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Toni Cade Bambara’s Pedagogical Practices for Learner-Centered Communities

This post was written by Contributing Author Sonia Adams, a PhD candidate at St. John’s University who organized an event in TLH’s Spring 2021 series on active learning.

Toni Cade Bambara has greatly impacted my work as an educator and curriculum developer. I admire her commitment to literacy education, creativity, multiculturalism, and social justice. During my undergraduate studies in English, I was fortunate to take literature classes and seminars that exposed me to writers of color from the United States and abroad. However, I noticed a trajectory within many of the required, standardized, and special topic English courses, which privileged White male authors and texts. The western literary canon perpetuates an aesthetic that Bambara referred to as the “Anglo-Saxon tradition” that limited entryway for women and ethnic writers to enter the English curriculum (Bambara, “Summer 1968 SEEK Report). Although there were some gains made in late 1960s and early 1970s in making the curriculum more inclusive, there were some women and ethnic authors who served as ‘minority representatives’. In other words, their writings were deemed the standard for the racial, gender, and/or cultural group which they derived from. Bambara foresaw the implications of white patriarchal privileging and minority representation and sought to challenge them as an English Professor, writer, editor, and activist.  

In developing the TLH workshop, “Toni Cade Bambara’s Transformative Praxis for Learner-Centered Communities”, I wanted to establish a critical dialogue between CUNY campuses and the general public on current topics synonymous with ideas and values evoked in Bambara’s instructional work. I also wanted to show how Bambara’s lived experiences in community activism, higher education, and cultural work informed her pedagogical practices for creating and navigating learner-centered communities. Bringing this workshop into fruition encompassed the following criteria: creating an organizing principle, centering Bambara’s transformative praxis for learner-centered communities, and establishing critical dialogue through modes of multimodal learning.  

Organizing Principle: 

The principle for organizing the workshop is centered on engaged dialogue and a shared interest in building and sustaining community. In the registration evite for workshop, I emphasized the importance of following this principle: 

“Facilitator Sonia Adams has designed this workshop for CUNY campuses to collaborate with public service workers, organization leaders, and members of local communities to foster a trajectory of transformative learning. This learning propels one to seek a deeper awareness of self and society.” 

Transformative learning takes place when community members discuss issues that are relevant to their lives and collaborate on ideas for posing recommendations and/or solutions. 

I decided to begin the workshop by presenting the following writing prompt to the participants: 

“What do you consider to be a learner-centered community? What values and/or customs should be practiced within a learner-centered community” (Adams, “Toni Cade Bambara’s Transformative Praxis” slide 2)? 

The workshop participants are encouraged to offer their perspective on what encompasses an ideal learner-centered community. This writing prompt purports personal reflection on past and/or present learning experiences and a level of autonomy in making intervention(s) within the education system.  

Bambara’s Transformative Praxis for Learner-Centered Communities: 

Bambara evoked a Transformative Praxis for establishing and sustaining learner-centered communities within and apart from academic institutions. During my research in Bambara’s archived papers and published writings,  I came to the realization that she employed diverse pedagogical practices for centering learner-centered communities through conference panels, prisons, work groups, creative arts groups, community centers, public author events, academic service learning projects, and education support programs.  

During Bambara’s tenure as an English Instructor at City College’s Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge Program (SEEK), she collaborated with her students to design their summer English class by preparing the required course reading list with core themes and formal assignments “that would fulfill their needs” and interests (Bambara, “Summer 1968 SEEK Report” 1). Many of the students in the SEEK Program derive from low-income and ethnically diverse backgrounds. Bambara deemed it imperative that the SEEK students read and write about texts that explored issues of colonialism, race relations, class disparities, grassroots activism, racism, and sexism that directly impacted their lives. Bambara created a learner-centered community within the classroom space where ongoing collaboration, critical dialogue, and critical reading and generative writing processes would flourish.  

Bambara’s expanded on her Transformative Praxis through encouraging her students at City and Livingston Colleges to create work groups to produce position papers and adapt western nursery rhymes for publication. In Bambara’s first publication, The Black Woman: An Anthology, some of her students published position papers like “Ebony Minds, Black Voices” by Adele Jones and Group and “Poor Black Women’s Study Papers by Poor Black Women of Mount Vernon” by Pat Robinson and Group. In Bambara’s second anthology, Tales and Stories for Black Folks, she assigned some of her students to offer a retelling of Eurocentric nursery through a contemporary Black culturally relevant context. Bambara and Geneva Powell created the tale “The Three Little Panthers”, which is a retelling of “The Three Little Pigs” and Wayne Figueroa’s tale “Little Black Riding Hood” is an adaption of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Bambara and her students evoked African American Vernacular Expression (AAVE), an urban community setting, and Black cultural references and imagery as strategies for writing against fixed literary aesthetics and genre conventions synonymous with white western literary texts. In addition to the adapted tales in Tales and Stories for Black Folks, Bambara also included short stories by established African American writers like Alice Walker and Ernest J. Gaines. Her work in organizing student work groups and creative writing projects align to what schools today refer to as academic service-learning projects. The projects that Bambara assigned to her students were geared towards dismantling the literary canon standards and reforming standardized English curriculum at City College and beyond. 

Identifying Bambara’s Critical Pedagogies: 

In “Realizing the Dream of a Black University”, Bambara offers a diverse array of critical pedagogical practices along with a listing of recommended courses that would attract both students and local residents and elders to collaborate on and facilitate. As I examined this document more deeply, I reached the epiphany that some critical pedagogies that educators have created or expounded upon were utilized by Bambara. I would like to offer a brief outline of Bambara’s pedagogies highlighted during the workshop. 

