Does it matter that Romeo and Juliet takes place in Verona, or would the story be the same no matter where it was set? Does place affect our literature? On this episode of Humanities Connection, Neil Baldwin, Montclair State University, Jim Bloom, Muhlenberg College, and Victoria Larson, Montclair State University, discuss how place shapes our cultural expressions. Inspired by the lecture series, Jersey: A Sense of Place, this episode focuses on how New Jersey affected two important American writers: Philip Roth and William Carlos Williams. As told to host Bob Mann, the Garden State had a deep affect on each of these very different artists.
Great literature expresses universal themes often through the use of very specific, concrete details, including place. Vicky Larson discusses the role of place and her series, Jersey: A Sense of Place.
Neil Baldwin talks about William Carlos Williams, who he sees not only as a great writer and the subject of his scholarship, but as a role model of a writer who combined art with a career as a physician.
Considered one of the greatest American authors, Philip Roth set many of his books in his hometown, Newark, NJ. Jim Bloom talks about the effect of setting on Goodbye, Columbus, what he calls “the Jewish version of The Great Gatsby.”
With bestseller lists (and movie theaters) full of stories of teens and tweens battling their way through dystopian futures, it’s clear that adolescence has changed. While young adult literature has been around for generations, it’s transformed in recent years, becoming hugely popular genre with young people and adults in the process. The content has changed too, as Dr. Laura Nicosia, author of Educators Online: Preparing Today’s Teachers for Tomorrow’s Digital Literacies and professor of English at Montclair State University, and Flynn Meaney, author of two young adult novels, discuss in this episode of Humanities Connection. As the world around us becomes increasingly troubled, the literature of adolescence has become darker in tone.
What is dystopian fiction? Why are young adults so fascinated by vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures? Laura Nicosia and Flynn Meaney discuss why adolescence and dystopia work so well together.
Young adult literature reflects young people’s concerns in historical moments. In this clip, Laura Nicosia talks about how young adult literature has changed over the last half-century and why.
Flynn Meaney, author of two successful young adult novels, talks about how she came to write YA lit, when she was only a few years older than her characters.
If we believed TV shows, New Jersey is only populated by mobsters, “real housewives,” and tanning enthusiasts. In reality, New Jersey is a microcosm of the rest of the nation—and has often been on the leading edge of change. We were one of the first truly racially and ethnically diverse states, we helped created industrialization, and we pioneered suburbanization as well. This real New Jersey is the subject of George Kirsch’s book Six Guys from Hackensack: Coming of Age in the Real New Jersey. A history professor at Manhattan College, Kirsch talks with Bob Mann about life in Hackensack, memoir writing and the history of baseball—his professional passion.
As Kirsch says, “Hackensack was the heart and soul of Bergen County before the George Washington Bridge.” Located in northern New Jersey, Hackensack in the mid 20th century was a diverse town, as represented by the six guys of the book’s title. Kirsch describes his return to Hackensack following the death of his wife and the inspiration for his memoir.
While the 1950s are often remembered as the heyday of American security and prosperity, there was a dark side as well. Racism divided the nation—though schools were integrated in Hackensack, as Kirsch describes. The Cold War and polio both cast long shadows over Kirsch’s youth that shaped him and his friends.
“If anybody writes that Abner Doubleday invented baseball on an exam, not only will they fail, but they’ll be expelled!” In this segment, Kirsch talks about the history and mythology of baseball, including its connection to New Jersey.
Award-winning Star Ledger journalist Mark DiIonno stopped by Humanities Connection to discuss his new novel, The Last Newspaperman, a fast-paced, thought-provoking story that raises questions about our contemporary media culture through a fictional reporter’s experiences working at a tabloid newspaper in the early 20th century. From celebrity scandals and obsession with crime, it’s clear that today’s newspapers draw a great deal from their predecessors. In this interview, DiIonno talks about the media and why what we read in the paper matters.
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An Interview with Tracy K. Smith
Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Busting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
It they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,
And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.
“My God, It’s Full of Stars”
Although Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of poetry Life on Mars boldly addresses lofty issues from the existence of god to the possibility of life on other planets using such science fiction icons as Charlton Heston, David Bowie, and the film 2001, she is equally interested in the role that poetry can play in our civic life.
In this episode of Humanities Connection, Smith, a professor of creative writing at Princeton University, talks about what she sees as the essential link between poetry and democracy and how poetry can help make each of us better citizens. Along the way, she reads an excerpt from Life on Mars, talks about why David Bowie is such an inspiration to her, and what it means to see literature as world-changing. Smith is the featured speaker at NJCH’s awards event 40YearsNew, which celebrates the Council’s fortieth anniversary, on October 10, 2012 at Drew University.
Photo by Tracy Chang.
