Did you hear? Dinaw Mengestu @ LAF!

The Literary Arts Festival is quickly approaching–soon we’ll get a countdown clock for the writing competition and for the festival itself. In canse you haven’t already heard, Dinaw Mengestu will be headlining this year’s festival!

Prof. Rob Ostrem, one of the Festival Directors, shares this extensive list of Mengestu’s writing:

Short Pieces

The Paper Revolution” (an excerpt from All Our Names), The New Yorker

An Honest Exit” (an excerpt How to Read the Air), The New Yorker

My Personal Greek Myth,” The Wall Street Journal

Addis Ababa, 1977”  Harpers  (only for those who subscribe)


All Our Names (2014)

“All Our Names is the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes
increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart—one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and the other into the safety of exile in the American Midwest. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the beloved friend he left behind, the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.”  (Amazon)

See also the New York Times review of All Our Names, by Malcolm Jones

How to Read the Air (2011)
From the Los Angeles Times

November 05, 2010 by Carolyn Kellogg

Book review: ‘How to Read the Air’ by Dinaw Mengestu

A narrator provides an intimate account of his immigrant parents’ journey in the U.S.

Dinaw Mengestu’s “How to Read the Air” opens audaciously — the unnamed narrator writes of his parents with impossible intimacy. He knows what his mother thinks as she stands before a mirror a year before he is born, what she hears in the middle of the night, what she feels when his father’s breath touches her neck. This is, of course, the project of fiction — the full imagining, the stretch of empathy — but it is notable that this story is not simply told, but told by her son.

That son, Jonas, is 30, trying to understand his own failed marriage through the lens of his parents’. He follows the path of a road trip they took through America’s heartland as recent African immigrants; his story and theirs alternate chapters. Always, though, it is clear that Jonas is doing the telling.

‘This is how I like to picture him, whether it’s accurate or not,” he imagines his father. “A man standing underneath, or perhaps even across from, a row of trees in search of a home on a summer night. If he was ever happy here, and I doubt he was, it would have been on that evening, which I’ve only just now invented for him…. Regardless, history sometimes deserves a little revision, if not for the sake of the dead then at least for ourselves.’”

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2008)

“The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, is the debut novel of Ethiopian author Dinaw Mengestu. Published in 2007 by the Penguin Group the novel focuses on the life of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant living in Washington, D.C. after fleeing his country’s revolution seventeen years earlier. Running a failing grocery store he ruminates on the past as he faces his own inward crisis of displacement and identity while simultaneously marveling at the gentrification of his neighborhood. This book took close to four years to write and Mengestu spent the better part of a year reviewing it. The original version of this novel was published in the UK as “Children of the Revolution”. The name was changed by the publishers before being published in the US because they didn’t want the book to sound political.” (Wiki)

Writing competitors beware: the deadline approaches!

Are you a City Tech student, faculty member, or staff member interested in submitting your work for the Literary Arts Festival? If so, please consider submitting your work for the Writing Competition–you can win fame and fortune if yours fares well with the judges. The catch? the deadline is TODAY! Mere hours remain in the competition!

For more information, refer back to this earlier post about the competition, or check out this poster:

LAF Writing Competition Poster 2014

Spring 2014 Literature Roundtable–Save the Date!

Please join the Literature Curriculum Committee

of the Department of English for

The Spring 2014 Literature Roundtable


Intimate Apparel


Lynn Nottage

 Intimate Apparel


Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 11:30 AM

N 119

Free and Open to All

Contact Renata Ferdinand with questions: rferdinand@citytech.cuny.edu

Thinking about and working with Cornelius Eady’s poetry

From Prof. Robert Ostrom in the English Department, here are a series of assignments instructors might use with students to bring Cornelius Eady’s work into the classroom. Students might use these to interact with Eady’s writing outside of class. Some of these assignments involve critical writing, and others involve creative writing. Refer to this earlier post linking out to some of Eady’s writing to have poems to work with. If you have further suggestions, want to offer feedback, or want to share how a particular assignment worked for you, please feel free to reply to this post with a comment.

