Thursday, May 21, 2009

Six faculty members lauded for commitment to diversity

By Erin Biehl
University Record intern

Six faculty members dedicated to developing cultural and ethnic diversity at U-M have received the 2009 Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award from the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic and Affairs.

The recipients are Kelly Askew, LSA; Tabbye Chavous, School of Education and LSA; Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, LSA; Karin Muraszko, Medical School; Scott Page, LSA and the Institute for Social Research; and Daniel Washington, School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

"This year's recipients demonstrate a commitment to the very centrality of diversity as an important part of the university's educational mission. Through their writings, public statements, curricular work and co-curricular programs, their efforts have brought about constructive change on issues regarding diversity within his or her academic unit and the broader university," says Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts.

Established in 1996, the award is given in honor of Harold Johnson, dean emeritus of the School of Social Work. The award provides $5,000 to recipients to further research and scholarship opportunities.

Kelly Askew, associate professor of anthropology and Afroamerican and African studies, LSA, also serves as director of the African Studies Center, through which she creates international alliances in the field of African studies.

"[She] has thrived in getting the center off the ground, and has embraced this important task in a spirit of selfless dedication to strengthening African Studies at U-M and on the African continent," Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and director of the International Institute, wrote in a nomination letter.

Besides directing the African Studies Center, Askew has contributed to diversity through her scholarship and teaching. In 2007 she received the Gilbert Whitaker Fund Award for the Improvement of Teaching to revise the center's 200-level introductory courses, and from 2006-07 was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany.

A scholar of ethnomusicology, popular culture and nationalism in East Africa, Askew has produced film documentaries exploring Zanzibari music, including "Poetry in Motion: 100 Years of Ikhwan Safaa," which was screened at the Zanzibar International Film Festival and the Kenya International Film Festival in 2008.

Tabbye Chavous, associate professor of education, School of Education; associate professor (adjunct) of psychology, LSA; and chair of the Combined Program for Education and Psychology (CPEP), researches the role of race, gender and ethnicity in development issues among adolescent minorities. As chair of the Social Justice Committee in the School of Education and chair of CPEP, Chavous has worked to recruit students and faculty of color to CPEP and increase diversity in the classroom.

Her involvement with mentoring and supporting black students includes serving since 1999 on the advisory board for the annual Black Students in Psychology Conference, which assists black graduate students in their research and professional development.

"Building an educational system and educational practices that respect diversity and work to redress inequities is a fundamental social project: [Chavous] embodies the hard work, generosity of service and skillfulness required to develop this agenda," Theresa Lee, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, and Deborah Ball, professor and dean of the School of Education, wrote in a nomination letter.

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, assistant professor of American cultures and romance languages and literatures, LSA, has helped increase understanding of queer and Latina/o cultures through his research on the intersection of race, ethnicity, sexuality and migration, discussed in his books "Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora" and "Translocas and Transmachas."

The host of U-M Portal en Español's Latino Culture Series Productions, La Fountain-Stokes interviews U-M researchers and Spanish-language scholars and has introduced queer and Latina/o-studies scholars and artists to U-M. He also has served on numerous committees and organizations seeking to promote diversity at U-M, including the Program in American Culture, and Assisting Latinos to Maximize Achievement. He also has engaged in the broader community, becoming a central figure in Washtenaw County's fledgling arts community.

LaFountain-Stokes "interprets and illuminates the works of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writers, shaking old prejudices in both the U.S. and Latino American countries, and advocating for many communities within the University of Michigan and without," wrote Lee Doyle, chief of staff for the Office of the Vice President for Communications, and Vivianne Schnitzer, Hispanic communications manager.

Karin Muraszko, the Julian T. Hoff Professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery; professor of surgery, plastic surgery section and Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases in the Medical School, is honored as a mentor and inspiration to women striving to overcome bias in the surgical field. Muraszko's triumph over spina bifida and success as one of the first female pediatric neurosurgeons in the country make her a role model for women and the disabled.