Culturally Relevant & Sustaining Pedagogies 

  • Multiculturalism 
  • Latinx heritage 
  • Pan Africanism 
  • African-American heritage 
  • Vernacular Speeches 
  • African American Vernacular Express (AAVE) 
  • Spanglish 
  • Cultural Aesthetics 
  • Folklore- storytelling 
  • Folk customs & values (ex. Kwanza) 

Feminist Pedagogies 

  • Black Feminism 
  • Multicultural Feminism 

Social Justice Pedagogy 

  • Anti-racism 
  • Anti-sexism 
  • College campus rights 

Learner-Centered Pedagogy 

  • Countering Banking Method of Education (theorist Paulo Freire) 
  • Teacher and Students collaborate on instruction and learning within the classroom.  
  • Academic Service-Learning  
  • Curricular Reform Initiatives  
  • Students publish writings in The Black Woman and Tales and Stories for Black Folks 

Critical Dialogue through Modes of Multimodal Learning: 

For the Group Rap Session of the workshop, I created six discussion prompts where workshop members would be placed into breakout rooms to discuss them. I provided a link to the Google Docs folder that included the PowerPoint presentation with the discussion prompt slides. Each prompt offers commentary on Bambara’s pedagogical principle(s) to contextualize the assigned group topic and open-ended discussion questions. I employed a multimodal approach in preparing the group discussion slides by including public images, YouTube video, newspaper headlines, and excerpts from a social media post, poem, police transcript, news media platforms, and Bambara’s essay “On the Issue of Roles”. I wanted to make the discussion prompts interactive in order to make the reading and discussion processes more interesting. Below is a listing of the group discussion prompts: 

  • Group 1- “Migrant Family in Pursuit of a Better Life” 
  • Group 2- “Racism and its Discontents” 
  • Group 3- “Claiming Children’s Rights” 
  • Group 4- “#IAMNOTAVIRUS Campaign” 
  • Group 5- “Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman” 
  • Group 6- “Gender in the Imaginary” 

Employing the multimodal approach for the Group Rap Session created space for the groups to evoke media literacy skills. In Bambara’s teaching practice, she fostered students’ critical thinking and media literacy skills through uncovering ‘language manipulation’, ‘myths’, ‘brainwashing’, and ‘credibility gaps’. Language manipulation refers to official or formal language used by scholars, critics, journalists, and other people of authority that manipulates facts or conceals truths. Bambara created spaces for sharpening her students’ critical thinking skills in revealing and confronting myths or false narratives that perpetuate stereotypes and other fallacies often found in news reports. Bambara wanted her students to learn that they shouldn’t simply accept official media reports generated to the public. Several of these official version of news reportage of happenings in local inner city communities because they perpetuate credibility gaps that vilify its Black and Brown residents as criminals, delinquents, disadvantaged folks. Bambara charged her students to examine credibility gaps by posing critical questions, checking factual information, and conducting research on issues presented in the media reports. Bambara set the precipice of academic service-learning, media literacy skills, and college success skills that her students in the SEEK Program would build on during their tenure at City College.  

Continued Engagement with Bambara 

TLH Executive Director Christina Katopodis and I created a Google Doc folder with includes the PowerPoint presentation for the workshop, a copy of Tales and Stories for Black Folks and selected short stories, essays, and pedagogical texts by Bambara. In addition, there is a “Toni Cade Bambara Playlist” and a selection short stories by international authors Patricia Grace, Olive Senior, and Andrea Levy. These authors’ stories serve as fascinating companion readings to Bambara’s fiction.  

Click here to access the Google Folder (opens in new window). 

I created a follow-up activity for the workshop entitled Legacy of Voices: A Community Zine. This activity “is a gesture of gratitude for Bambara’s contributions to the world, as an endeavor to create partnerships for community-based education” (Adams, “Legacy of Voices” 1). For the activity, I invited participants to contribute a writing piece inspired by Bambara’s work in empowering students and learning communities. 

I hope that CUNY community and the public will peruse the resources in the Google Doc folder and submit writing to the Legacy of Voices: A Community Zine

Sonia Adams is an educator, writer, curriculum consultant, and PhD candidate at St. John’s University. Her scholarship centers on Contemporary American Multiethnic and Global Literatures, Multiculturalism, and English Instructional Design and Curriculum Development. Sonia is currently at work on her dissertation which examines Black Diasporic Feminist Literature from England, Canada, Australia, and the United States. When Sonia’s not pursing professional endeavors, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, attending cultural events, and reading great works of literature.

Image credit: Carlton Jones

Student Self Portrait Artworks created by LaGuardia Community College students in the workshop Seeing Each Other: Identity Self-Portraits

Professor Dahlia Elsayed and Professor Liena Vayzman
April 13 and 20, 2021

Kyana Neil

This is a representation of my activist side and my normal side. By bringing art and social justice together, I decided I wanted to remake a famous painting by Norman Rockwell. My head is served on a silver platter, hard to ignore, but I have very vibrant 60s/70s influenced makeup on. I’m surrounded by people laughing and talking, but all of the white people surrounding me have copied my makeup… and now the laughing seems to be more of a “haha we look just like her.” I tried to connect the “Culture Vulture” experience people of color always go through. Famous celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Gwen Stefani are infamously known as Culture Vultures… they wear people’s culture like it’s a costume. (From Asian, Native American, Black people, and much more!) And me a person of color, surrounded by white onlookers is having the first-hand experience of only being a “thing to eat, or to take from.”

Kyana Neil self portraitDaniel Herrera

I an Industrial Design major at LaGuardia Community College and a future Architecture major at City College of New York. I wanted to show a physical and creative representation of myself. To illustrate this idea, I divided the painting into two pieces. The left side shows my physical self-portrait and the right side represents the creativity coming from my mind. I painted a color explosion full of different paths and figures in contrast to the realistic representation of my face.

Daniel Herrera - self portrait

Giulia Armentano

The work is a reflection on the experience of grief. To create my portrait I went through photographs I recently shot and decided to combine two of them together in Photoshop.  Even though letting myself feel the pain is hurtful, it can also be comforting, an idea rendered by the image of the water carrying me.

I found the workshop interesting in how it showed the different ways in which artists think about themselves and their approaches to describing the aspects that make up their identities. This has given me more confidence in expressing something which, although it has been redefining my entire self, I am not comfortable sharing, even if just through my artwork. Hearing others describe their portraits was rewarding because I learned a lot about the creative process involved in the realization of works that are very diverse, although they were made by people who, at least partly, share the same educational path.

Giulia Armentano - self portrait

Scottie Norton 

I used a 3D rendering app called Blender to create an 8-second looping animation called Late Bloomer (and a still 2D image seen below), a figure representing myself with flowers cascading out of his head, and five hands surrounding the body.

