Here’s a List of What Junot Díaz Wants You to Read

Here's a List of What Junot Díaz Wants You to Read

Award-winning author Junot Díaz published an essay in the New Yorker last week that took aim at the general whiteness of most MFA writing programs. “From what I saw the plurality of students and faculty had been educated exclusively in the tradition of writers like William Gaddis, Francine Prose, or Alice Munro—and not at all in the traditions of Toni Morrison, Cherrie Moraga, Maxine Hong-Kingston, Arundhati Roy, Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker, or Jamaica Kincaid,” he wrote about his time as an MFA student at Cornell in the ’90s.

And based on his experiences as a teacher and speaker, not much has changed in the past two decades. Prachi Gupta was able to track down the syllabus for one of his classes at MIT, where he currently teaches. Take a look:


Description: “This class concerns the design and analysis of imaginary (or constructed) worlds for narrative media such as roleplaying games, films, comics, videogames and literary texts. … The class’ primary goal is to help participants create better imaginary worlds - ultimately all our efforts should serve that higher purpose.”

Prerequisites: “You will need to have seen Star Wars (episode four: A New Hope) and read The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.”

Reading List:

“A Princess of Mars” by ER Burroughs
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller
“Sunshine” by Robin McKinley
“V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore
“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by NK Jemisin
“Lilith’s Brood” by Octavia Butler
“Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville
“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (Recommended)

Some things to consider always when taking on a new world: What are its primary features—spatial, cultural, biological, fantastic, cosmological? What is the world’s ethos (the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize the world)? What are the precise strategies that are used by its creator to convey the world to us and us to the world? How are our characters connected to the world? And how are we the viewer or reader or player connected to the world?

Advanced Fiction

Description: “An advanced workshop on the writing and critiquing of prose.”

Reading List:
“Clara” by Roberto Bolaño
“Hitting Budapest” by NoViolet Bulawayo
“Whites” by Julie Otsuka
“Ghosts” by Edwidge Danticat
“My Good Man” by Eric Gansworth
“Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” by Yiyun Li
“Bounty” by George Saunders

When reached by phone, Díaz told Salon: “If race or gender (or any other important social force) are not part of your interpretive logic—if they’re not part of what you consider the real—then you’re leaving out most of what has made our world our world. This is a long way of saying that it’s not the books you teach, but how you teach them.”


Who’s Got the Largest Vocabulary in Hip-Hop?

Who's Got the Largest Vocabulary in Hip-Hop?

Would you believe it if I told you that Snoop, 2pac, Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne were just average rappers? That’s according to a data visualization of the largest vocabularies in hip-hop by designer Matt Daniels

Daniels was on a quest to show that rappers can stand alongside literary greats when it comes to discussions about lyrical dexterity. He took 85 artists and compared their first 35,000 lyrics, and what he found was fascinating. Longtime indie rapper Aesop Rock came in at number one, which isn’t surprising if you’ve ever listened to his first LP “Labor Days.” All of Wu-Tang’s 10 members were ahead of the pack generally, but GZA led the group. The Roots were also near the front of the pack. Meanwhile, Outkast and E-40 came in at numbers 14-15.

To summarize what it all means, Robert Gonzalez at io9 quoted Jay Z’s “Black Album:”

I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars

They criticized me for it, yet they all yell “holla”

If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be

Lyrically Talib Kweli

Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense

But I did 5 mil - I ain’t been rhyming like Common since

* This piece has been updated. 

TAGS: hip-hop rap

Watch bell hooks and Janet Mock Talk About Liberating the Black Female Body

Watch bell hooks and Janet Mock Talk About Liberating the Black Female Body

Are you still a slave? That’s the provocative question at the center of a new livestreamed discussion that’s being led by feminist scholar bell hooks at the New School on Tuesday afternoon. The chat will focus on liberating the black female body, and hooks will be joined by transgender activist Janet Mock, author Marci Blackman, and film director Shola Lynch. That chat begins at 4pm EST. Tune in. 

Tuesday’s talk is part of a series at the school that wraps up on Wednesday, May 7. You can find more about it here

(New School)

Breakdancing Monks Pay Tribute to Beastie Boy Adam Yauch

Breakdancing Monks Pay Tribute to Beastie Boy Adam Yauch Play

This weekend marked the third annual MCA Day, which pays tribute to Beastie Boy Adam Yauch. The pioneering musician passed away on May 4, 2012 after a long battle with cancer. But a group of men dressed as Tibetan monks decided not to dwell in such sadness. Instead, they pulled off a pretty epic performance in New York City’s Union Square.

Why robes? As Angry Asian Man explains, Yauch was a practicing Buddhist at the time of his death and was active in the Tibetan Independence Movement. 

