A discussion of African-American comedians and comedy includes an exploration of the pitfalls of writing biographies of living figures as author Mark Whittaker addresses why his recent book, Cosby: His Life and Times, omits the accusations of sexual aggression now mounting against Bill Cosby. The event, “Cosby, Pryor and the Biography of African-American Comedy,” was moderated by Gary Giddins, executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center. The panel included Whittaker and two other authors of books about African-American comedians, Scott Saul and Mel Watkins, who examine the evolution and polarities in African-American humor in the work of Cosby and Richard Pryor.
When it comes to writing fiction it often helps to listen to the words, “I deleted the first three hundred pages I wrote — the voice was wrong,” said author Roxana Robinson, referring to her latest novel, Sparta, which examines the Iraq’s war psychological wounds on a young man. Robinson, a visiting faculty member in the Department of English at Hunter College, spoke at the Creative Writing MFA Distinguished Writers Fall Lecture Series. The prolific author of five novels, three story collections and a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, Robinson says that while her subject may change the motive remains the same. “For me, it’s always emotion that drives the narrative.”
In his keynote address at the event “New World Disorder: Challenges for the UN in the 21st Century” at Baruch College, Kofi Annan reminded the audience that the way to build peace between countries was through respect for others. “When will we learn that identity is not monolithic or exclusive, but multiple and overlapping?” asks the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, who was the joint recipient, along with the UN, of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Peace.
Bedford Stuyvesant, for decades the hub of African-American life in Brooklyn, is undergoing a housing crisis at an explosive pace as longtime black renters get priced out and aging homeowners sell their stately town houses to developers. At an event, “Bed-Stuy in Crisis,” Brooklyn College journalism professor Ron Howell gathered a panel of local business owners, community organizers and lifelong residents to discuss what, if anything, can be done to save this black urban community.
For Andrew Delbanco, the value of a college experience starts in the classroom. “It’s the best rehearsal space we have for democracy … where you learn the difference between an opinion and an argument.” In a lecture at City College “Do America’s Colleges Have a Future?” in the Sternberg Family Lecture Series, Delbanco, an alumnus of the college’s School of Engineering and a professor of humanities at Columbia University, discusses the importance of institutions like CCNY that continue to help new generations of young people discover their potential. “No place in America embodies that principle better than City College.”
Calling the Common Core State Standards Initiative the “most promising education reform of our time,” Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, urged educators at a symposium to see that the new standards are successfully implemented in the classroom. “Our job in urban education is not to reflect or affirm the nation’s inequities, said Casserly, speaking at the Common Core Standards at CUNY, at a forum hosted by CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs to share practices of CCSS. “Our job is to overcome those barriers and to teach our children to the highest standards.”
Speaking at a forum in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power reflected on the enormous strides taken by the LGBT rights community. “Forty-five years ago, this small group of individuals decided to fight back against a cycle of harassment, intimidation and bullying, sparking a national fight for equality,” said Power who, along with other LGBT activists, past and present, appeared at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House. “How far we have come from that time.”
In his new book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, bestselling author Matt Taibbi explores how the income gap between the wealthy and the poor is also reflected in who is targeted for prosecution and incarceration. “I’m trying to show the two different ways that the criminal justice system works for these two different types of offenders,” said Taibbi at an event at Hunter’s Roosevelt House. Taibbi, who won a National Magazine Award for his columns in Rolling Stone in 2008, was interviewed by ProPublica president and founding general manager, Richard Tofel, to discuss the inequity of American crime and punishment.
In her new documentary film, “Underwater Dreams,” writer and director Mary Mazzio enters the highly charged atmosphere of immigration reform by telling the inspirational story of four sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants who won an underwater robotic competition, defeating an engineering powerhouse team from MIT in the process. “Those kids are now being perceived as role models, and I think they understand the legacy they left in their own community,” said Mazzio, who appeared at a screening of the film at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House and discussed the film’s significance with Nancy Foner, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hunter and the Graduate Center.
The key to containing the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is prevention, according to an expert who has worked extensively in the area. “There needs to be a lot more emphasis on behavioral responses” to limit exposure to the virus, said Stephane Helleringer, assistant professor of public health at Columbia University. Helleringer participated in a panel on the health crisis, discussing disease mortality, sociopolitical implications and the Western response at the Graduate Center, moderated by Leith Mullings, CUNY Distinguished Professor of Anthropology.