The adage “it’s never too late” is proven again. Rose Zrake, age 87, received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature during Commencement at the College of Staten Island on May 28. She has now realized a dream that began decades ago. Zrake married in her 20s, raised five children and then, in her 40s, began her college career. Taking just one or two classes a semester, the road to a degree seemed daunting and she stopped for a long while. But her love of learning and her love of the arts brought her back to the classroom a few years ago. Taking classes with students who were the same age as her granddaughters did not phase this Brooklyn native. “The classroom discussions were engaging and energizing,” Zrake gushed, adding that all the other students and faculty were very welcoming of the unique perspective that she brought to the classroom. Everyone who meets her – or hears her story – agrees that it is an inspiration to know that it’s never too late to realize a dream… and that learning never has to end.
To read more about CSI Alumni, check out Eye on CSI.
Professor Marvin conducts poetry workshops and teaches creative writing and literature classes with the English Department at CSI, claims that this year was not the first year that she applied for the Fellowship, which makes the award even more “rewarding” since she understands the effort that goes into the application process as well as what the award means for an artist’s career. “The Guggenheim Fellowship is not for emerging writers,” said Prof. Marvin, adding, “The biggest honor of the award is that it is not only recognition for the work you have done but a vote of confidence for the work you will do in the future.” The Guggenheim Fellowship is doubly meaningful since it is awarded to members of different disciplines; it places one’s work among the pantheon of artists, scholars, and scientists and gives each award equal importance.
The award comes just on the heels of the publication of her latest book of poems, Oracle, which Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky called “a witty and elegiac new collection from the author of ‘exhilarating, fierce [and] powerful’ verse,” and Vanity Fair asserts “channels the colorful voices of Staten Island.”
The poems contained within Oracle all concern women in contemporary culture who speak to power and control. In her discussions of the book, Professor Marvin calls Oracle “a book of elegies” and notes that it is “definitely haunted.”
Prof. Marvin states that by the age of 11, she was “pretty into poetry” and credits her parents for never pressuring her “to do something with your life,” which she fears many other parents do to their children.
“I knew I wanted to be a poet by the time I was 17,” she says of discovering her unique talents. “I remember writing a poem and feeling like the poem was being written through me.” She “figured out this is great, I love this,” during a creative writing class in high school.
Her passion for writing extends to the classroom where she encourages her creative writing students to “lose their self-consciousness” and to start getting rid of what she calls “that inner censor.” She admits writing is hard work but something that is worth all of the work and though it is not glamorous, the hard work is something that is not only part of writing, it is something that she actually enjoys and she tries to share that passion for writing and evolving as an artist with her students.
Along with her work as a writer and a teacher, she co-founded VIDA: Women in Literary Arts in 2009 with several other writers to encourage more women to get involved in critical discourse. She believes that collaboration can be seriously beneficial to writers since they can be “pretty solitary—it’s just the nature of the work.” According to VIDA’s Website, the organization’s mission is to “increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture.”
As Prof. Marvin celebrates her Fellowship award, she is also looking ahead to her next work, a proposed book of poems about Willowbrook, and the suffering that occurred where CSI’s campus now stands.
Since 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has annually offered Fellowships to artists, scholars, and scientists in all fields. Often characterized as a “midcareer” award that is intended for men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts, the Foundation receives between 3,500 and 4,000 applications each year. This year, after considering the recommendations of panels and juries consisting of hundreds of distinguished artists, scholars, and scientists, the Board of Trustees has granted 175 Fellowships across more than 50 disciplines.
Andrew Simontacchi ’15, a creative writing major, was one of the Staten Island Advance reporters who earned a second place win for outstanding Spot News Reporting on the day of the Eric Garner grand jury decision.
According to the announcement article appearing on SILive.com:
“The Staten Island Advance has been recognized with two New York State Associated Press awards for its coverage of the Eric Garner case.
The awards included a second place win for outstanding Spot News Reporting on the day of the Garner grand jury decision and a first place photography award for Videos and Slide Shows over the course of coverage, from July through the end of 2014.
“We are excited that the AP has recognized the work of the Advance’s reporters and photographers,” said Gail Lubin, the Advance’s content director. “Our news staff is dedicated to its Staten Island readership, and we are proud of their outstanding efforts to provide real-time news 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The spot news award is technically a writing award, but it was an overall live-coverage package, comprised of text, photos and video, that was submitted for consideration. This included a step-by-step look at the day’s events as they unfolded, from the first rumors that the grand jury was about to announce its decision, to Rev. Al Sharpton’s Harlem press conference announcing a National March to be held in Washington.
The reporters, photographers and editors who contributed words, images and videos to this package include:
Reporters: John Annese, Vincent Barone, Frank Donnelly, Maura Grunlund, Ryan Lavis, Diane Lore, Tracey Porpora, Andrew Simontacchi, Anna Sanders, Lauren Steussy, and Mira Wassef.
