Sarah Schulman’s new novel hailed as “Modern Classic” by Kirkus Reviews

Sarah Schulman’s new novel The Cosmopolitans (The Feminist Press at CUNY, March 2016) is a modern retelling of Balzac’s classic Cousin Bette, and has been hailed as a “Jarring and beautiful… a modern classic” by Kirkus Reviews.

A CUNY Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the College of Staten Island, her honors and awards include a Guggenheim in Playwriting and a Fulbright in Judaic Studies. The Cosmopolitans is her 9th novel and 16th book.

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A Guggenheim for Rhyme

Joshua Mehigan on the campus of the College of Staten Island. CUNY Photos.

CUNY Matters: In his widely acclaimed poetry collection, Accepting the Disaster, Joshua Mehigan takes on grave topics filled with tragedy, suffering, and death. But, the dark message of his poems comes veiled by the musicality of rhyme and meter.

As an example, Mehigan’s narrative poem “The Orange Bottle,” uses uncanny, tender rhyming verse to tell the story of a man who stops taking his medication and suffers a psychotic episode before being arrested and sent to a mental hospital.

The clear orange bottle was empty.
It had been empty a day.
It suddenly seemed so costly
and uncalled for anyway.

For Mehigan, part of his joy in writing poetry is the thrill of composition, playing with words and language, and also rhythm and meter.

However, he also uses poetry as a vehicle to discuss societal problems and issues in contemporary life.

“In writing poetry, there are ideas that I have about the world that I would like to get into people’s heads, subtly,” he said.

Mehigan, a doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaching fellow at the College of Staten Island, was named a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry.

Appointed on the basis of “prior achievement and exceptional promise,” Mehigan joins 174 Guggenheim winners that include ten poetry Fellows. His first book, The Optimist,was a finalist for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry and winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. His most recent book, Accepting the Disaster, was cited in the Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times Book Review, and elsewhere as a best book of 2014. Critics have called him “one of our finest emerging poets.”

Mehigan’s poems have also appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, and several anthologies.

When asked how he became interested in poetry, Mehigan said he started writing when he was about 10 and attributes his poetic beginnings to childish self-absorption.

“It wasn’t because I loved literature. It wasn’t because I loved writing. It was mainly just to try to impress people probably,” Mehigan joked. “But, eventually, I woke up and realized there is something to this.”

For inspiration, Mehigan goes to favorites who have also tackled difficult subjects such as W.H. Auden, Jorge Luis Borges, Edgar Bowers, Gwendolyn Brooks, and John Clare. Although his poetry focuses on dark topics, Mehigan explains that he doesn’t dwell in constant sadness.

“I’m obsessed with death. It’s true. I am,” he said.

“So if I’m walking down the street and see something in a particularly poignant way that demonstrates some interesting thing to me about death or my fear of death, then it will find its way to a poem. But it’s not like I walk around weeping,” he said with a laugh.

While he has enjoyed teaching at the College of Staten Island, Mehigan is grateful for the Guggenheim award, which he will use to focus on his next collection.

“I’ll take off a year from school and it will allow me to live, so that I can work. So that I can write poems. And that is really and truly, an amazing gift,” he said.

Cate Marvin wins Guggenheim on heels of recent book

Professor Cate Marvin is a co-founder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, a research-driven organization that works to increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture. Image courtesy of CUNY Photo.

Cate Marvin was recently awarded a 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Poetry.

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.

[video] The Division of Humanities and Social Sciences Celebrates Women’s History Month


In celebration of Women’s History Month, the College of Staten Island’s Division of Humanities and Social Sciences is honoring women faculty whose accomplishments in their respective fields have recently earned them prestigious national recognition.



Zara Anishanslin

Dr. Zara Anishanslin earned an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship to complete research for her upcoming book Producing Revolution: The Material and Visual Culture of Making and Remembering the American Revolution. The book will analyze images and objects from 1763 to 1791 to consider the lives of ordinary citizens and elites who participated in the Revolutionary War.

Patricia Brooks

Dr. Patricia Brooks was named a Distinguished Fellow, CUNY Advanced Research Collaborative. Her research explores the effective use of digital tools and computer-based instruction in undergraduate courses with the purpose of providing state-of-the art information for a Teaching of Psychology textbook. The textbook is designed to provide up-to-date instructional methods, practical advice, and research findings on the scholarship of teaching and learning to prepare graduate students to teach undergraduate courses for the first time.

Lana Karasik

Dr. Lana Karasik received a National Science Foundation grant for her work studying issues that are core to developmental psychology, including questions about cross-cultural consistency in children’s development and the effects of context on early experiences and emerging skills. The study, titled “Effects of Traditional Cradling Practices on Infant’s Physical, Motor, and Social Development,” capitalizes on a rare chance to study effects of restricted movement on infant development by examining the use of a “gahvora” cradle in Tajikistan where the restriction of infant movement is common.

Barbara Montero

Dr. Barbara Montero received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for her book that focuses on disproving the notion that when you are really good at something, your actions should happen automatically. Her work aims to show why the idea that thinking interferes with doing is a myth.