She is a 2007 recipient of the Sarah Goddard Power Award that honors those who have made significant contributions to the betterment of women at U-M and globally through distinguished leadership, scholarship or other activities related to their professions. The creator of Project Shunt, she took a team of medical professionals to Guatemala in 1997 to provide neurosurgical care to children with craniofacial abnormalities.

"She is an outstanding advocate for women, minorities and children being the best they can be as well as for those with disabilities," wrote Dr. Carmen Green, associate professor of anesthesiology and health management and policy.

Scott Page, the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Political Science, Complex Systems and Economics, LSA; senior associate research scientist in the Center for Political Studies, Institute for Social Research; associate director, Center for the Study of Complex Systems, is known for his work on the importance of diversity in educational settings and the work environment.

He has spoken at public events focused on diversity, including the Michigan Civil Rights Summit and the 2006 Diversity Forum. His book "The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Teams and Societies" discusses the benefits of diversity. A member of the steering committee of the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Rackham Executive Committee, and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs Multicultural University Committee, Page has worked to ensure that admissions decisions maintain a commitment to diversity within the confines of the law.

"[Page's] academic research, combined with his tireless efforts in talking about and facilitating discussions about diversity, demonstrate an almost unrivaled dedication to helping people understand the benefits of diversity and to bring about equity at the university and in society," wrote Charles Shipman, chair of the Department of Political Science.

Daniel Washington, associate dean for faculty affairs, director of minority services, and associate professor of voice in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, has taken an active role in promoting diversity in the school. The director of minority services oversees counseling of students in SoMTD and coordinates Martin Luther King Day activities for the school. Also the collegiate director and Detroit chapter president of the National Association of Negro Musicians, he has reached out to African-American musicians nationwide and arranged visits of minority artists to SoMTD.

As faculty adviser to the Black Arts Council, Washington has helped students carry out their organizational enterprises and provided academic counsel. And he has helped to attract minority students to SoMTD by establishing contacts with the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Harlem School for the Arts.

"[Washington] is a musical artist with a steadfast faith in the transformative power of the arts in society and a commitment to live out that faith by including as many distinct artistic voices as possible in [SoMTD]," Christopher Kendall, dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, wrote in a nomination letter.

—All photos were provided courtesy their respective subjects.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rainbow Reviews: Uñas pintadas de azul/Blue Fingernails

Unas pintadas de azul (Blue Fingernails) by Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes
Pansexual Book Reviews/Fiction, Pansexual Book Reviews/Anthology

TITLE: Unas pintadas de azul (Blue Fingernails)
AUTHOR: Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes
ISBN: 978-1-931010-33-7
PUBLISHER: Bilingual Press

Review by Lizardlez

These fourteen short stories represent a Latina/o American poetic journey, a sensory odyssey through the pains and pleasures of diasporic, cosmopolitan gay and lesbian Puerto Rican identities in an ever-shifting postmodern world. The tales touch on urban experiences throughout the Americas, at times incorporating elements of science fiction, vampires, detectives, and fantasy, but mostly focusing on the difficulties of mad, passionate love and its inevitable demise. Oscillating between humor and sadness, the stories are meant for readers who are not put off by controversial ideas or taboo topics like sadomasochism, transvestism, prostitution, and pornography.

Experimental and meta-literary, with intertextual allusions to the work of other gay writers such as Manuel Ramos Otetro,Manuel Puig, and David Wojnarowicz, Unas pintadas de azul/Blue Fingernails is an important contribution to queer Latina o and Puerto Rican letters. Bilingual edition.

Technically, this book is a single-author collection of short stories in parallel Spanish and English on facing pages. The effect of the whole work is that of a wild, colorful, hallucinogenic novel in the tradition of James Joyce (the Irish writer given credit for pioneering the stream-of-consciousness novel in the early twentieth century) and other experimental writers who describe life from outside the cultural mainstream.

In the opening story, or cuento, "my name, multitudinous mass," the author suggests that he has many identities drawn from various cultures and creative influences. The speaker claims:

"Sometimes, when I walk down the street, I become other people: William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Rene Marques. Like saying hustler, flaneur, drug addict, artist, writer, genius, pornographer, homosexual (I almost forgot!) and other things that it would take years to enumerate."