As a non-traditional student, this artwork represents me pursuing my passion of becoming an artist and “blooming” or discovering my power through art after years of working as a retail manager. Each of the hands represents something different. I chose the image of the pencil in white and the black goblet to represent the positive force of creativity and the negative concept of vice. The black hand around my neck symbolizes self-doubt and self-destructive behaviors. Last year I was involved in an attack that broke the right side of my face, and this artwork symbolizes me overcoming this event and emerging with a newfound sense of purpose

Scottie Norton - self portrait

Teshaba Barlow

The work that I made was about working with the materials that I love and reflecting on why I choose to major in Fine Arts at LaGuardia. I painted myself and park-like scenery in the background, with a burst of cherry blossoms on the trees. The workshop helped me identify certain aspects about myself. Some of the words to describe myself in the workshop activity are: an artist, a woman of color, a naturalist, a palette knife, and Guyana, which is the country I come from. I started to sketch in charcoal. After, I painted. Working with thick layers of paint and a palette knife is always fun for me. 

My experience with hearing other people describe their work in the workshop discussion was altogether great. I enjoyed listening to everyone’s backstories, or struggles they faced with the project. I thought some were inspirational. And I found myself relating to them.

Teshaba Barlow - self portrait

Noelia Carrasco

I loved seeing everyone else’s work, which gave me a sense of what other kind of artists there are in the world and OUR SCHOOL!! 

[Self-portrait description: Drawing of the head and torso of a woman with long wavy brown hair, cat-eye makeup, and a nose ring. She is wearing a long-sleeved pink and green striped shirt under a black tank top, and an earring in the shape of a red heart. Two butterflies are flying above her and a halo of flames surrounds the butterflies and woman.]

Noelia Carrasco - self portrait

Kristen Chan

I am an Asian American artist from Hong Kong, currently studying photography at Laguardia Community College. I chose to base my self-portrait on five words that identify who I am, and repeat them over and over until they fill a silhouette of myself. The words “Asian American”, “Dreamer”, and “Immigrant” all refer to my identity as a Chinese immigrant growing up in America, while the words “Gamer” and “Artist” refer to hobbies important to me. The silhouette features a girl wearing floral hairpins. Such hair ornaments are typically matched with traditional Chinese hanfu clothing. The black silhouette was drawn using the software Procreate and text added on in Photoshop.  

Kristen Chan - self portrait

Lucas Neira

Art is about freedom and life. This portrait is about me and my dog. I painted the sky yellow because yellow means joy and happiness. The reason I’m happy is because the dog symbolizes a special key to achieve my smile. I always wanted a dog and now I finally have one. I named him Choco and he is a beautiful brown shih-poo. He is my 21st birthday gift and I am so happy for what I have.

Lucas Neira - self portrait

Liah Paterson

I loved the idea that self-portraiture does not have to be a literal image of one’s face – something that I had not previously thought about before this workshop. I sewed symbols onto an article of clothing. The symbols represent specific family lore and imagery present in my childhood.  It was difficult to challenge myself, to not only pick up embroidery after a five-year hiatus but to identify strategies to allow the imagery to maintain what I often try to capture with paint – an eerie familiarity, a questioning of what tales are behind this image.

[Self-portrait description: photograph of a black dress with embroidered words and symbols with close-up images of a duck, a tree, and house with flames coming out of the window]

Liah Paterson - self portrait

Zonghua Zhang

Hand-drawn with multi-colored pencils, I created a lizard man —  a scene with a joyful atmosphere to show a true me and my love of reptiles.  It was a fantastic experience to join the workshop. It brought me to a wider horizon level to understand what self-portrait is and can be shown from many different perspectives and it also can be expressed in different techniques.  I’m really happy to see other classmates’ artworks, full of unique creative ideas that inspired me. It was a good opportunity to share our ideas and learn some new styles of art from others.

Zonghua Zhang - self portrait

Tanesha Jenkins

The 5 words that came to mind to describe myself were creative, photographer, artist, magical, and extravagant. I like to embrace the concept of black hair with visually beautiful details like flowers, butterflies, plants, colors, etc., and make it over the top to place emphasis on its versatility and beauty. I used glitter and crystals as a nod to the “Black Girl Magic movement” which celebrates the beauty, power, and resilience of Black women. She’s holding a camera because I’m always taking pictures. 

I loved all of the examples and styles of what a self-portrait could be. I even researched some of the artists that I heard of for the first time in the workshop. I wish there was more time to see everyone’s work because it was fascinating seeing how other people portray and think of themselves. The creativity was great and now I actually want to play around with digital art. Great workshop!!!

Tanesha Jenkins - self portraitRongxin Xu

[Self-portrait description: digital painting of a woman wearing a hooded pink coat, holding a book with handwriting open with one hand, which is also carrying a bag of mandarin oranges]

Nour Mohsen    

I am studying Industrial Design at LaGuardia Community College. In my self-portrait, I decided to draw one of the pyramids, of Khafre (خفرع), in the background with the Egyptian flag above it, representing my culture. As all Egyptians, I love football, so I represent it in my self-portrait with a (Soccer) Ball symbol. I played video games from when I was 10 years old. I drew a gaming mouse in the bottom left of the portrait to represent how the gaming world took place in my life. I connected all those symbols with a drawing of myself looking back toward the things that represent myself both past and present. For the border, I used the ancient Egyptian language (Hieroglyphics). I used a pencil and a marker on a drawing pad.

NNour Mohsen - self portrait

JunHui (Erik) Chen

The five words I chose to describe myself in our workshop “Seeing Each Other: Identity Self-Portraits” are freedom, curiosity, loner, nervous and slow-to-warm-up. When I see these words, I think of cats. I consulted cats’ movements — like when they stretch their waist — and combined them with a human, plus some of my characteristics such as short hair and wearing a T-shirt.

JunHui (Erik) Chen - self portrait

Alvaro Chavarriago

My self-portrait is based on my own experiences, struggles, and battles to get ahead in this country as an immigrant. I chose to draw my hand because with it I can create a lot of things and help many people. My hand represents what I am and what I came to do not only in New York but as a Human Services student at LaGuardia Community College: Educate myself to help others.

Alvaro Chavarriago - self portrait

Leuvy Alvarez

I am a future teacher from LaGuardia Community College who loves art. I made a self-portrait using a photoGrid app. The photo I used in this picture was taken by one of my best friends as a model for her page, which is a small business clothing page, where I had to show my confidence. I’m using music notes as my arms. A raining cloud in my head includes a sad emoji, a flower, a sun, and a thankful emoji. The objects in the cloud represent insecurities, sadness, hope, and thankfulness. The rain represents growth: Flowers need rain to grow. Music makes me stand despite the war of emotions.