(h/t Angry Asian Man)


SNL’s Leslie Jones Tries, and Fails, to Defend Her Slave Rape Joke

SNL's Leslie Jones Tries, and Fails, to Defend Her Slave Rape Joke

Remember all the talk a while back about how badly “Saturday Night Live” needed more black female representation? Sasheer Zamata joined the cast and two black women writers, Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes, were hired. But Jones’ recent skit about slave rape showed that the franchise has a long way to go before getting it right on race. In fact, Jones’ recent bit about slave rape really missed the mark and proved that diversity shouldn’t be the only goal in talks about fair representation. Equity and fairness matter, too. 

Jones made the joke in reference to Lupita Nyong’o’s winning People’s “Most Beautiful” cover. Soraya Nadia McDonald summarizes what happened at the Washington Post:

In her first on-camera appearance on the show, Jones congratulated Lupita Nyong’o on winning People magazine’s “Most Beautiful Person” award, then argued for a “most useful” category for herself, asserting to “Weekend Update” host Colin Jost that she would be his pick if he were approached by three Crips in a dark parking lot. “The way we view black beauty has changed,” Jones said. “See, I’m single right now, but back in the slave days, I would have never been single. I’m six feet tall and I’m strong, Colin. Strong! I mean, look at me, I’m a mandingo … I’m just saying that back in the slave days, my love life would have been way better. Massah would have hooked me up with the best brotha on the plantation  … I would be the No. 1 slave draft pick.”

After fans criticized the skit, Jones tried, and failed, to defend herself on Twitter:

Beyond the fact that skit just wasn’t funny, EBONY’s Jamilah Lemeiux makes an important point: 

Black women are so often the butt of the joke. If any of us deserve to be protected from such, it is our ancestors who endured the indignity and dehumanization of slavery. Furthermore, sisters who have their own issues with dating should not have to deal with the indignity and dehumanization of another (hurt) sister making light of their pain for an audience of White folks, or anyone else, for that matter.

Whether SNL will ever get it right when it comes to Black women remains to be seen, but I’m even more curious to know when Leslie Jones will get it right for herself—and our ancestors.

Read more over at EBONY.

‘The Beygency’ Just Might Be the Greatest Beyoncé Sketch You’ll Ever Watch

'The Beygency' Just Might Be the Greatest Beyoncé Sketch You'll Ever Watch Play

Feeling lukewarm about Beyoncé? Then be careful. The Beygency may be coming after you.

(h/t Saturday Night Live)

Lupita Nyong’o, Sofia Vergara Dazzle at White House Correspondents Dinner

Lupita Nyong'o, Sofia Vergara Dazzle at White House Correspondents Dinner

Lupita Nyong’o and Sofia Vergara were among the Hollywood heavyweights in attendance at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The highlight of the night, of course, was President Obama’s 20 minute routine, which included jokes about the disastrous rollout of But the stars of “12 Years a Slave” and “Modern Family” took over the red carpet. Check them out after the jump.

‘Orange is the New Black,’ George Takei Star at GLAAD Awards

'Orange is the New Black,' George Takei Star at GLAAD Awards

The 25th annual GLAAD Media Awards took place over the weekend in New York City and “Orange is the New Black” was the star of the show. The Netflix original series took home the night’s award for Outstanding Comedy Series while its stars wowed on the red carpet. 

The series’ win also comes after its breakout star, Laverne Cox, won an honorary award from the organization at its Los Angeles awards ceremony. The show’s second season will air on June 6.

TV icon and LGBT advocate George Takei won the night’s Vito Russo Award, whose past recipients include Rosie O’Donnell and Anderson Cooper. Never one to miss an opportunity to make a statement, Takei thanked all of the straight couples who support gay marriage “because they’re the ones who’ll be making the gay babies of tomorrow.”

See the full list of recipients here

Southern California Weekly Publishes A-Z Guide to Being Undocumented

Southern California Weekly Publishes A-Z Guide to Being Undocumented

Julio Salgado and Prerna Lal, two activists who’ve long spoken out publicly for the rights of undocumented immigrants, just published an a-z guide on life without papers in the O.C. Weekly. The guide offers illustrated definitions of terms that usually come up in the debate over immigration, including:


Alien: Term used by the federal government and legal system to refer to all immigrants, legal and otherwise, in the U.S. Also used by bigots (in combination with “illegal”) to try to seem clever. Silly bigots!



Dreamers: Shorthand for undocumented youth taken from the federal DREAM Act, which gave some limited amnesty, provided they attended college. However, it was so limited there’s now a campaign to “Drop the D word” and find a term more inclusive. Ah, progressives …


Obama, President: Deporter in Chief, with more than 2 million deportations under his belt — by far the most of any presidential administration in history. He can change this legacy with a stroke of his pen and bring amnesty to all.

