future. "I expected to hear good things," he recalls, but instead was introduced to the alarming state of language preservation. He saw an acute need, and, Whalen wryly notes, "unlike most linguists I don't mind asking strangers for money." A few years after the meeting he founded the Endangered Language Fund (ELF), which finances projects that do everything from create vocabulary lists to record native speakers to support language revival efforts. Whalen estimates that in the next 80 years, 5,000 languages will stop being used on a regular basis—but partly because of ELF, many of these languages will be saved "at a useful level." One suspects that "useful" is a humble underestimation of the foundation's impact. ELF's projects and archival materials, for example, may prove useful in attempts to explore the connections between language, cognition, and society—another topic of heated scientific controversy. Noam Chomsky has famously argued that all languages are fundamentally the same, while others assert that different languages reflect—and, indeed, produce—important differences in thought, experience, and culture. Whalen is circumspect on the issue. He asserts, matter-of-factly, "It's clear that there are differences between languages," citing the innate credibility of those who contend that their language captures the "spirit or soul of their culture." There is also the fact that there are some words—in Plato's major texts, for example—that translators generally refuse to translate from the original language, suggesting that some languages do a much better job of describing and discussing certain ideas than others do. "You can think about anything in any language," Whalen says, "but some languages make it easier" to think about certain things. Endangered languages may be key to advancing this debate: if there seems to be something "deeply different" between Mandarin and English, for example, Whalen asserts that this difference is nothing compared to the difference between English and Piraha, a language spoken in the Amazon. Linguist Dan Everett has compellingly asserted that the Piraha language—which consists of a mere three vowels and eight consonants coupled with a nuanced, song-like system of pitch and rhythm modulations—avoids abstractions, including, for example, no fixed words for numbers or colors. In a 2007 article in The New Yorker, Everett offers the example of how the Piraha might describe a red object. Instead of relying on an unchanging word to describe the color—e.g. "red," "rosso," "rouge"—a Piraha would use a comparative statement like "This looks like blood" or "'This is like vrvcum'—a local berry that they use to extract a red dye."1 Whalen notes that it is precisely such "smaller"—and, typically, endangered—languages that are the "repositories of the most different" linguistic elements and features. And because "we don't yet know how to ask the right questions" about what makes languages like Piraha different and how those difference might matter, "we're in a race against time" to learn what we can learn from them—or at least document them sufficiently to make future analysis a possibility. For the speakers of endangered languages, too, ELF's impact extends far beyond the utilitarian. Language is not just a way for humans to talk to one another, Whalen aptly reminds us. It is a "social institution" with broad consequences—and because of this, language preservation and revival programs can "reaffirm the value of a whole culture." Describing ELF projects with American Indian populations, Whalen explains, "parents gave up their native language for financial advancement" but were unable to claim full membership in the dominant culture. Thus they were left with, in effect, no culture that they could fully participate in and identify with. The situation was often worse for their children, who typically grew up with little or no contact with their parents' native language, or the culture and traditions it could have transmitted. The American Indian suicide rate is remarkably high; because of this fact, Whalen says it is no real stretch to say that that children and young adults are literally being saved through their participation in language revival and preservation programs. Not only do they gain valuable contact with their cultural roots, but they are also shown that their culture is important, something worth saving. Although Whalen has served as the president of ELF for well over a decade, and although he also served as the director of the Documenting Endangered Languages program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2006 – 2008, it was only recently that he began conducting his own research in endangered languages. Partly through the support of an NSF grant, Whalen is currently researching Tahltan, which is native to British Columbia and is the only known example of a language that relies on what's called "three-way consonant harmony." He's been collecting ultrasound images to examine the shape of the tongue during Tahltan utterances, and hopes that the data will help linguists better understand and record the language. Whalen is simultaneously working on a project on "baby babbling," and it is easy to detect again the enthusiasm of a quadruple major in this era of Whalen's career, as he weaves together his interests and expertise in individual languages, anthropological concerns, and the structural and scientific study of language. When asked what brought him to CUNY in spring 2011, Whalen makes reference to a "miraculous" concurrence of events. He indicates that "kind of everything" led him here, including the Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Department's desire to reestablish ties with Haskins Laboratory, "a private, non-profit research institute" in New Haven that focuses on "spoken and written language." Since 2000 Whalen has served as the institute's Vice President of Research, and plans are underway to facilitate a "regular exchange of students between the Graduate Center and Haskins." Unsurprisingly, Whalen was also drawn to the Graduate Center's academic strength and its commitment to preserving endangered languages—and, Whalen notes, he was also keen to supervise dissertations. For its part, CUNY is lucky to have Distinguished Professor Whalen, who eloquently underscores why language matters.
1 John Colapinto, “The Interpreter.” The New Yorker (April 16, 2007). Article is available on The New Yorker's website.[/cuny_text_box][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/4"][cuny_text_box color="box-smoke"]