Irina Sekerina

Dr. Irina Sekerina received a Fulbright Fellowship as well as a National Science Foundation grant to conduct the Workshop on Bilingualism and Executive Function: Interdisciplinary Approach, which will take place on May 18 and 19, 2015, at The Graduate Center, CUNY. The two-day workshop will include researchers who will bring their interdisciplinary perspective to the question of how bilingualism is related to executive function.

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith received a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as the 2014 Library of Congress Rebekah Bobbitt Prize for her book, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, which explores the second wave of the Great Migration, detailing her parents’ move from the South to Chicago and being raised as an “up North” child swayed by Motown. Patricia Smith’s work has been featured in editions of Best American Poetry and Best American Essays.

Esther Son

Dr. Esther Son‘s research earned her a grant from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Titled, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Children’s Early Diagnostic and Health Services,” the study investigates racial and ethnic disparities in pathways to diagnosis and early service utilization within the vulnerable population of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Christina Tortora

Dr. Christina Tortora received a National Science Foundation grant for her work on the “Audio-Aligned and Parsed Corpus of Appalachian English.” The product of this project will be a one-million-word corpus of Appalachian English. The corpus will be large, publicly available, and searchable online with standard, user-friendly software and will serve as a tool that will contribute to increased empirical rigor in linguistic research.

Patricia Smith: A Passionate and Prolific Poet

Professor Patricia Smith teaches at the College of Staten Island.

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’.”


Schulman Named Distinguished Professor

The Board of Trustees of The City University of New York has appointed CSI English Professor Sarah Schulman as Distinguished Professor.

The Board of Trustees of The City University of New York has approved the appointment of Professor Sarah Schulman as Distinguished Professor.

Professor Schulman is a tenured Full Professor in the Department of English and has been at CSI and CUNY since 1999. She made significant contributions across disciplines at national and international levels. Her work has made an invaluable impact in creative writing, theater, film, and, not least of all, gay and lesbian culture. Her art and political practices are known for their integrated multi-mediated approaches.

Commenting on her appointment, Schulman said, “This is, of course, a life-changing moment of recognition for me, and I am especially proud as a second-generation product of New York City public schools. My mother grew up in Brownsville/East New York, attended Thomas Jefferson High School, and was in the first class of women at City College in 1949, when women had to have higher GPAs than men to be admitted. I went to Hunter High School and to Hunter College, where I studied with Audre Lorde, an experience that has enriched me all my life. But really what is most meaningful for me about this promotion is that writing about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people and people with AIDS, is finally being recognized as an organic and fundamental part of American Arts and Letters.”

Professor Schulman has published prolifically during her career: nine novels, four works of non-fiction, and one play. Her work has been translated into nine languages and has been included in scores of anthologies. She has produced more than a dozen plays in theaters and other performance venues. Her work in the arts has gained her Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships. This past year, her co-authored screenplay, The Owls, premiered at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian of London, The Nation, The Village Voice, Mother Jones, Interview, The Progressive, American Theater, Millennium Film Journal, and others.

Professor Schulman’s many contributions dedicated to the cultural and political spheres of LGBTQ arts and ideas were recently honored with the David R. Kessler Lecture and Award in LGBTQ Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. This past year Professor Schulman was also appointed to the Advisory Council of the Harvard Kennedy School, Carr Center for Human Rights and Social Movements.

“I have had some extraordinary students here at CSI,” Schulman added, “who I believe in and who deserve to advance and become leaders of our community and country. I worry that our most gifted students are not always getting the opportunities that they deserve and I hope that, as a teacher, I can relate to each of my students as an individual, both of us working to form a distinct partnership in learning, so that whatever they bring to the table can be recognized and enhanced by our collaboration.”

Schulman joins Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

Sarah Schulman, Professor of English at the College of Staten Island, has been named to the Founding Advisory Collective of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Speaking of the appointment, Schulman, who is an author, playwright, historian, and activist, says, “This is a huge moment for me personally. For years I have worked and accomplished a great deal in many arenas, but because I have had integrity about my lesbian content, I have often not been acknowledged at my level of merit. To sit on a board with [New York Times columnist] Frank Rich and [journalist, author, and activist] Naomi Klein means that The Carr Center has come to the place where they will not allow indifference or marginalization of lesbian content to demean intellectuals and artists and keep us from our appropriate peer group.”

Timothy McCarthy, Lecturer on History and Literature and on Public Policy, and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program, notes that the Program, which will launch this fall, seeks to answer the questions of “what happens when we put human rights and social movements together, how do social movements challenge the way we think about human rights, and how do human rights inform, inspire, or confound social movements that seek to transform society?” The Program will employ research and teaching to address these issues and, McCarthy states, it “will sponsor conferences and lecture series, biweekly study groups, a spring-term brownbag series on humanities and human rights, a whole range of things.” As for the Advisory Collective, he explains that it “includes scholars and activists and policymakers from a whole range of backgrounds and institutions.”