Los Angeles Hosts May Day Screening of ‘César’s Last Fast’

Los Angeles Hosts May Day Screening of 'César's Last Fast' Play

What helped catapult César Chávez to international fame wasn’t his work as an organizer, but the self-sacrifice he exhibited during his high-profile fasts. A new documentary by Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee called “Cesar’s Last Fast” looks at Chávez’s 36-day fast in 1988 as penance for not doing enough to stop the use of pesticides on farm workers. 

The film will be screened in Los Angeles at McArthur Park at 7pm. IndieWire has details

Junot Diaz Writes About How Most MFA Programs Are Too White

Junot Diaz Writes About How Most MFA Programs Are Too White

Long before Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” he was just another frustrated MFA student at Cornell. One of the only students of color in his program, Diaz dealt with white peers who questioned his use of Spanish and generally didn’t try at all to interrogate their own views on race.

That experience led him to co-found Voices of Our Nation (VONA), a week-long summer workshop for writers of color in 1999. This year, the workshop published its first anthology of writing, which includes an introduction from Diaz, part of which was published this week at the New Yorker:

From what I saw the plurality of students and faculty had been educated exclusively in the tradition of writers like William Gaddis, Francine Prose, or Alice Munro—and not at all in the traditions of Toni Morrison, Cherrie Moraga, Maxine Hong-Kingston, Arundhati Roy, Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker, or Jamaica Kincaid. In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.

Check out the anthology over at AK Press, and read the rest of Diaz’s piece at the New Yorker

Watch the Trailer for New Documentary in Allen Iverson

Watch the Trailer for New Documentary in Allen Iverson Play

It’s hard to explain just how much of an impact Allen Iverson had on professional sports. Bomani Jones, of putting-Donald-Sterling-in-his-place-fame, did it a few years ago over at SB Nation. And now, a new documentary tries to pick apart one of most controversial cultural icons in recent memory.

The film recently made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Iverson walked the red carpet at this week’s Philly premiere

Questlove Calls Out Hip-Hop’s Consumerism in New Essay

Questlove Calls Out Hip-Hop's Consumerism in New Essay

In the second installment of his guest series over at New York Magazine, Questlove looks at how consumerism has changed hip-hop.

I don’t know exactly how much a Bugatti costs. Oh, wait: I’ve been told by my business manager that it costs Amused Laughter. Very few people I know, including several best-selling artists in various musical genres, can afford this item, which depreciates as violently as whiplash the minute it’s off the lot. Something about the song, though, creates an environment where I feel a twinge of shame admitting that. And I won’t even get into whether I can spend a hundred K on my wrist.

But what does it mean that hearing the song somehow makes me measure myself against its outsize boasting? For starters, it means that hip-hop has become complicit in the process by which winners are increasingly isolated from the populations they are supposed to inspire and engage — which are also, in theory, the populations that are supposed to furnish the next crop of winners. This isn’t a black thing or even a hip-hop thing exclusively. American politics functions the same way. But it’s a significant turnaround and comedown for a music that was, only a little while back, devoted to reflecting the experience of real people and, through that reflection, challenging the power structure that produces inequality and disenfranchisement.

The Roots’ drummer puts at least some of the blame on Puff Daddy’s work with Biggie in the ’90s. You can read more over at New York Magazine

New Web Series Explores Money, Status Among Asian North American Young Adults

New Web Series Explores Money, Status Among Asian North American Young Adults Play

Canadian filmmaker Andrew Chung just kicked off a new web series called “Millions.” It follows a group of Asian North American twentysomethings as they try to make good on a pact to earn a million dollars. It’s a gentle and uncompromising look at how easy it is to get caught up in the money chase, and a rare look at the unique realities facing young people of color.

The series made its debut this week and will air for eight consecutive Mondays. Here’s the first episode:

Bye, Donald: Sterling Receives Lifetime Ban for Racist Comments

Bye, Donald: Sterling Receives Lifetime Ban for Racist Comments

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver doled out severe punishment to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist comments attributed to him that leaked to the press over the weekend: a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine. It’s the maximum penalty allowed by the NBA’s constitution.

Silver said in a press conference that the punishment did not take into account Sterling’s previous actions, which include being a notoriously racist slumlord in Los Angeles. But the commissioner did say that the league would force Sterling to sell the team.

When asked by an Inside Edition reporter why it took so long to punish Sterling when there was already a long public record of his racist misdeeds, Silver noted that the league acted as quickly as they could after gathering information about Sterling’s very public comments.

Those comments came to light last weekend after several secret recordings were released to TMZ and Deadspin. On the tapes, Sterling can be heard asking his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not to be photographed with black people, and not to bring them “to his games.”

