Lia Purpura and Deborah Rudacille, English, Reflect on Freddie Gray’s Death in the Baltimore Sun and American Short Fiction

English Writer in Residence Lia Purpura and English Professor of the Practice Deborah Rudacille recently published their thoughts and reflections on the death of Freddie Gray in American Short Fiction. Their powerful commentaries focused on the problematic use of cliches in how the Baltimore riots were described and the tactics of police in certain neighborhoods in the city.

Lia PurpuraIn “Baltimore, April 2015: Some Thoughts on Thugs and Clichés,” Purpura wrote about some of the words that were surrounding descriptions of the riots (thugs, criminals, etc.) and the need to listen and reflect to fully understand the complexity of the situation: “What can done to accurately communicate the complexity of Baltimore, April 2015? Slow the language way down. Occupy the space clichés have claimed—clichés want to buddy up, cozy up, shut the door and flip the lock. Set up, in place of clichés, language that searches, creates friction, challenges sensibilities. Restless language. Language arrived at after listening hard. Refuse the ease of rant and cant—the power gained by repeating words that have come before yours, and that no longer work.” An excerpt of Purpura’s commentary was also published in the Baltimore Sun.

DeborahRudacilleIn “Our Depraved Hearts,” Deborah Rudacille wrote about her observations of different police tactics in certain areas of Baltimore City: “We may not have administered the beating, we may not have loaded Gray into the van, but like the subjects of [Sidney] Milgram’s experiment…we acquiesce to the authorities who tell us we will not be held responsible for the state of our city or for the fate of young men like Freddie Gray… Last week white Baltimore joined black Baltimore in rejecting the experiment. The protests and marches around the city have been remarkable for their diversity. I attended one of the rallies at City Hall and saw old people and young, black and white, similarly outraged by Gray’s death.”

To read complete versions of both articles in American Short Fiction, click here.

“The Mathematics of Being Human” Reviewed in Siam News

Photo by Marlayna Demond.

Photo by Marlayna Demond.

Ahead of a scheduled performance of “The Mathematics of Being Human” on July 29 at the BRIDGES Conference in Baltimore, the play received a positive review in Siam News. It debuted at UMBC on November 4, 2014, and has since been performed across the country in San Antonio, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Featuring Michele Osherow, associate professor of English, Manil Suri, mathematics professor, Savannah Jo Chamberlain ’16, theatre, Chaz Atkinson ’16, theatre, and directed by Alan Kreizenbeck, associate professor of theatre, the play chronicles the struggles of two professors trying to develop a joint seminar studying the intersection of math and literature.

“I was lucky enough to get a seat at a performance held at UMBC, along with apparently a dozen or more of the students who had taken the real-life freshman humanities seminar that inspired this play. Judging by their appreciative laughter at pivotal plot points, I think that much of the performance rang true to their experience as humanities students suckered into a mathematics class,” wrote Katherine Socha, who reviewed the play for Siam. 

“Wonderful selections of mathematics connections in literature and art highlight the rich opportunities for the cross-cultural battles led by these sharply defined faculty characters,” she added.

To read the complete review “Play Takes Aim at the ‘Two Cultures’ Divide,” click here. For more information on the July 29 performance in Baltimore, click here.

UMBC Faculty Provide Perspective and Reflect on Recent Events in Baltimore

In response to recent events that have transpired in Baltimore over the last several days, several UMBC faculty have engaged in thoughtful reflection and dialogue in the news around the complex challenges facing the Baltimore community. The substantive commentaries come from different viewpoints and add various perspectives to the ongoing conversation of the past week’s events.

John Rennie ShortIn The Conversation, School of Public Policy Professor John Rennie Short wrote about three background factors that should be considered when asking why the violence and riots took place in response to the death of one young man: the momentum of the police brutality narrative, the lack of trust between police and minority black populations, and the stifled economic opportunities and limited social mobility of many inner-city residents. “This country needs to address structural issues of poverty and economic opportunity as well as immediate concerns of how we make the streets safer for all our citizens,” Short wrote.