Editors: Eddie D’Anna, Managing Producer of Breaking News; Mark Stein, Community Engagement Specialist; and Tom Wrobleski, Senior Opinion Writer.
Photographers: Anthony DePrimo, Hilton Flores, Bill Lyons, Irving Silverstein, and Jan Somma-Hammel.
The award-winning slideshow included the poignant images of grief and the powerful images of protest and resolve so prevalent throughout the many months of the Garner coverage.
The photographers whose work was included in “The death of Eric Garner,” the slideshow submitted for consideration, are: Vincent Barone, Anthony DePrimo, Hilton Flores, Jan Somma-Hammel, Ryan Lavis and Bill Lyons.
Winners will be honored at the annual state AP awards banquet, scheduled for June 6, at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs.
Assistant Professor of English Patricia Smith is an award-winning poet whose works include Close to Death, Big Towns, Big Talk, and Life According to Motown, just released in a 20th-anniversary edition. Her collection, Teahouse of the Almighty, was chosen for the 2006 National Poetry Series, and Blood Dazzler, which chronicles the human, emotional, and physical toll exacted by Hurricane Katrina, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, and one of NPR’s Top Books of 2008. The book was the basis for a thrilling dance/theater collaboration, which sold out its performances at NYC’s Harlem Stage. Her newest collection, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, is already receiving its fair share of accolades as a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.
Patricia Smith is also a record four-time National Poetry Slam winner and arguably the world’s best spoken word performer. She earned a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.
Her accolades are numerous but what is most interesting is finding out just what makes her tick. In our most recent faculty profile, CSI Today was able to speak with Professor Smith and find out a little about what makes her such a successful writer and educator.
Professor Smith first discussed Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, in which she wanted to “write about Motown and the sway the music had on me.” She was attracted to the connection she had with the stories that Motown songs told. The book, a loose autobiographical collection of poems, focuses on “a segment of the population—my age group—that we don’t often hear from.” She further discussed how the Great Migration—the move from the southern to the northern parts of the country that many African Americans took part in during the middle of the 20th century—as “such a sea change. It was like migrating to another country.” In the early 1950s, her parents, Annie and Otis Smith, joined that exodus and settled in Chicago.
The writer was inspired by the memory of listening to her father tell her stories after work. “I grew up in the tradition of the back porch. When I was a young girl, my father would sit and tell me stories about his day, the people he worked with at the candy factory, folks he encountered in the neighborhood.” That tradition taught her to “look at the world in terms of the stories it could tell.”
Smith has been obsessed with telling those stories since she was eight-years-old, but it was not until she won a poetry contest in Chicago and was awarded with a trip to Osaka, Japan to present her poetry that she realized she had a future as a writer. “Having my poetry translated for 25,000 Japanese businessmen, a group of people who would never otherwise be exposed to my work was an amazing experience,” she said of her first trip outside of the country. “I thought about my father who by that time had passed away; it was something neither one of us could have imagined.”
Discussing her time teaching at CSI, Professor Smith focused primarily on the students and how, much like her, their backgrounds drive them to be excellent students. “They have such a work ethic that most likely stems from their families.”
“So many of my students are new to college or are too busy with their lives to focus on their passions. My job is to tell them that writing can be a parallel career to the one they’ve chosen.”
Professor Smith claims that she gets a rush out of “watching that realization by students who are not aware of their natural writing talent.”
She advises young writers to read as much as possible. “You can’t be a full-fledged writer unless you sample other lives,” she said of the importance of exploring the world through books. She also commented on the ease at people can now “go online or go to readings and meet poets and sample their work.”
She also preaches discipline and believes that writers should treat writing just like another job. “You have to say, ‘I’m going to write ten pages today’ and then do it.” Otherwise, she continued, “it’ll just be a recreational activity.”
But most of all, Professor Smith, who is currently working on an anthology of anonymous 19th-century photographs “brought to life” by contemporary poets, had this to say about the life of a writer: “You must tell yourself, ‘I am a storyteller—I will do something that reaffirms that’.”
Cynthia Dagnal-Myron, an award-winning former reporter for both the Chicago Sun Times and Arizona Daily Star, interviewed Poet Patricia Smith for Open Salon.
The Patricia Smith I knew at the Chicago Sun Times in the 70’s was an audacious young clerk who snatched the then still typewritten articles from our hands when we yelled “COPY!” and rushed them to the editors to be proofread and fact-checked.
She couldn’t fool us, though. There was a glint in those eyes—she was a writer, waiting her turn.
English professor Frederick Kaufman, author of Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food, appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program.
He spoke of how rising food prices around the world come as a result of food being packaged and sold as a commodity on international trading markets. He discussed the influence of the financial industry, large food corporations and federal policy upon how food is treated as a form of commerce.