Leuvy Alvarez - self portait

 

 

 

 

Who Set The Fires? Interrogating the 1969 Student Protests at Brooklyn College (CUNY)—A Theater for Development Project

by Dale Byam, Ph.D., Department of Africana Studies, Brooklyn College

In 1968, 19 (later reduced to 17) Black and Latino Brooklyn College students were arrested in their homes on charges of arson and rioting at the college. The students were detained at Rikers Island for 4 days. Though the charges were later dismissed, the incident marked a turning point for the College

The decision to investigate this period sprung from a phone conversation with a community activist who, in the course of our discussion, reflected on her years at BC during the 1960s. She recalled the discrimination she had faced in some of her classes that led her to join student protests on campus. I began searching through newspaper archives confident that the event was something I wanted to look into further. Two articles stood out through words and imagery. The first, published on May 21, 1968, focused on BC’s then-acting President, George Peck. The article offered an interesting perspective of the acting President; his perception of the student protest as “a mindless approach to the problem,” his love of Milton and Donne, his academic background, his weight, his height, the color of his hair, his apartment in Brooklyn and his country home where he spent time sawing wood. The second article (NYT May 16, 1969) lead with the photo of a young student reading Plato while students of color marched by in a mock funeral procession. I learned nothing about the student protestors’ concerns through these articles. Why did the journalist choose to mention the President’s penchant for Milton or his second home in the country? How did the journalist know that the young woman was reading Plato? Did he ask her? If so, did he attempt to talk to the students who were in the procession? Who were those marchers? What did they love to read? Where did they spend their time?

Original caption: Mock Funeral: Students at Brooklyn Collee yesterday mourning “the death of justice,” referring to indictment and arrest of 17 students for arson and rioting. Girl in the foreground read Plato as the demonstrators passed by.

Fifty-three years later I had the opportunity to interview three BC Alumni members of the Brooklyn League of African American Collegiate(BLAC) organization and the Puerto Rican Alliance (PRA) who were arrested during the 1968 protests, namely Dr. Orlando Pile, Antonio Nieves, and Dr. Askia Davis. The interview ushered in the formal beginning of the Theater for Development project “Who Set The Fires?”

Theater for Development is inspired by the pedagogy of the late educator Paulo Freire. It is one aspect of a development strategy aimed at addressing specific community concerns through a collaboration between development agencies, artists, and other interested parties. At BC we set out to investigate student activism on the campus. As the work unfolded we gained insight into what seemed to have evaded the media of the sixties, the humanity of the protestors. We learned about the students who were active in the pursuit of fairer representation on the campus. Antonio Nieves eagerly shared over three hundred photos that documented the period of activism and sat for an interview with Temar France, a member of our team.“….Tony did such a brilliant job of documenting what happened at the time,” Temar observed. She continued, “The photos really do give you a window into what was happening and to just the simplicity of the fact that this was the work of artists and organizers and people who cared about each other people who are in community with each other. And that that was a threat to the government? That they were scary enough to be infiltrated? It just shows you the power that happens when you are a collective and when you work together and when it is something that’s centered around your education.” Along with interviews, students have added to the archives of the 60’s protests and devised an interactive video game focused on the anatomy of student activism.

The project will continue in Fall 2021.

A member of Black League of Academic achievement on Campus campaigning for representation on Student Government (1967) (photo courtesy Antonio Nieves)

Project Participants: Dale Byam, Amanda Enzo, Temar France, Assata Gonzalez, Anya Kopischke, Lanisha LeBlanc, Jean Michel Mutore, Naijah Whetstone

Dale Byam is a professor in the Department of Africana Studies at Brooklyn College. Her research focuses on the retentions of African performance in the African diaspora and Theater for Development initiatives in communities of the African Diaspora. Her research ranges from Culture and Development projects in southern Africa to the retention of African art forms in the West that includes Caribbean and Brazilian popular performances with special attention to the Maracatu of Northern/North Eastern Brazil.

2021 Health Communication Symposium Recap

by David H. Lee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Communication, Department of Humanities, New York City College of Technology

There are large disparities in health outcomes for New Yorkers according to race, gender, income, education, ability, etc. CUNY students from low-income families and racialized groups are among the hardest hit by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and among the most impacted by furloughs, unemployment, and crowded living conditions.

The 2021 Health Communication Symposium at City Tech was a public forum on health disparities. The event took place online and included guests and speakers from around the world. There were over eighty people on the call.

Ann Delilkan, Chair of the Humanities Department, made opening remarks about a new Bachelor of Science degree in Health Communication being offered at City Tech. Welcoming remarks were also made by School of Arts and Sciences Dean, Justin Vazquez-Poritz, Associate Provost Reginald Blake, and Provost Pamela Brown. Gary L. Kreps, University Distinguished Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, noted the necessity of vaccination to obtain herd immunity.

The plenary address, from Dr. Lisa Grace-Leitch, Associate Professor and Deputy Chair of the Health Education Department at Borough of Manhattan Community College, was entitled “Examining Health Disparities in the Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care of Black Women with Autoimmune Disease.” The presentation illustrated the disproportionate incidence of autoimmune disease (such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, psoriasis, and others) among black women. Stress from food insecurity, income disparities, systemic racism, incarceration, etc. is implicated in the onset of more than eighty different autoimmune disorders.

After the plenary session, there were three half-hour parallel sessions in breakout rooms. In room one, Amanda Almond, Associate Professor of Psychology from the City Tech Department of Social Sciences, presented “Methods for Studying Race and Health.” In room two, Linda Bradley from the City Tech Department of Nursing brought together a panel of speakers from other departments, including Thalia Pericles (from Hospitality Management), and Nandi Prince (from the City Tech Library). Their panel, entitled “Interdisciplinary Reflections on COVID-19,” looked at the impact of COVID on their respective fields. In the third room, Dr. Dionne Bennett, from City Tech’s African American Studies Department, presented “Intersectionality, Intersubjectivity, and Representations of Gendered Racial Trauma.” Each room was well attended with about twenty-five participants.

The keynote speaker was Mohan J Dutta, Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication at Massey University (New Zealand) and Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE). Dutta’s Google Scholar page lists 364 publications and over eleven thousand citations. He is the author of books such as Communicating Health: A Culture-centered Approach (2008) and Neoliberal Health Organizing: Communication, Meaning, and Politics (2015), among others.