Kate DrabinskiKate Drabinski, lecturer of gender and women’s studies, wrote about decades of disinvestment in Baltimore and uneven development that have disadvantaged largely low-income communities. “One of the dangers of seeing the riot as an event is precisely this danger of losing historical perspective about the ways the neighborhoods burning on television are the very ones that have been cut off from the growth of the city’s downtown core,” she wrote. Drabinski was also featured in a Bicycling Magazine article about her observations of Monday’s events.

Kimberly MoffittKimberly Moffitt, an associate professor of American studies, examined Baltimore City Schools and the important element of focusing on the mental health needs and frustrations of many students. “Now we are faced with the next generation of marginalized youth who demand to be heard, even as they are seen as counterproductive by those who continue to ignore their physical, academic, and psychological needs to be successful in an educational setting,” Moffitt explained. She also participated in a roundtable discussion on Southern California Public Radio about her thoughts on this issue.

Rita TurnerRita Turner, a lecturer of American studies, wrote an article for The Conversation that focused on environmental health issues: “Environmental injustice may seem like a secondary issue in the face of massive police brutality, poverty, and civil uprising, and I don’t suggest that it should preempt conversations about other forms of systemic racism. But as we talk about the devaluing of black lives and black bodies that has taken place in Baltimore and across the country and the world, we cannot ignore the ways that this manifests in a subtle and constant disregard for the health of marginalized communities,” she wrote.

Sue-Goodney-Lea__2013-239x300In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, Suzanne Lea, an adjunct professor of sociology, wrote about an in-depth study she conducted with her students to examine trends in police deadly force incidents that have occurred in the Baltimore/DC area over the last 25 years. The column outlined five key findings from the research, including the vast majority of incidents occurred early in an officer’s career. “Too often, without a video, police officers are exonerated via internal investigations based on rules that prioritize officers’ accounts. Let’s start collecting the data we need to track and systematically examine such incidents and use it to challenge and improve upon our policing until it fully reflects the integrity of our American ideal of equality under the law,” Lea wrote.

Amy BhattIn the Huffington PostAmy Bhatt, an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, examined the question “what does it mean to be safe?” In her article, Bhatt discussed her experience living in the Federal Hill neighborhood and provided a closer look at discussions of property, race, and resources in light of recent events. “When we talk about safety, we need to look beyond our neighborhoods and ask how we decide who stays safe and who does not,” she wrote.

Tom SchallerIn his column in the Baltimore Sun, Thomas Schaller, professor and chair of political science, discussed the impact of inequality on the past week’s events. “Rather, the fact of social protest is prima facie evidence of political disgruntlement, and of an extant imbalance between those who wield power and those subjected to it. When these inequities persist and have no other form of expression, there will be unrest. And in this case, those suffering from Baltimore’s power imbalances are disproportionately black.”

Chris CorbettChristopher Corbett, professor of the practice of English, wrote a column in Reuters in which he discussed his observations and experience living in Baltimore for 35 years after moving from Maine. In his article, “Baltimore’s truth in Freddie Gray’s life and death,” Corbett examined the history and current state of many of the city’s neighborhoods in the context of the events of the last several days.

Jana Kopelentova Rehak, a visiting professor of anthropology, recently published an article on her applied anthropology collaborative project in Baltimore in partnership with Habitat for Humanity to address urban inequality, poverty, and health in relation to housing.

To read the complete news coverage, click below:

Baltimore riots: the fire this time and the fire last time and the time between (The Conversation)
Why Baltimore burns for Freddie Gray (Baltimore Sun)
Baltimore’s truth in Freddie Gray’s life and death (Reuters)
Baltimore cyclist catches riots in action (Bicycling Magazine)
Keeping ‘Us’ Safe in Baltimore (Huffington Post) 
Freddie Gray: death by legal intervention (Baltimore Sun)
The slow poisoning of Freddie Gray and the hidden violence against black communities (The Conversation)
Baltimore could become key election issue (The Philadelphia Tribune)
Black and young in Baltimore: a roundtable discussion (KPCC Radio)
With little choice, O’Malley defends Baltimore tenure (Washington Post)
Mayor Martin O’Malley Versus Governor Martin O’Malley (Governing)
Riots invoked as lobbying tool (Baltimore Sun)
Media coverage and politics (Midday with Dan Rodricks) 
Practicing urban anthropology in Baltimore

Christopher Corbett, English, in Vox

Orphans PreferredMore than 150 years after the first mail was delivered via the Pony Express, Vox published an article examining the service that lasted for only 18 months. Christopher Corbett, professor of the practice in the English department, was quoted in the article. He is author of Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express.