Sterling has been sued twice for housing discrimination. In a 2005 deposition for one of the lawsuits, one former employee said that Sterling had called black people “dirty” and said, “I don’t like Mexican men because they smoke, drink and just hang around the house.” Deadspin noted his documented history of racist actions earlier this week.

Janet Mock Asks Reporter: ‘Who Was the First Person You Came Out to as Cis?’

Janet Mock Asks Reporter: 'Who Was the First Person You Came Out to as Cis?' Play

Janet Mock is winding down a national book tour on which she’s probably fielded a lot of annoying questions. Chief among them is this, “Who was the first person you came out to as trans?” It may be an innocent question, one that she certainly tackles in her memoir “Redefining Realness,” but it’s also problematic. Why? Because it’s one of the many ways that the media has focused overwhelmingly on genitalia and gender reassignment surgery when talking about trans communities.

In a recent segment with Fusion, Mock flips the script and asks television host Alicia Menendez when she began to identify as as cisgender woman — someone who self-identifies with the sex and gender assigned to them at birth. 

Broadway Revival of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ Picks Up 5 Tony Nominations

Broadway Revival of 'A Raisin in the Sun' Picks Up 5 Tony Nominations

The Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play about a black family’s decision to integrate a white neighborhood has picked up five Tony nominations. The current run of the play stars Denzel Washington and LaTanya Richardson and was directed by Kenny Leon to rave reviews. The awards ceremony will air on CBS on Sunday, June 8.

PBS Documentary Explores the Life and Death of Ruben Salazar

PBS Documentary Explores the Life and Death of Ruben Salazar

Ruben Salazar wasn’t what you might consider an average pioneer of the Chicano movement. He was solidly middle class, a man who spent the majority of his career as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times trying to avoid stories that had much to do with Mexican-Americans.

But, as Phillip Rodriguez shows in his new documentary “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle,” Salazar had a change in political consciousness that put him at the forefront of the burgeoning Chicano Movement. On August 29, 1970, Salazar was shot and killed by the LAPD while covering the Chicano Moratorium, and his death became a catalyst for even more activism. 

Rodrieguez’s documentary will premiere on PBS on Tuesday, April 29 at 9pm. Check your local listings for details

Blood Orange Scores New Film From James Franco and Gia Copolla

Blood Orange Scores New Film From James Franco and Gia Copolla

Blood Orange, a 27-year-old London-raised, New York-based producer, has been tapped to score a new film called “Palo Alto” from James Franco and Gia Copolla. Up until now, Blood Orange has been known mostly for his work with Solange he but made a big splash in indie scenes this year with his second solo album “Cupid Deluxe.” In many ways, he’s a perfect match for the film, which focuses on the promiscuous pastimes of a group of wealthy and bored teenagers in a plush suburb. Blood Orange’s songwriting and production is an electronic ode to heartache. The film will be released on May 9.

TAGS: Music

Donald Sterling Harassed, Tried to Evict Elderly Black Tenant

Donald Sterling Harassed, Tried to Evict Elderly Black Tenant

Back in 2009, ESPN the Magazine ran a profile of now-embattled NBA owner Donald Sterling. In it, reporter Peter Keating dug up depositions from two lawsuits filed against Sterling back in 2005 for housing discrimination and sexual harrassment. They give even more damning details about Sterling’s racism:

So according to the testimony of tenants, Sterling employees made life difficult for residents in some of his new buildings. They refused rent checks, then accused renters of nonpayment. They refused to do repairs for black tenants and harassed them with surprise inspections, threatening residents with eviction for alleged violations of building rules.

When Sterling first bought the Ardmore, he remarked on its odor to [property supervisor Sumner] Davenport. “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean,” he said, according to Davenport’s testimony. “And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.” He added: “So we have to get them out of here.” Shortly after, construction work caused a serious leak at the complex. When Davenport surveyed the damage, she found an elderly woman, Kandynce Jones, wading through several inches of water in Apartment 121. Jones was paralyzed on the right side and legally blind. She took medication for high blood pressure and to thin a clot in her leg. Still, she was remarkably cheerful, showing Davenport pictures of her children, even as some of her belongings floated around her.

Jones had repeatedly walked to the apartment manager’s office to plead for assistance, according to sworn testimony given by her daughter Ebony Jones in the Housing Rights Center case. Kandynce Jones’ refrigerator dripped, her dishwasher was broken, and her apartment was always cold. Now it had flooded. Davenport reported what she saw to Sterling, and according to her testimony, he asked: “Is she one of those black people that stink?” When Davenport told Sterling that Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the water damage and compensated for her ruined property, he replied: “I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch.”

Read the profile over at ESPN.

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