Dutta’s presentation was a critique of business as usual in public health communication. He identified what he terms “neoliberal strategies,” which view health as mostly a result of individual choices rather than structural determinants. Dutta noted that the idea of “targeting” at-risk groups perpetuates an ideology of whiteness, and proposed, instead, “learning to learn from below,” citing Gayatri Spivak. As examples of culturally centered communication-based health interventions, he noted women agriculturalists in India “taking back the communicative apparatus” and creating their own media, plus other examples.

After the Symposium ended, I hung around for another hour talking with students. One of my students, Melky Saint-Surin, expressed hope that events such as this might help raise consciousness and focus energy on the problem of health disparities.

Thank you to Transformative Learning in the Humanities for sponsoring this event, and for their generous support for Health Communication majors. Special thanks to Christina Katopodis.

A Free Printable Bookmark from the “Philosophy for Children Workshop: Anti-Racist Conversations at Any Age”

At the Philosophy for Children Workshop on Thursday, April 22, Prof. Cheri Carr (LaGuardia Community College) with her students Jesus Benitez and David Ortiz, talked about how inclusive thinking begins with how we treat our children. Between ages 2-5, children internalize racial bias and display attitudes similar to adults. By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs. Caring and invested educators and parents can unintentionally perpetuate anti-Black racism by promoting a colorblind approach to race stemming from their discomfort navigating conversations on race. Not talking about race reinforces racism in young children; talking about it encourages the development of positive attitudes and skills needed to advocate for racial justice.

This is why the Philosophy for Children initiative at LaGuardia Community College partnered with the CUNY Fatherhood Academy and Transformative Learning in the Humanities to create an interactive workshop for CUNY parents and educators of young children that centers issues of race. Workshoppers engaged in an open, supportive conversation about how we can foster racial justice through our relationships with children. Engaging in philosophical inquiry is a powerful way to give children the space they need to ask difficult questions and process complex ideas. And it’s up to us to create those spaces for them.

Prof. Carr, along with her co-organizers Benitez and Ortiz, created a printable book mark so parents and educators could have a little reminder of some of the basic principles of this pedagogy.

This free, printable bookmark is shared with permission from Prof. Carr, who is Associate Professor & Philosophy for Children Internship Director, in the Humanities Department at LaGuardia Community College.

Towards a Critical, Decolonized Pedagogy: An Interactive (Re)Visioning

The field of Library & Information Science is often downplayed within spaces of higher education. Librarians are frequently positioned as somehow different than “teaching faculty,” considered the real scholars and educators, with the Library at the margins. And in a way, it’s true that the cornerstone of information literacy instruction – commonly known as the ‘one-shot’ – is a challenge, different than a semester-long course immersion. Librarians are tasked with offering a single session within which students will do the following: Receive guidance on how to assess sources, identify a scholarly article, accord to the standards of academic writing, properly cite sources, and perhaps, hopefully, become energized by the zest of research. At least, this is what we aim for.

When we invited Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz and Veronica Arellano Douglas for a Transformative Learning in the Humanities event hosted by the Mina Rees Library, all of this larger context was in mind. Knowing their work, the depth of their commitment as educators – we looked keenly forward to the interactive workshop, and to the potential insight and power in their vision(s) of transformative pedagogy.

We titled the event – Towards a Critical, Decolonized Pedagogy: An Interactive (Re)Visioning – to bring together the theoretical underpinnings of what is often termed “critical pedagogy,” in conversation with the more practical side of classroom experience. The goal, as stated in the event description, was to encourage participants to “reflect on specific examples of transformative learning praxis – moments when they sensed a shift in students’ understanding, and the associated context or framework that lead to that moment.”

As the event organizer, the practical emphasis was perhaps also driven by my own curiosity – so often these conversations are purely theoretical, and not fully grounded in a recognizable terrain. As a group, we discussed possible topics before the workshop. Questions came up, that would later be intertwined with the presentation themes: How do we know that a moment of transformative learning has taken place? Is it determined by an instinct, an observation, or something else? And to facilitate this possibility, what is the most important element in the critical classroom?

“What kind of trust do you need and want…and why is it necessary to you?” – Veronica Arellano Douglas

Interestingly, the event coalesced to center around the concept and experience of the presence of something distinctly less palpable, and not quantifiable by any assessment, rubric, or educational metric: Trust. Veronica Arellano Douglas expanded upon her own question above, stating: “As we explore power we need to explore trust – and understand that vulnerability isn’t the right answer to everything all of the time. Trust is a complex relational act and the more we talk about it and examine it, the better we will be able to cultivate that trust with people who learn with us.”

Douglas spoke of the lack of trust at times; the need to develop a genuine rapport with students, and the problem (so common to the single-session Library instruction session) of inheriting a classroom that may have its own dynamics, a set hierarchy of professor/student. She asked everyone in the room to contribute – either in the Zoom via chat, or a Google Jamboard (see below) – a response to a series of questions about trust in the classroom.

“There’s no way to get students through this portal without their being entangled, engaged…” – Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, on liminal spaces

In her presentation “A Critical Decolonized Pedagogy | A (re)visioning trifecta seeking Ancestral Connection,” Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz addressed the process of learning, linking it to the idea of “liminal space,” as well as individual (or collective) ancestry. Using the ACRL Frameworks for Information Literacy as a starting point, Smith-Cruz expanded upon what elements are necessary for learning, offering Laura Rendón’s “Sentipensante Pedagogy” as a parallel vision of the traditional classroom space. Identifying some of the unspoken assumptions of academic culture, such as “Agreement of Separation – that teaching and learning are linear,” and that the student studies the subject matter from a distance,” Rendón offers an alternative, involving “the balance between inner and outer knowing,” as well as “respect for diverse cultures” as a primary cornerstone for all educational ventures.

Alongside a series of compelling images, Smith-Cruz identified “liminal space” as a kind of rite of passage, even a portal: “It’s the feeling of discomfort, the moment of receiving of new knowledge, for which learning is possible…the experience of troublesomeness, of worrisomeness, unsettling, disturbing, stuck-ness – and whether we want to get students to that place.” This is a refreshing departure from not only the student as passive learner, but also the expectation -and often the unspoken goal – of a static, neutral, and conflict-free classroom environment.