The narrator's persona, the "I" of the story, seems gender-fluid and dedicated to the goddess of the sea (which links all the nations of earth) in the African-based religion which itself takes different forms in different regions, called "ju-ju" in its place of origin, "santeria" in the author's native Puerto Rico and "voodoo" in New Orleans and Haiti.

In the title story, "blue fingernails," a film-maker named Jerry has his fingernails painted blue by his friend Silvina, who clearly doesn't trust him to do this himself after he has painted his black, and done it badly. Silvina takes great care to make his fingernails look beautiful as a gesture of friendship:

"Silvina's were pink and she wanted to paint his so that they would match: boy and girl, just like the new Pampers disposable diapers or any other random combination that would say: you and I. Like the green and yellow of the Brazilian flag. Or the black and white of an old TV set, left along the side of a road to Istanbul, that noble city that my grandmother, in her impeccably conservative way, insisted on calling Byzantium."

Jerry and Silvina enjoy the fresh green of the foliage in a park in a future New York City which is dominated by Middle Eastern culture. Both of them have an irresistible urge to feast on "all types of Arabic food." The names "Jerry" and "I" are used interchangeably, and Silvina suggests that her own identity is equally flexible.

The narrator is fascinated by food, objects, and films as fun-house mirrors of the real world. In the story "rites of devotion to the cult," a woman called Demonio Maria de Cienfuegos (Demon Mary Hundredfires), also called Angel and Angela is chosen to star in "the musical pornographic film Rites of Devotion to the Cult, to be directed by Chi Chi Larue." She asks for payment for the sexual services she will perform on film.

References to chocolate run throughout the narrative, in which New York contains all the cultures of the world, and in which chocolate in various forms represents both pleasure and disgust. In the story "shit" (with the pretty name "la mierda" in Spanish), a man is humiliated by losing control of his bowels in public."Shame compounded his despair, the impossibility of not doing anything ... His disgust provoked tears, but dear readers, don't feel pity beforehand. Disgust shall soon be yours too, disgust for the sake of art, and the pleasure of a tiny chocolate of the highest quality, Godiva no less ~ just in case, just like in the fairy tales you've undoubtedly heard."

The desire of a gender-fluid "man" for male strangers, especially those who reveal thick cocks, also runs through the narrative, and it goes with the panorama of changing scenes and passing strangers who always seem strangely familiar. Readers who are looking for a conventional plot will be disappointed by this book, but readers who enjoy poetic imagery and language-play (including the double negatives that add emphasis in Spanish, and the musical sound of vulgar or insulting Spanish words) will be entertained. This book is not easy to read even in one language only, but its leaps of logic and loose network of characters are worth considering. Reading this book is like being high on a mind-altering substance, but without the negative after-effects.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes se afila las uñas"

El escritor puertorriqueño radicado en Míchigan apuesta por un “juego descontrolado de asociaciones” mentales en su libro bilingüe Uñas pintadas de azul / Blue Fingernails, que presentó la semana pasada en la librería Isla, en Río Piedras. (Para Primera Hora / foto por Carlos Giusti)

"Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes se afila las uñas"
sábado, 2 de mayo de 2009
Héctor Aponte Alequín / Primera Hora (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico)

Él y sus textos necesitaban “validación, saber si vale la pena seguir escribiendo, porque cuesta mucho trabajo”. Pero le fue difícil conseguir esa aprobación en un mercado editorial marcado por el prejuicio de que la narrativa “tiene que contar historias”.

Hace 10 años, envió sus manuscritos a “un montón de editoriales”. De todas le llegaban cartas de rechazo en las que no se exponían las razones para optar por no publicarlos. Larry, como se le conoce, sospecha que ser “literatura abiertamente gay, de un autor abiertamente gay”, pudo haber sido uno de varios factores que propició la censura.

Otros serían, probablemente, su gusto por “formas no convencionales”, los contenidos “no aptos para menores, como la pornografía” y “lo mucho de autobiográfico” que pudieran ser sus creaciones, que por fin se han puesto en circulación bajo el título Uñas pintadas de azul / Blue Fingernails (Bilingual Press, Arizona State University).

