(from 26 August 2020 email)

Dear Everyone:

Welcome to the new year!

Though I wish so much summer could extend forever, with equal intensity, I love the start of a semester, when everything is sheer promise and potential and possibility. Even in this year so intensely full of loss of every kind, I’m finding the melancholy for what we aren’t able to do punctuated by excitement over what’s to come. I didn’t expect excitement, really, but here it is, percolating up nonetheless. The un/learning we will do – through reading and writing and listening and talking and meeting and everything else – that will help us understand and historicize the present; that can transform outrage into knowledge and action, and translate sadness into wisdom; that can catalyze conviviality and community across space and time and screens —  it’s work to be taken on full-throated, immersively, wholly, and is necessary to the creation and sustenance of worlds characterized by cherished life – that’s what we do/what I believe we should understand “humanists” to do.  I am immensely, hugely, ginormously grateful to be diving into all this what’s-to-come and world-making in your company.

Last week, I participated in the orientation for our incoming students deftly organized by Nancy (Silverman), and there offered improvisation and flexibility as guiding principles of the present, and likewise suggested promiscuity and curiosity as navigational ideas.  I wish there weren’t quite so many conditions necessitating improvisation and flexibility. Even as I identify their importance, I want to flag how they can, like “resilience,” rhetorically and affectively individualize what are decidedly structural problems. As a program, we will improvise and be as flexible as we can so that students, especially, but all of us, really, can improvise as needs and desires warrant, as curiosity dictates and promiscuity requires. I ask students in my seminars to be willing to be wrong so that we can in fact un/learn together; in similar tenor, I’ll ask all of us to enter this distinctive semester with deliberate openness and intentional curiosity. Doing so won’t solve precarity or uncertainty, so intensely experienced in various ways now but also always; and/but, you never know what ideas you’ll encounter necessary to worlding!

Improvisation and flexibility are, of course, skills garnered long before pandemic by those from minoritized, impoverished, and/or otherwise subjugated communities; they turn out to be superpowers (also of course!). The intellectual genealogies emergent from such communities – among them, Black feminist thought, queer of color critique, dis/ability studies, ethnic studies, settler colonial studies, indigenous studies – help us recognize courage as an intellectual category (especial h/t Roderick Ferguson for this formulation). I have – I suspect like many of you – been waiting for sadness and outrage to turn into wisdom; these intellectual genealogies of courage are vital to that transformation for me.  Perhaps we might understand our collective project this year to be the proliferation of wisdom through the manifold genealogies of thought that comprise and drive us as an “us,” as the English program?  An opening proposition for the year!

Always, of course, I remind us of the essential importance of kindness, which is to say, I ask us all to remember that the lives we (faculty, staff, students, alum, everyone) lead are immensely complicated. This is fundamentally a pedagogical attitude, isn’t it? i.e., kindness defined by the attempt to understand the place from which someone speaks or acts…Retrieve kindness from its bumper sticker, eye-roll inducing uses!  The tech is going to be glitchy, the eyestrain and backaches will be real, the attenuation and exhaustion will shorten tempers, the sharing of space with others (sometimes very young others, sometimes unkempt teenagers, sometimes loud neighbors) will be irritating: all of that will be part of this semester’s work. (Can you tell, I’m in part making this explicit as a reminder to myself? Be kind, be kind, be kind…(!).) 

Practical notes with which to close:

  • I’ll do my best to write regularly to keep you all informed as to things going on.  Please make sure to read things sent by Nancy, especially – and by Kent Yuen, who returns to us as College Assistant this year (yay!).  And students, make sure your email addresses are current in CUNYFirst, and check your gradcenter email regularly – financial aid sends you information there – critical stuff!
  • Please also note that I don’t read/respond to work email over the weekend and am not obsessively in my inbox. I do my best to respond to email in a timely manner; if you don’t receive a response in 72 hours or so, please write again – I’m likely not ignoring you on purpose and your first message may well have gotten buried. 
  • I’ll be holding office hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 2-4p – a link to make appointments is at the bottom of my signature line, below.  If those times don’t work, just let me know – happy to make a separate arrangement.
  • Critical karaoke!  This Friday!  Huge thanks to Will Arguelles and Christian Lewis for organizing!  This is a super fun event; please join us – and hang out for (obviously) byob cocktails thereafter!  (Zoom link to follow separately)
  • Friday Forums: proposals for fall most welcome!  Please remember there is no money to pay anyone for anything in submitting your idea for an event.  Here’s the link to the google form collecting proposals.

Okay, I think that’s it for now – as ever, holler with questions!

With gratitude, warmest welcome, and all well wishes,


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