Discussing his reasons for selecting Schulman, McCarthy says that he has “long admired Sarah’s work, as a scholar, a writer, and as a public intellectual and activist. She is someone who quite deftly combines all those roles in a way that’s pretty rare. She is someone whose political activism I’ve always admired, whose writing I find provocative and powerful, and who personally I know to be someone who is deeply engaged and committed to the public work of bringing ideas to bear on the world problems so that we can work together to change society. She is someone I see as having done that for her entire career.”

Schulman notes the timeliness of the Program’s launch, especially in relation to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues. “Politically, it is time that the human rights movement, internationally, acknowledge that LGBT people are “human” and that our liberation movements are “human rights” movements. I have a 30-year history of political and cultural activism for LGBT people and people with AIDS, and it’s time for that work to be seen in the broad human rights paradigm. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my perspective to a wide range of global events, and be allowed to participate in the big conversation.”

Schulman is the author of 14 books : the novels The Mere Future (2009), The Child (2007), Shimmer (1998), Rat Bohemia (1995), Empathy (1992), People in Trouble (1990), After Delores (1988), Girls Visions and Everything (1986), The Sophie Horowitz Story (1984), the nonfiction books The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (forthcoming in 2010), Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences (2009), Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS and the Marketing of Gay America (1998), My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan/Bush Years (1994), and the plays Carson McCullers (2002) (published by Playscripts Inc,), Manic Flight Reaction (2005) and Enemies, A Love Story (2007) adapted from IB Singer.

Her awards include a Guggenheim (Playwriting), Fulbright (Judaic Studies), Revson Fellow for the Future of New York at Columbia University, two American Library Association Book Awards (Fiction and Nonfiction), three NY Foundation for the Arts Fellowships (Fiction and Playwriting), finalist for the Prix de Rome, Kessler Prize for Sustained Contribution to LGBT Studies.

A participant citizen, Schulman has been active in a number of foundational movements for social change including abortion rights, AIDS activism, and the gay and lesbian liberation movement. She is co-founder with Jim Hubbard of both: MIX:NY LGBT Experimental Film and Video Festival, and the ACT UP Oral History Project (

Schulman is also a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University.

English Professor Sarah Schulman has been named to a program advisory collective on human rights.

CSI professor wins Guggenheim

Zoe Beloff, an adjunct professor with the College of Staten Island’s recently formed department of Media Culture, was named a Guggenheim Fellow in the 2003 competition.

Beloff joins an elite group of CSI professors who have earned this distinction: Rafael Herrera, assistant professor of mathematics; Sarah Schulman, assistant professor of English; Patricia Passlof, professor of art; George F. Custen, professor of communications; Ira Shor, associate professor of English; and Phil Niblock, professor of performing and creative arts.

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. The new Fellows, which were announced by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, include writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, film makers, choreographers, physical and biological scientists, social scientists, and scholars in the humanities.

Beloff, a Fellowship winner for 2003 was one of 184 awardees who were selected from over 3,200 applicants for awards totaling $6,750,000 according to the Guggenheim Foundation. The Foundation grants these awards based on recommendations from hundreds of expert advisors, which are approved by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

Beloff’s work includes a variety of cinematic imagery, film, stereoscopic projection performance, and interactive media. She will use her Guggenheim funding on a 3D video installation entitled “The Ideoplastic Materialization of Eva C,” which will be shot at the MCA studio at City College of New York, where Beloff is also an adjunct professor. The video crew will be comprised of CCNY film students and alumni.

“It’s based on a true story about a medium who lived in Paris in the early 1900s and was investigated by a number of famous doctors and scientists,” said Beloff. “Many photographs of her séances were taken. I will use these as an inspiration to conjure up the séances.”

As an artist Beloff considers herself as an heir to the 19th century mediums whose materialization séances evoke unconscious desires in a theatrical fashion.

Her work has been exhibited internationally at such venues as MoMA, The New York Film Festival, the Rotterdam Film festival, the Pacific Film Archives, and the Pompidou Center. Her first interactive video installation, “The Influencing Machine of Miss Natalijaa A,” was exhibited in Dusseldorf and the ZKM in Karlsruhe, both in Germany, in fall 2002.

Recently, Beloff has been presenting “Shadow Land or Light From the Other Side,” a stereoscopic film based on the life of the 19th century medium Elizabeth D’Espérance, and “Claire and Don in Slumberland,” in New York and around the United States.

Raised in Scotland where she studied painting and art history at Edinburgh University and College of Art, she moved to New York in 1980 and earned an MFA in Film from Columbia University in 1983.

She has been awarded numerous grants and fellowships by foundations and organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts (co-recipient with John Cale); the New York State Council for the Arts; The Jerome Foundations, Inc.; The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts; Art Matters, Inc.; The New York Foundation for the Arts; and The Applebaum-Kahn Foundation.

Beloff is a three-time recipient of the Experimental Television Center’s Finishing Funds Award (1996, 2000, 2002). She won the Best Multimedia Project, Best Show prize in the 1998 Apple QuickTime VR competition, and was awarded two residencies (1996, 2000) by Harvestworks Digital Media Arts.

She lives in Manhattan.