I asked Smith-Cruz if the liminal space was also an ephemeral space – something temporary, that we enter into and then exit, thereafter changed. She responded: “The Oxford English Dictionary defines ephemeral as transitory, i.e. for a short time. With that I’d say, it requires a very present experience, embodied, and can be identified as a passageway, portal, so yes, it would be ephemeral, but it is lasting, and ever-impacting – as if a coloring with permanence, and so, forever imprinted.”

For Smith-Cruz, there are clearly intersections between the various forms of knowledge that we each bring to the traditional classroom environment, and the radical potential within. Just last year (2020), Smith-Cruz was awarded the ACRL Women Gender & Sexuality Studies Award for Significant Achievement, sponsored by Duke University Press, for her work archiving and exhibiting the Salsa Soul Sisters, the first lesbian of color organization in the United States. To facilitate an archival collection of this kind – exhibited at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Brooklyn College, and The New-York Historical Society – requires a unique level of trust, and community-based commitment. Through both her archival work, and the invocation of liminal spaces, Smith-Cruz offers a powerful model for teaching and learning – based on a belief in people that is itself transformative, and deep.

“The possibilities that exist between two people, or between a group of people, are a kind of alchemy.” Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

The experience of this workshop – both from the audience feedback and presentations by Smith-Cruz and Douglas – brought to mind a favorite quote by the poet Adrienne Rich (above). In her 1975 essay “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” Rich speculated – “I fling unconscious tendrils of belief, like slender green threads, across statements such as these.” Emphasizing the importance of trust, and belief in the words of others, towards hope – she also writes that a revelation of truth “may bring acute pain, but it can also flood me with a cold, sea-sharp wash of relief.”

To focus on trust is itself a much-needed provocation, a radical axis on which to define the critical classroom. A question mark, in a sense, hovers around and within our interactions. Do we trust each other, by default? How can trust be built and then maintained? Whose words are considered trustworthy – whose conclusions, valid? Teaching information literacy is surprisingly close to this fertile edge of belief, of trust, of Rich’s “sea-sharp wash of relief.” We must, in a sense, welcome the stranger – be willing to ask the questions that challenge our primary sense of being, of what we know.How do we begin to open our minds and hearts, to layers of knowing that may make us uncomfortable?

Unpacking these questions can be a part of the invitation to learning, and we are honored to have been able to partake in this process alongside Veronica Arellano Douglas and Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz. To engage in a collective reflection process also points towards the potential of decoloniality: towards expansive (re)visions of the future, and what we can therefore know.

Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz is an archivist at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, an Assistant Curator and Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning, and Engagement at New York University Division of Libraries. She is a Co-Chair for the board of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies at the Graduate Center. Shawn has a BS in Queer Women’s Studies from the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction, and an MLS with a focus on Archiving and Records Management from Queens College. She is the 2020 recipient of the ACRL Women Gender & Sexuality Studies Award for Significant Achievement, sponsored by Duke University Press for her work archiving and exhibiting the Salsa Soul Sisters, the first lesbian of color organization in the country.

Veronica Arellano Douglas is the Instruction Coordinator at the University of Houston Libraries. She received her MLS from the University of North Texas and BA in English from Rice University. Veronica writes about teaching, critical information literacy, and intersections of librarianship, gender, race, and ethnicity. She blogs at veronicaarellanodouglas.com and acrlog.org and is the co-editor of the recently published Library Juice Press book, Deconstructing Service in Libraries: Intersections of Identities and Expectations.

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Interim Head of Reference at The Graduate Center’s Mina Rees Library. Bakaitis is proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council; the board of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies; and LACUNY Diversity & Multicultural Roundtable, and holds an MLIS from Queens College and Certificate in Geriatric Care Management from the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College.

Continuity and Change: Reflections on “Women Rewrite America,” a Three-Part Reading and Discussion Series

by Ria Banerjee, Sarah Hoiland, and María Julia Rossi

As educators, we are typically impelled to produce content–course plans, public lectures, writing and speaking in various registers is central to what we routinely do. It is rarer for us to get opportunities to “fill the well,” so to speak, and a TLH grant provided us a forum to develop our understanding of contemporary fiction that is outside our disciplinary subfields but aligns with our interests. After discussion among a core group of five planning faculty (Julia, Ria, and Sarah are the names on record for this group of CUNY friends), we decided on some ideal parameters for our planned event: we wanted to read recent novels by women of color, intentionally working against the Anglophone publishing industry’s bias, and we chose works focused on the US with an eye on global interconnectivity. We wanted to attract participants from a range of work and professional experiences, as having only educators might narrow our conversation. Finally, we wanted to give space to student voices in designing and leading our discussions, again to foster a broad conversation that would not be possible at, say, a disciplinary conference. We settled on three particularly timely novels. 

In distinct ways, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (2016), Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive (2019), and Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age (2019) speak to the stresses and challenges of US citizenship in transatlantic, continental, and transcultural terms. They are carefully crafted novels, widely recognized for their literary qualities. And, they are social novels as well as philosophical and historical ones. We agreed that it would be useful to read these novels carefully, as some of us intend to incorporate them into the courses we teach in future. But even more importantly, all three novels looked fun, intellectually and emotionally stimulating in a pandemic semester when most of our colleagues, students, and friends are working under very strained conditions. 

The primacy of storytelling in both Homegoing and Lost Children Archive weaves history into contemporary journeys of what it means for characters to return home and what even constitutes our ideas of “home”. Our third meeting will take place at the end of May, but the first two novels’ shared interest in historical contexts and their desire to archive public and personal recollections allowed our reading and discussion group to make connections across these very different texts. Both authored by young women of color, the novels pushed us to consider the authors as allies or fellow travelers with deeply personal connections of their own to the subjects raised in their writing: the transatlantic slave trade in Gyasi’s writing and the migrant crisis at the US southern border in Luiselli’s. 

In Homegoing, Gyasi materializes intergenerational trauma through two necklaces that are passed down from mother to daughter, one that remains in the family and another that is lost when a young woman is sold into slavery. In Lost Children Archive, Luiselli creates fictional archives that are literally and symbolically unpacked on a family’s cross-country journey to record the echoes of our past and to retrace migrant children who are lost. By tracking the development of narrative objects as symbols, and of shared textual tropes like motherhood and the inheritance of intergenerational trauma, our reading group has come to understand each work as a stop on a longer textual journey that we are taking together. 