“Para mí la literatura es un espacio de diversión, mágico, donde todas las cosas que uno se imagina o sueña pueden darse”, expresa Lawrence La Fountain con una sonrisa que materializa el espíritu lúdico de los 24 relatos en español e inglés que se recogen en el tomo de 311 páginas.

“Mi interés es el deleite de la palabra. Quise exponer mi experiencia como hombre gay, puertorriqueño, quise dialogar con (el fallecido escritor) Manuel Ramos Otero. No separo entre la experiencia personal y la literatura”, establece el profesor de esa materia en la Universidad de Michigan.

“No me preocupan las etiquetas y a mucha honra me autoidentifico como autor gay puertorriqueño. Eso le da coherencia a mi escritura y es justo con el público”, expone.

Algunos de los cuentos del volumen, disponible en la librería Isla, en Río Piedras, permiten ser leídos como poemas. Otros esbozan emotivas historias a lo largo de fluires de conciencia, de forma similar a como lo hace el narrador de la novela de Ángel Lozada No quiero quedarme sola y vacía, otra víctima de censura.

“El que tenga expectativas de una trama lineal y clara se va a decepcionar”, advierte el también activista de los derechos de los homosexuales.

Larry reconoce que esa linealidad es uno de los moldes que esperan los lectores “en esta época de la profesionalización de los escritores”, ésos a los que se les hace más fácil publicar.

Firme en su postura

La mejor manera en que los artistas homosexuales pueden contribuir a conseguir igualdad de derechos para esta población es salir del clóset, opina La Fountain.

Según el escritor, “hay un vínculo entre la cultura y la política” que es esencial en esta lucha por la igualdad, puesto que las artes forjan opinión pública.

Que el artista gay se identifique como tal “hace una gran diferencia” porque enfrenta a las personas, especialmente los fans de los artistas, con sus prejuicios.

Una vez el seguidor del artista gay reconoce sus preconcepciones, reflexiona sobre ellas y entonces se generan diálogos con gente más informada.

Entretanto, al público que también se identifica como gay se le abren puentes con el resto de la comunidad que es fiel al escritor, cantante o actor en cuestión.

“Yo respeto a los que se mantienen discretos con respecto a su sexualidad, pero, hasta que no compartan lo personal, no llegarán al pueblo”, concluye.

Revista Ambiente Publishes Charlie Vázquez Interview

Ambiente Magazine, which focuses on Latino/Hispanic LGBT issues, has reprinted my interview in its May 2009 issue and titled it: "Gay Puerto Rican Scholar Larry La Fountain and his Blue Fingernails" by Charlie Vázquez

Check it out! And thanks to Charlie!!!!

Reseña de Mayra Santos-Febres sobre Uñas pintadas de azul



Blog de la escritora puertorriqueña Mayra Santos-Febres. Contiene textos editados e inéditos, comentarios y datos personales.

miércoles 29 de abril de 2009

Estuve leyéndolo por años. Via fax, e-mail, por correo. Estuve leyendo y comentando estos cuentos tantas veces que ya me los sé de memoria. Finalmente me llega un paquete con el libro publicado. Larry La Fountain-Stokes presentó ayer martes 28 de abril su libro Uñas pintadas de azul en la librería Isla.

El temario es homoerótico y cotidiano. Larry toca los asuntos de la migración, el sexilio, la cotidianidad de los encuentros y amores entre hombres. Pero eso lo hacen muchos autores gay. Lo que resalta en Uñas pintadas de azul es la reescritura de un corpus literario; la mención y juegos intertextuales con otros escritores ancestrales que ya configuran un canon literario de escritura gay latinoamericana. El cuento que abre la colección es una reescritura de "Hollywood Memorabilia" de Manuel Ramos Otero. Los tonos de la escritura retrabajan la obra literaria de Néstor Perlogher, Manuel Puig, Pedro Lemebel. Todos están ahí, creando ya una factura estética que sostiene su conversación con una tradición, que reescribe un canon y lo amplía.

Felicitamos a Larry La Fountain por su libro. Esperamos que a este le sigan muchos más.

Publicado por Mayra Santos-Febres.