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An Interview with Dr. Sharon Ann Holt
Aired: May 27, 2012
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities is taking an opportunity to both look back on four decades of public humanities effort and to look forward to what the future will bring. In this episode of Humanities Connection, Dr. Sharon Ann Holt, Executive Director of NJCH, discusses the important role that the public humanities plays in our daily lives. But first, it’s necessary to begin with definitions—what are the humanities? What differentiates the public humanities? Most critically, why does it matter? The legislation that founded the National Endowment for the Humanities argued that “Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens.” How will we take up this important charge in the next forty years?
Defining the humanities is a tricky proposition. It’s easy to fall back on using a list of disciplines—languages; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics, and so on—but that hardly answers the question of why the humanities are important. In this clip, Holt defines the humanities as “what we’re fighting for.” She continues by explaining what makes the public humanities different from traditional academic humanities.
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An Interview with Joan Cusack Handler, Teresa Carson, and Mary Rizzo
Aired March 25, 2012
With its evocative imagery and artistic language, poetry can be a visceral way to understand another person’s experiences, to emotionally connect with them, and see through their eyes. Healthcare workers are increasingly turning to literature, including poetry, in their practice, to improve their patient care and alleviate the stress of their jobs.
In this episode, Joan Cusack Handler, editor, founder and publisher of CavanKerry Press, a New Jersey publisher specializing in poetry; Teresa Carson, a poet and development director for CavanKerry; and, Mary Rizzo, NJCH Associate Director and adminstrator of the Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care program, discuss the power of poetry, especially as a tool for healing. Carson reads three poems, written to help her deal with her mentally ill brother’s suicide. These poems, and more than two dozen others, are available at Poetry Heals—Literature & Medicine Celebrates National Poetry Month.
To Learn More Visit:
- Poetry Heals—Literature & Medicine Celebrates National Poetry Month: Online chapbook with poems about healing and illness.
- Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care: Find out more about how NJCH is connecting literature with better patient care through this innovative program.
- CavanKerry Press: Publisher of poetry and memoir, based in New Jersey.
- National Poetry Month: Find resources to celebrate National Poetry Month.
- Visit the Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, a supporter of CavanKerry Press, and a leader in bringing humanism to medical practice.
Aired: January 29, 2012
In 1933, Ferdinand Pecora, the son of Italian immigrants, led a federal investigation into the causes of the Great Depression. Tenacious, intelligent and fearless, Pecora made history by calling Charles Mitchell, the head of the largest bank in America, National City Bank (now Citibank), to the stand, proving financial misdoings at the heart of the crisis. In this interview, Michael Perino, Dean George W. Matheson Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law and the author of The Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora’s Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance, discusses the Great Depression, Ferdinand Pecora and his impact on American finance. The Hellhound of Wall Street was chosen as an Honor Book by NJCH in 2011.
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Aired: October 30, 2011
Many social, economic, and political decisions impact the environment, but have all of these impacts been felt by all people? Over the last year, NJCH has delved into the topic of environmental justice by examining the environmental decision-making process and considering the perspective of the Environmental Justice Movement. On this episode of Humanities Connection, Dr. Nicky Sheats, director of the Center for the Urban Environment of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College, and Dr. Ana Baptista, Environmental and Planning Projects Director for the Ironbound Community Corporation, two leader of NJ’s environmental justice movement, talk about key issues facing the Garden State and what the movement means to our state and the future of the planet.
To Learn More Visit:
- NJCH’s Environment, Equity & American History forums, which took place in fall 2011. Online resources and videos will follow.
- The Ironbound Community Corporation is one of New Jersey’s earliest environmental justice advocates.
- The New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance is a statewide coalition concerned with insuring environmental safety for all of New Jersey’s residents.
Aired: August 28, 2011
The Delaware Bay is one of the most important wetland regions on the East Coast. Acting as an incubator for vital fish and wildlife, its natural beauty and resources have drawn settlers since the Lenape Indians. It’s also drawn conflict. As demand for access to the Bay’s limited resources grows, commercial fishermen, recreational users and environmentalists each compete to make their voice heard through environmental regulations and state or federal law. At the heart of this issue is the question of justice—who has the right to use natural resources? How have we managed our environmental resources in the past and how should we do so in the future? How do we, as a society, determine fair environmental policies? In this episode, Michael Chiarappa, Quinnipiac University, and Meghan Wren, director of the Bayshore Discovery Project, discuss these issues.
To Learn More Visit:
- Environment, Equity & American History: Sharing the Delaware Bay.This public forum sponsored by NJCH addressed issues of equitable management of the Delaware Bay. Video and resources will be added soon.
- The Bayshore Discovery Project seeks to preserve the history and culture of the Delaware Bay, through educational programs. It is the home of New Jersey’s Tall Ship, the A.J. Meerwald, an oyster schooner.