Author Joshua Henkin says that when it comes to families, Tolstoy was right — it’s adversity that keep them interesting. “All happy families are the same, unhappy families are unhappy in their own way,” says Henkin, citing the iconic Russian novelist to describe his latest novel, “The World Without You.” Henkin, who directs the MFA program in fiction writing at Brooklyn College, discusses his book, which revolves around a family mourning the death of their son in Iraq and how a calamity impacts family members for years to come. “Tragedies do big things to the most stable kinds of people.”
New York City managed to survive the Great Recession largely intact and in roughly half the time it took the rest of the country to recover, thanks to its diversified economy combined with a bailout on Wall Street, according to Greg David, director of the Business and Economics Reporting Program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. “The city has changed a lot — and manufacturing is no longer important,” says David. “Manufacturing is also cyclical — and the biggest sectors by jobs now are education and health, and they are not cyclical.” Formerly a business editor of Crain’s New York, David discussed his newly published book, Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City.
The author of Churchill Defiant: Fighting On, 1945-1955, claims that the British prime minister’s influence on John F. Kenney’s intellectual thinking and political strategies is indisputable. “I don’t think Jack Kennedy would have been half the man he was if it wasn’t for Winston Churchill,” says Barbara Leaming, the author of Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman (2006), in which she detailed her research. Leaming, who spoke at the Tina Santi Flaherty Irish Voices Literary Series at Hunter College, discussed how Kennedy “looked to his idol for inspiration, in almost all his decisions, including the (1963 Limited Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty which put an end to the Cold War.”
Third Way initiatives that would combine both liberal and conservative ideas could help the millions of Americans who are out of work, said Robert Cherry, co-author of a new book, Moving Working Families Forward: Third Way Policies That Can Work. “We propose that the government buy up a million housing units and turn them into subsidized housing,” says Cherry, professor of economics at Brooklyn College and at the Graduate Center. “This policy would combine the liberal view that government should spend money to help people move forward and the conservative idea of efficiency-it’s the cheapest way for the government to create affordable housing.”
Billions of dollars in pledged foreign aid and private donations have poured into Haiti since the catastrophic earthquake that struck the capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010, but much has been wasted by inept nongovernmental organizations in charge of relief efforts. “The problem is that we don’t really know what’s going on with the NGOs — there’s a lack of transparency,” says Mark Schuller, assistant professor at York College and co-editor of new, wide-ranging anthology, Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake. “As of last fall only 6 percent of the displaced people camps have had any kind of water or sanitation services because the NGOs have spent out their money.”
The author of a critically acclaimed new book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years, insists that although much has been written about the early and middle stages of Armstrong’s career, he was every bit as busy and creative in the last 25 years of his life. “There was only one Armstrong,” says Ricky Riccardi, who is also the project archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum research archive at Queens College. “The man who was making those canonical works in the 1920s was also a very funny man who loved doing pop songs, and, in the 1950s and ’60s still played an incredible trumpet,” adds Riccardi, “So why not take all of him.”
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Many artists have a source of inspiration that forever holds a place in their heart, and for Guatemalan-born David Unger it is Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his book, “No One Writes to the Colonel.” “That book forged my identity as a Latin American native and writer,” says Unger, who, through a shared language and culture, felt a kinship with Marquez. Today, Unger, who teaches translation at City College’s MFA program, is the author of four books, including his latest novel, “The Prince of Escape.” As part of the City College Center for Worker Education Book Talk Lecture Series: Writers on Writing, Unger reads from his work and talks about his brief encounter with Marquez as a graduate student at Columbia University.
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The draft riots in New York City, which took place during the summer of 1863, remain to this day the worst civil disturbance in American history. In his 2002 book, “Paradise Alley,” Kevin Baker used the chaotic event as a backdrop for the critically acclaimed historical novel. “This really was more of a revolution than a riot, as one observer noted, it was a pitched battle.” At a Book Talk Lecture Series: Writers on Writing, sponsored by City College’s Center for Worker Education, Baker describes the mob of mostly poor, Irish Catholics, as overcome with anger at the Protestants who had exploited them and with resentment toward African Americans for being forced to fight for their freedom by the newly enforced Civil War draft. What happened during the riots was horrific, says Baker, including “killing, raping and looting.”
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A year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Nicole Cooley saw the scale of destruction for the first time, as she drove from Florida to her hometown of New Orleans to visit her parents. “Everything was gone,” says Cooley, a professor of English at Queens College, recalling the ride with her husband and two daughters along Highway 90. “It was as if someone had erased all of the towns — from Mississippi to New Orleans.” Cooley, a poet and founding director of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at the college, was so affected by what she witnessed, she devoted her next book of poems, “Breach,” (April 2010), to the tragedy and its aftermath. “I had to spend the next year working on this book about Katrina.”
Eavesdropping is a vital part of human communication, says John Locke, professor of linguistics at Lehman College and language sciences at the Graduate Center. “It’s essential,” Locke says, it’s one of the ways humans gather needed information. “You can tell people not to — but they’ll do it anyway.” In his new book, “Eavesdropping: An Intimate History,” Locke draws on documentation of the practice from centuries ago right up to today’s world of Facebook and YouTube. But Locke does have some fears about the ocean of personal postings in cyberspace. “I worry about those who could be seriously damaged in the future. All of us need to be on guard if we donate information about ourselves in the form of words or visual images that the recipient will respect that material.”