I. Poetry Explication Assignment

1. Response

Read and respond to one of Cornelius Eady’s poems. How does the poem make you feel?  Does it remind you of a personal experience you’ve had or a story you’ve heard?

2. Answer the following questions.

A.     Voice

  • Who is speaking?
  • How would you characterize the speaker?
  • To whom is he or she speaking?
  • For what purpose is he or she speaking?
  • How would you describe the speaker’s tone?
  • Is the poem a lyric or a narrative or other?

B.     Form and Word Choice

  • How many stanzas is the poem?
  • How many lines are in each stanza?
  • Does the poem contain an obvious meter or rhythm?
  • Is there a rhyme scheme?
  • Are there any internal or end rhymes? Give examples.
  • Can you find any examples of slant rhymes, alliteration, assonance or onomatopoeia?
  • Choose one line and explain why you think Eady chooses to break the line where he does?
  • How does the poet’s word choice and/or word order affect the meaning and tone of the poem?
  • List any literary devices you notice in the poem (simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, allusion).
  • Choose two of these literary devices and briefly explore the implications.

C.     Imagery

  • What images do you notice in the poem?
  • Do you see any descriptive moments in the poem?
  •             Which of the senses does Eady appeal to in this poem?
  •             What is the relationship of the descriptive images to the speaker’s state of mind?
  •             Do the images create a sense of time of day? Season of year? Atmosphere? Mood?

D.    Theme

  • What do you think is the point of the poem?
  • What ideas are being communicated by the speaker?
  • How are the ideas being reinforced by the formal elements of the poem?

3.  Response

Revisit your initial response to this poem. Write a paragraph explaining how your understanding and feelings about the poem have changed.


II. Narration Description Assignment

 Write a short personal narrative using one of Cornelius Eady’s lines as a title or epigraph. Be sure to incorporate narrative elements such as setting, plot, point of view and pacing. In addition, use descriptive (sensory) details to paint a vivid picture for your reader.


III. Compare and Contrast Assignment

 Write an essay comparing and contrasting Cornelius Eady’s “The Gardenia” and Langston Hughes’ “Song for Billie Holiday.” Be sure to include a discussion of form and content. You may also include your own response to these poems.

Song for Billie Holiday

by Langston Hughes

What can purge my heart
Of the song
And the sadness?
What can purge my heart
But the song
Of the sadness?
What can purge my heart
Of the sadness
Of the song?
Do not speak of sorrow
With dust in her hair,
Or bits of dust in eyes
A chance wind blows there.
The sorrow that I speak of
Is dusted with despair.
Voice of muted trumpet,
Cold brass in warm air.
Bitter television blurred
By sound that shimmers–

IV. Negative Image Poetry Activity

  1. Choose one of the attached poems by Cornelius Eady.
  2. Create a Negative Image of that poem, which is to say, write a new poem that negates or otherwise alters the original—word by word, line by line, idea by idea. (This idea is based on experiments devised by the Oulipo:  School of French Experimental Writers.)

How can you “negate” or otherwise alter a poem?

Quite literally, you may take the opposite or antonym of each word you come across, keeping in mind that some words, which seem to have no opposite, have dozens of opposites. For example, the opposite of potato is clearly …pineapple, or kudzu, or sweetheart…

  1. When you have finished negating the poem, go back and revise, rearrange, change words, whatever you need to do to polish it and connect lines and ideas. Your final poem should maintain (more or less) the structure of the original.
  2. Pay close attention to sonic elements of words that may plant a seed for words that follow in subsequent lines and stanzas. Allow slant rhymes, consonance, assonance, alliteration, internal rhymes, etc. to guide you as you bring the poem together.
  3. Create a title that helps direct the reader.


V. Scaffolding Poetry Activity

 After reading Cornelius Eady’s “Crows in a Strong Wind,” go through the poem and cross out all nouns, adjectives and main verbs. You may leave the pronouns and helping verbs. Next, rewrite the poem using your own nouns, adjectives and verbs.