Class Notes on New York City // 7-27-16

For our final class, we considered perspectives on our hometown, New York City, from around the world.

A Christian philosopher from Kenya, a country in Africa, John Mbiti gave us an apocalyptic view of New York’s skyline belching smoke in his poem, “New York Skyscrapers;” the austerity of his poem brought to mind pollution as well as 9/11.

 

Heralding from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, the great poet laureate Derek Walcott offered a sultrier view of Greenwich Village in his beautiful poem, “Bleecker Street, Summer.” A number of incredible interviews with Derek Walcott are available online, such as this one with The Paris Review on the art of poetry, and this one in commemoration of his 1992 win of the Nobel Prize.

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Fahmida Riaz

Our last poem took us to a familiar place inside our own heads. Writing from Pakistan in South Asia, Fahmida Riaz‘s meditation on riding the subway, translated from Urdu, resonated with many of our experiences of New York’s public transportation, always vibrating with life as much as with solitude. You can read more of her poems here. Riaz has also spoken out often on political matters, such as the crises facing the Indian state (her advice: “Don’t become another Pakistan”).

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Luisa Valenzuela

A flash fiction from the Argentine feminist writer Luisa Valenzuela, “Who, Me a Bum?” took us into another all too familiar transportation-related scenario: a stranger has committed suicide in the subway, stalling service. Police arrest a homeless man, from whose first-person point-of-view the story is told, when the homeless man sarcastically speaks out against the apathy with which other commuters are angrily responding to the stranger’s death. Often only a stock character for us in New York, the homeless man gains an inner life in Valenzuela’s depiction. Part of the “Post-boom” generation of writers in South America, Valenzuela also has an interesting interview with The Paris Review and another with BOMB magazine.

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Patti Kim

We finished with an excerpt from the Korean-American writer Patti Kim‘s novel, A Cab Called Reliable (1997), to consider the pressure on us, as students, to succeed here in New York. The young daughter of first-generation immigrant parents from South Korea in East Asia struggles under the pressure to meet everyone’s high expectations; rather than receiving public praise for her first-place writing, she faces judgment and possibly indifference even from her father.

Here were our final writing prompts in response to these writings, in case you would like to pick them up for later:

Poetry

  • After Walcott: Personify your favorite street in New York; think about the life there, the setting, the people.
  • After Riaz: Create your own “poetry in motion.” Set yourself in the form of transit you take often– the bus, the 1, the LIRR– and reflect on that everyday experience.
  • After Mbiti: Capture the city amidst a crisis or major event, like 9/11 or Black Lives Matter. How does the landscape reflect the mood?

Prose

  • After Valenzuela: Assume the first-person point of view of one of New York’s many stock characters— a businessman, a homeless person, a police officer, etc. What is this person’s secret backstory?
  • After Kim: It’s difficult to be a student in New York! Maybe you’re the child of immigrants, or maybe you’re just under a lot of pressure at school. What is it like to be a teen in your high school/family in this city?

Next up: Our end-of-program celebration on August 22! If I didn’t hug you goodbye this past Wednesday, it’s because I’m counting on seeing you a couple of Mondays from now! So, make sure to come with a short piece of writing in hand to share with all of us before we go. If you’d like to pretty it up and send it to me for some thoughts, I’ll be happy to respond while I’m away on vacation. Until then, thank you so much for an incredible experience!

For far into the future, don’t forget, there are now extra resources for college, writing, and publishing available on the blog’s “menu” in the upper righthand corner here. Here are links to the resources added thus far:

Looking forward to seeing you later this August!

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