In addition to one faculty leader for each session, Hostos and Kingsborough Community College alumna (subsequently at Hunter, Baruch, Brooklyn and the GC), have served as co-facilitators for each session. Isatou Batchilly, Denise Herrera, and Jozette Belmont have had deeply personal reactions to the novels, and offered complementary discussions of identity politics that restored a certain immediacy to our sessions. We did not intend to have purely academic discussions, and our co-discussants add their perspectives as political campaigners and social workers whose professional lives intersect with textual content. Through interactive icebreaker activities drawn from questions raised by the novels, the 40 participants in Women Rewrite America were asked to co-create a digital archive of our experience of reading together. These introductory activities proved to be effective for a large group of strangers coming from all over the US and a variety of academic and nonacademic roles, united only by an interest in the reading material. For faculty participants, this translates into an activity that can be easily adapted for the classroom. TLH made it possible for us to invite one of the authors, Valeria Luiselli, to attend a session, adding fresh depth to her personal and political involvement with issues that are important in our own intellectual and work lives. 

It is difficult to provide culminating thoughts on our experience because, well, the series ends at the end of this month. But aside from logistical reasons, coming to a quick summative response is contrary to our purpose when planning this 3-part, 3-month event. In the past few years, there have been several strong arguments put forward by philosophers, psychologists, and economists embracing slow thinking or “doing nothing.” Vincenzo Di Nicola compares Slow Thought to the Slow Food movement, arguing that slow thinking “is preservative rather than conservative,” and “founds a kind of contemporary commune” in which participants might respond to their own time and place while also “spreading organically as communities assert their particular needs for belonging and continuity against the onslaught of faceless government bureaucracy and multinational interests.” Writing more recently from the middle of the pandemic, Apoorva Tadepalli asks us to resist the urge to always be doing something. Do nothing, she urges; consider the pandemic “an opportunity not to ‘get your life back on track,’… but to experiment with nothingness, with a failure of productivity.” 

Breaking away from the relentlessly positive self-help rhetoric that saturates US popular media (and also perhaps US academia!), Tadepalli recommends that we “do nothing” except take time to try and find our own humanity, “tell and listen to stories.” This is no easy task in itself, as many who are working from home will attest. Still, both Di Nicola and Tadepalli speak to a tacit purpose behind our reading and discussion series to create time and space to just read and interact. What the fruits of such an exercise will be remains, happily, to be determined.   

Ria Banerjee is an Associate Professor of English at Guttman Community College. 

Sarah Hoiland is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hostos Community College. 

María Julia Rossi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages at John Jay College.

From Page to Stage: Engaging with QCC Writers Live Event

by Raquel Corona and Susan Lago

On May 13, 2021, Raquel Corona and Susan Lago will host a live interactive literary event on Zoom, featuring Queensborough Community College English Department faculty, including Irvin Weathersby Jr. and Manny Martinez, along with three QCC students nominated to read by the English Department Creative Writing Committee. Attendees will actively participate by collaborating on a group poem, posing questions, and meeting with the writers for intimate break-out room sessions. The event will conclude with an open mic where attendees have the opportunity to volunteer to share their own creative work with the audience. In this way, attendees will have the experience of participating in a live literary event that invites the audience to engage directly with writers of various levels of experience to ask questions about their process or what inspires their creative work. Attendees will gather an understanding of the interactive nature between literature and audience in a venue that takes literature out of the classroom and places it in a collaborative virtual space.

 In May 2019, the Queensborough Community College English Department Creative Writing Committee held its first annual QCC Writers’ Showcase. Faculty writers from across the disciplines were invited to read from their published creative work, including poetry, fiction, memoir, drama, hybrid, cross-genre, or graphic novels. The purpose of the event was to provide an opportunity for writers to share their writing experiences with students and the QCC community. The event featured three faculty members and two students who were recommended by the Creative Writing Committee. The first hour was devoted to writers reading from their work and was followed by a 45-minute Q&A. Having students and faculty read together at a live literary performance was a unique way for the QCC community to engage directly with writers and helped to facilitate the understanding that writing is an active process of creative expression and communication that also happens outside of the classroom.

In May 2020, the live event was canceled due to COVID-19. Faculty and student readers, however, created videos of themselves reading their works, which were shared with the QCC campus community. Showcasing creative works virtually thus became a way to demonstrate the power of creative expression even in times of crisis. While faculty read from previously published works, students contributed spoken word and poetry having to do with the pandemic.

This year, we wanted to make the program more interactive on a virtual platform. When we heard about the Transformative Learning in the Humanities Grant, we came up with a proposal to utilize the functions of Zoom to create a unique collaborative, interactive space that celebrates spoken and written creative expression. We thought it would be wonderful if we could use the digital platform to give the audience that intimate experience with the writers so they could feel more comfortable engaging in conversation with them about their work. Our goal is to split the audience in two separate break-out rooms and then facilitate discussion within that space so the audience feels comfortable commenting on or asking any questions they may have of the writers.

We also wanted the audience to have the opportunity to engage in writing and perform as well. What better way to truly showcase creativity than to have the audience exercise their own? We plan to start the entire event with a poetry writing exercise where participants are given a prompt, and they reply in the chat feature of Zoom. We will compile what everyone puts in the chat and read it out loud at the end so they can see how we all came together to construct a poem virtually. Finally, we will invite attendees to perform their own poetry or creative work for a few minutes at the end. We have been working with our colleagues on the Creative Writing Committee to see if we can have a few of their students attend and perform in case participants are initially too shy. We hope being able to see one or two other people volunteer will provide others some courage to read their work.

Because our event has not yet occurred we cannot discuss in more detail or provide images of anything that happens at the event. However, we wanted to make sure to include in this blog post the line-up of the writers showcased in our event. They are truly a diverse set of individuals who we are so excited to bring together. Below you will find a photo and brief description of who they are and what they intend to read at the event.

Author Bios

Susan Lago is a Lecturer in the English Department at CUNY / Queensborough Community College. Her creative work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as Noctua Review, Adelaide Magazine, Pank Magazine, The Smart SetMonkeybicycle and Prime Number. She is currently at work on a collection of connected short stories. Visit her website at http://SusanLago.wix.com/susanlago or follow her on Twitter: @SusanLago).

