Readings for March 2

“No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston (web/pdf)


Selections from Cronopios and Famas by Julio Cortazar (docx)
“Poem After Frida Kahlo’s Painting The Broken Column” by Eduardo C. Corral (web)
“The Broken Column” by Frida Kahlo (web)

The nature of the instruction manual is that it ought to be universal. For example, anyone trying to assemble a new piece of furniture, set up a new computer, or play a new game, needs to be able to understand the instructions included in the box. What does Cortazar’s “Instruction Manual” do to the genre of instructions? Are they universal? Do his descriptions reflect your experiences with the simple tasks writes about? (For this question, you might think especially about the pieces on crying and fear.)
According to “Instructions on How to Cry,” what is crying not? (To answer this, you might first try to decide what crying is, according to Cortazar.).


In “Instructions on How to Comb the Hair,” Cortazar uses beautiful, lyrical language to describe something very simple. However, when it comes to more arguably emotional topics, like singing and crying, Cortazar sticks to more straightforward language. Why do you think that is? What effect does Cortazar’s language have on the way you imagine/understand the act he is describing?


What role does death (or “Death,” as Cortazar writes it) play in the two pieces about winding a watch? Why does Cortazar decide to mention death in these particular descriptions?

Selections from The Diaro of Christopher Columbus’ Voyage to America, 1492-1493 (pdf)

While reading this, I want you to pay specific attention to the ways in which Columbus describes the people of the islands he encounters. What specific details and description does he use?

Who is Columbus writing to/for? How might his descriptions change if his audience were different? Try to imagine other audiences for Columbus, both during his time and during yours. How, for example might Columbus describe his journey to common Spaniards and Italians of the late 1400s? How might he describe it to present-day Caribbean people? To people in India and other parts of Asia, where he thinks he has landed? How would the details and descriptions he uses change?

***This text looks like it might have been written as a poem, but it’s funny format is only due to the way the original manuscript looks. From the book’s editors’ introduction: “It is well known that Columbus kept a running journal of his first voyage to America and that he presented the document to Ferdinand and Isabella on his return to Spain. A copy of the original was made for the Admiral before he departed on his second voyage a few months later, but both the original and the copy eventually disappeared. The manuscript journal that survives is a partly quoted and partly summarized version of Columbus’ copy. It was made by Bartolome de las Casas [a priest] in the 1530s. The Las Casas manuscript also disappeared for about 250 years but was found around 1790… The manuscript consists of seventy-six large-sized paper folios written on both sides in a small, cursive hand, forty to fifty lines to the page.” The translators, editors, and publishers wanted to preserve the lines as they were in the original.


A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act


“Non-citizens in New York City could soon be given the right to vote” (The Guardian)

According to the article, what are the potential effects (good, bad, otherwise) of allowing non-citizens in New York City to vote in municipal elections? How big an impact would this bill have on the city?

Those opposed to the non-citizen voting measure say it “undermines the sanctity and privilege of citizenship.” What does this mean? What makes citizens more worthy of participating in democracy than residents? If it helps, do some light internet research on the difference between residents and citizens in the US (dictionary definitions, government websites, etc). You might even give the US civics test a try. Anyone applying for citizenship i the US has to pass it.

Since we talked about imagination today, how do you imagine an American citizen? What does she/he look like? What kind of job does she/he have? What is important to her/him? How does she/he spend her/his time? Do you think the way you imagine an American citizen is in line with the way others imagine one?

Finally, familiarize yourself with the following key words and concepts. Look them up, think about how they’re used in the piece, and how they relate to the issue of voting and citizenship. If you can’t quite understand what any of these things is about, come to class ready to ask and we can discuss as a group!

  • enfranchisement/disenfranchisement
  • documented/undocumented vs. legal/illegal
  • naturalization/naturalized citizen
  • municipal elections; differences between local elections and national elections
  • New York City as a “global hub”

“How the Electoral College Works” (video)
“The Trouble with the Electoral College” (video)

Let’s see how we can incorporate the above videos into our discussion. A basic understanding of how the electoral system works will be important for our next few Wednesday discussions.

“Da Art of Storytelling’ (The Prequel)” by Kiese Laymon

Think about Laymon’s use of description. Look up the cover art for ATLiens and the songs Laymon mentions. How do his descriptions measure up to the real thing? Are they what you imagined?

For those interested in organizing ideas: Can you list the ideas Laymon was trying to incorporate into this essay? What links them together?

Since the theme of our class is “encounters,” where in Laymon’s piece do you see people and things from different places/backgrounds/”worlds” coming together?

Have you ever had the sort of experience Laymon describes with a song, album, movie, book, work of art, etc?

What does this essay have to do with storytelling?