“In the American memory, that man is still riding across the country,” said Corbett when reflecting on the Pony Express. He also discussed how the mail service’s business model played a major role in its undoing.

The business was always doomed. “It hemorrhaged money from the first day,” Corbett said. “It was a bit of a madcap idea from the get-go … the structure of the business was deeply flawed.”

In the article, he also described the legacy of the Pony Express in American memory: Corbett says the appeal of the Pony Express is obvious: it’s an American myth without American tragedy. The bloodshed, suffering, and seediness of the Wild West aren’t part of the myth of the short-lived delivery service. “It’s a benign memory of the Old West,” he says. “It’s a powerfully romantic figure on the back of a fast horse.”

To read the full article in Vox, click here.

Lia Purpura, English, to Present Reading at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (4/10)

Lia PurpuraEnglish Writer in Residence Lia Purpura is scheduled to present readings from her new book It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts on Friday, April 10 at 8 p.m. The reading will be part of an event with the Poulenc Trio, a Baltimore-based wind trio that has been presenting virtuosic performances for over a decade.

Purpura, whose work frequently appears in New Yorker magazine, will pair excerpts from her forthcoming book with a new arrangement for the Trio of Alfred Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style. For more information on the event, click here.

Update: On the day of the performance, Purpura appeared on WYPR’s Maryland Morning with the trio to discuss her work. To listen to the full segment, click here.

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers (3/31)

For more than a quarter of a century, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers has been considered the foremost authority on the American critic and journalist H.L. Mencken as well as the editor of his works.

Marion Elizabeth RodgersMencken was born and lived his entire life in Baltimore where he was long associated with the Baltimore Sun papers along with editing two of the nation’s most distinguished literary magazines – The American Mercury and The Smart Set.  He was also the author of The American Language.

Ms. Rodgers is the author of a critically acclaimed biography – “Mencken: The American Iconoclast” – published by Oxford University Press in 2007. She also edited “Mencken and Sara: A Life in Letters: The Private Correspondence of H.L. Mencken and Sara Haardt.” In addition, she edited Mencken’s six-part “Prejudices” series in their most recent and definitive edition (Library of America). She is also the editor of “The Impossible H.L. Mencken: A Selection of His Best Newspaper Stories” published in 1991.

Most recently, Ms. Rodgers edited the definitive “H. L. Mencken: The Days Trilogy, Expanded Edition: (Library of America)” published last year. Mencken’s memoirs, which began in the 1940s as installments in The New Yorker, included more than 200 never-before-published pages of his notes.  There is no single American writer and critic more knowledgeable about “the sage of Baltimore.”

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers will speak on March 31 at 8:30 a.m. in PAHB 428 (Advanced Journalism Seminar).  Visitors are welcome.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, and Michele Osherow, English, Reflect on Experience Performing “The Mathematics of Being Human”

ManilSuriHeadShotIn an article in the March 6 edition of India Abroad magazine, Mathematics professor Manil Suri discussed the play he performed and co-wrote with English associate professor Michele Osherow, “The Mathematics of Being Human.” The play is an outgrowth of a seminar that the two professors jointly taught that bridged their areas of expertise. In the article, Suri participated in a Q&A about the play and his experience teaching with Osherow. To read the full article, click here.

Michele OsherowSuri and Osherow, both alumni of Carnegie Mellon University, were also interviewed for a recent news article on the university’s website about the play. In the story, they discussed the value of teaching a course that combined study of math and literature. “We’re trying to suggest that interdisciplinary teaching is extremely hard — there’s something to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone,” Osherow said.

On March 8, the “Mathematics of Being Human” will make its New York City premiere at the National Museum of Mathematics. For more information, click here. In addition, Suri and Osherow will be performing an excerpt of the play on math and King Lear at the National Academy of Science’s DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER) on March 19 in Washington, D.C. The performance will be held to celebrate the Man Ray exhibit “A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare” at the Phillips. For more information, click here

March 19 update: to read a Washington Post article about “The Mathematics of Being Human, click here.