Raquel Corona is a Lecturer in the English Department at Queensborough Community College (CUNY) and has just recently completed her Ph.D. in English from St. John’s University (yay for Class of 2021). Her dissertation is a rhetorical exploration of how transnationalism affects the circulation of stories about the Latinx woman’s body and sex. It examines various texts and the digital realm to consider the ways Latinx women are resisting against the dominant and oppressive forces in their lives to cull an alternative way of expressing and exploring their sexuality and sexual desire.

Strategies for Publishing Articles and Preparing your Future Book

Strategies for Publishing Articles and Preparing your Future Book was a workshop led by Prof. Araceli Tinajero (The City College of NY) on April 9, 2021, from 5:00 to 6:30 pm. The event was sponsored by Transformative Learning in the Humanities. Graduate students and an Assistant Professor were present. I had encouraged the participants to hand in a 150-word abstract (or summary) of the paper, dissertation, or collection that they would like to publish so they could share it with other audience members. No one brought their abstract/summary; however, when the attendees were in the breakout rooms, they carried out very interesting discussions.

The workshop was aimed to provide basic examples. Since I am a professor of literature, I furnished examples of how to begin publishing in the Humanities (I gave examples of journals at CUNY).  Below is the outline of what I presented. We had excellent discussions and promised to follow up via email to continue the dialogue.

Transforming papers into articles:

  1. If you don’t want your professor’s advice, find a professor outside your college and have her/him read your paper.
  2. If you are still not convinced, ask a friend you can trust.
  3. Don’t be afraid of criticism.
  4. Remember, you don’t have to change everything the reader asks you to change.
  5. You can combine 2 papers: one from one class with another from another class.

Preparing your abstract or summary:

  1. Be coherent and clear. Imagine that your reader doesn’t know anything about your topic. Even your theoretical framework has to be clear.

Publishing articles:

Stop! Before you send a paper to be considered, you must be familiar with the journal. Example: Ciberletras http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras

  1. Your professors are the experts in their field. Ask them for a list of peer-reviewed journals.
  2. When an author submits an article, the editors of the peer-reviewed journal will contact two readers experts in the field. Each reader will evaluate your article. The editor will get back to you with suggested revisions or, if the readers reject your paper, you have to approach another journal.
  3. Not ready to publish in a peer-reviewed journal? There are several prestigious journals and magazines. Many are published by university departments:

Fiction – English department @  CCNY:

Fiction – Facebook

Promethean – Facebook

On-line Journals:

    • Cervantes– Official journal of the Cervantes Society of America
    • CiberLetras– Journal of literary criticism and culture
    • Dieciocho– Eighteenth-century studies in Spain and Latin America
    • Espéculo– Electronic journal of literary studies
    • Enclave– Journal dedicated to sharing the work of Spanish literary work from CUNY and New York.
    • Hispanista– Primera revista electrónica de los hispanistas de Brazil.
    • Laberinto– Spanish and Spanish-American texts from the early modern period, 1450-1750
    • Lemir– Journal dedicated to Spanish Medieval and Renaissance Literature
    • LLJournal– Journal of the Students of The Ph.D. Program in Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages, The Graduate Center
  1. Not ready to publish an article? Try writing a book review.

Publishing your dissertation:

  1. Think big & plan ahead. This book is a must
  2. You must focus. Don’t compromise with anything that is outside of the topic that you are writing.
  3. Again, ask your professors about the publishers.
  4. Study the publications, the editorial board, and their expectations.University presses = demanding and can be slow

    You can find a list of academic publishers here: https://humanitiesjournals.fandom.com/wiki/university_presses_/academic_publishers

  1. Study thoroughly the guidelines and submit them on time

Publishing a book outside your discipline:

  1. Look for the experts on your campus or approach professors from other institutions.
  2. For example, I want to write a biography…. do you know that there is a biography and memoir program at the graduate center? The experts are there. Ask them.
  3. Do you want to write children’s books? Get in touch with the English department and ask the chair if someone is teaching about children’s literature. Get in touch with the professor.

 

The Practice of Publishing: An Evening with Morgan Jerkins

by Emily Raboteau

This event was sponsored by a grant from Transformative Learning in the Humanities at the City University of New York and designed for emerging creative writers interested in learning more about the business of publication. It was conducted as a conversation between myself and author / editor Morgan Jerkins about her own path to publication, insight as an editor, use of social media as a networking tool, overview of the publishing landscape and tips on querying literary agents fo representation. The audience consisted of MFA students from CUNY and was open to the public.

I started the program by welcoming the audience: “Many of you are in MFA programs and have been working hard on your craft in writing workshop, honoring your ambition to be a published writer. Others of you have been working independently on your writing, with the same goal. But when do you know your work is ready to be published? How and where should you submit? Which are the right venues for your voice? Who are your potential readers? What is the best way to query an agent or an editor? How much can you expect to be paid for your creative writing? Why does understanding the publishing marketplace matter? You’re here to learn from the talented writer and editor, Morgan Jerkins in conversation me, writer and City College creative writing professor, Emily Raboteau, in a nuts and bolts conversation about the professional practice of writing.”

I then introduced our guest speaker: “Morgan Jerkins is a New York Times bestselling author and Senior Editor at ESPN’s “The Undefeated” for its Culture Vertical. Her books include This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, which was longlisted for PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay and a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, and Wandering In Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots. Her amazing third book, Caul Baby: A Novel comes out from Harper Books this spring. Morgan, one of the things I admire about your career is that you’ve worked in more than one genre, and also served so many writers as an editor, including myself, in your capacity as an editor at Zora Magazine. Walk us through your path from MFA to where you are now, including your influences as a writer.”

Morgan spoke for 25 minutes about her journey to publication, starting as an undergraduate student, including the ups and downs, the rejections, and her discovery of her voice and place as a culture maker starting in 2015 on social media, citing Roxane Gay as having opened the door for her, and finishing with a recap of her first national book tour.

I then asked her a series of questions, which I had gathered from the audience in advance. These centered around the pros and cons of self publishing, independent publishing, the role of an agent and the process of acquiring one, pointers for successful query letters, establishing voice, dealing with editorial conflicts, networking, publishing resources, and authorial “branding.”

Morgan insightfully answered these questions, sharing resources via the chat.


Emily Raboteau is the 2020-2021 Stuart Z. Katz Professor of Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York.