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Culturally Progressive is my blog where I write about literature, culture, and politics and share work of mine that has been published elsewhere. Scroll down for new posts. If you want to read more about me, click About Tanya, or click on appearances for upcoming and past events. To subscribe to my awesome newsletter, click here. Thanks for stopping by!

I was simultaneously flattered and humbled when Columbia University asked me to be on this panel:LATMFA

Very much looking forward to reading, to hearing the work of my fellow alums, and to seeing anyone in NYC who is able to come!

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Columbia Selects: MFA Alumni Readings
Thursday, March 5 @ 7 pm
KGB Bar 85 E. 4th St
F Train to 2nd Ave

What is Columbia Selects?  The first Thursday of each month, the Columbia MFA program hosts a reading series featuring Writing Program alumni. These fresh talents are finished with or near to finished with their first books, but do not yet have a book contract and/or an agent. In recent years, many of our featured writers have achieved critical and commercial success. This is your chance to glimpse who you’ll be reading in 2016!

Join us Thursday, March 5th, at 7 pm, for our stellar March lineup! Selected by the Columbia Writing Program, our readers are sure to dazzle and delight.

Our lineup this month:

Tanya Paperny is an essayist, translator, and editor based (mostly) out of Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in Pacific Standard, VICE, Washington City Paper, The Washington Post, The Literary Review, and in many other fine journals and magazines. Her collection entitled “Short-Shorts” was a semifinalist in the Gazing Grain Press 2014 Poetry Chapbook Contest. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and OMI International Arts Center, and she is at work on a collection of essays about violence, trauma, and resilience.

Elysha Chang is a writer from Virginia who lives in Brooklyn. Her short fiction has appeared in Bodega Magazine, The Literarian, and Park Slope Reader. She is an Emerging Writer Fellow at The Center for Fiction where she is at work on her first novel.

Andrew Eisenman is a writer and editor in New York. He’s a former assistant fiction editor of The American Reader and, before that, an editor at NOON. A 2012 teaching fellow at Columbia, he’s currently a senior editor of Kindle Singles. Andrew is working on a novel about the unraveling of a wealthy Ohio family.

Columbia Selects is curated by Bryan VanDyke and Emily Austin.

Last week I wrote about FBI Director James Comey’s speech on law enforcement and race relations. A few new thoughts since then:

Can institutions with toxic origins or a toxic past ever be truly reformed? (Consider school turnaround strategies and whether those are effective). Can people imagine a day where our law enforcement system is just or do we need something new entirely? What do we do until then in the absence of real community accountability alternatives?

Two things that seem relevant:

  • The U.N. Committee against Torture recently “urged the United States … to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth…”
  • Activists are demanding reparations for the survivors of police torture in Chicago.

These are both things I wish got more coverage, and they both make me wonder if we need some sort of equivalent of a “truth and reconciliation commission” — an external body to help our country face and move forward on race and policing.

FBI Director James B. Comey addresses students and faculty at Georgetown University. Seated is Edward Montgomery, dean of the the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy, which co-hosted the event

Photo via of James B. Comey delivering Thursday’s speech

FBI Director James Comey gave an unprecedented speech yesterday [full text] on law enforcement and race relations, giving a thoughtful — though at times frustrating — take on the relationship between police and communities of color.

David Graham of The Atlantic wrote: “[Comey] seemed genuinely concerned about the tensions between the two groups.” And I agree: much of the speech thoughtfully decried the far-too-frequent circumstances that bring young Blacks and Latinos in contact with police, the lack of consistent annual data collection around how many African Americans are shot by police, and the ugly history of law enforcement serving as an enforcer of the racist status quo in the United States. (I wish I wasn’t surprised when an FBI Director says thoughtful things.)

The best parts of Comey’s speech made me consider that I need more of an open heart and mind when it comes to members of law enforcement, especially as someone who is not frequently targeted by them. As an anti-war organizer from 2003-2009, I often heard the phrase “love the warrior, hate the war.” For me, this means directing criticisms at institutions rather than individuals when relevant.

But it’s the solutions he posed that missed the mark in some places. According to Graham, “[Comey] placed a heavy burden on communities of color to solve the problem, while deflecting police responsibility […] [B]lack men can do everything right and still end up on the wrong side of an encounter with the police.”

There were a few other things that irked me about the speech. For one, Comey insisted that “…racial bias isn’t epidemic in…law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.” This comment felt like speculation. Has anyone seen research about this?

And I didn’t like Comey’s assertion that “officers had rescued [Bedford Stuyvesant] from the grip of violent crime.” For one, “rescue” is a very loaded term, but there are also many more factors at play in that changing neighborhood (where I used to teach).

Still, as Graham wrote: “Comey’s speech is a milestone in the conversation springing out of Ferguson and Staten Island and Cleveland […] The question is whether he will confine his search for such solutions to communities of color, or shift his focus to address the systemic problems with law enforcement itself.” I, for one, am hopeful that smart pressure by activists and writers and thoughtful reactions from elected and appointed officials can lead to reform of our criminal justice system.

HughPriceNo diss intended, but here’s a recent example of an article that takes too long to get to the point.

In a commentary entitled “What the Military Might Teach Schools” over at Education Week, Hugh B. Price argues that military initiatives can help high school dropouts with academic and behavioral problems.

But Price spends the first 7 paragraphs of a 20-paragraph piece explaining the needs of Black and Latino students in today’s education landscape. Given that this commentary is published in Education Week, his readership is likely familiar with the achievement gap. Regardless of whether I agree with his point (in fact I probably don’t, and I think militaristic-style behavior management is already being used at some “no excuses” charter schools), he should have gotten to this paragraph much sooner instead of spending the first 1/3 of the piece on background:

Research and real-world experience show that student interventions focused on fortifying social and emotional skills can help improve academic performance and behavior in school and beyond. If asked which American institution embraces this robust commitment to the academic and social development of young people, the U.S. military is probably the least likely to come to mind. Yet the military enjoys a well-deserved reputation for reaching, teaching, and training young people who are rudderless and drifting through life.

Doing so would help distracted or multitasking readers engage with his writing and would sharpen his ability to make a compelling point.

In my day job, I’m a writing coach and editor at Bellwether Education Partners. Among other things, I help analysts transition from long-form (and often wonky) reports to short, public-facing blog posts. These writers often make the same mistake as Mr. Price did: they spend too much time warming up, or “throat clearing.” Get to your point sooner, I always say. Don’t bury the lede.

If you found this useful, I’m starting a series of posts with brief writing tips. You can read them all here.

On August 31, 1999, a handmade bomb exploded in a popular Moscow shopping mall. I was there, and watched rubble, dust, and screaming erupt around me.

Read more about the event and my changing understanding of this experience in an essay over at Pacific Standard.

Two important things I’ve learned since the piece was published:

  • Leaflets from a radical anti-consumerist organization were discovered near the site of the explosion. They read: “A hamburger not eaten to the end by the dead consumer is a revolutionary hamburger. Consumers: We don’t like your life style. And it is not safe for you.” (Any links to that organization have since been refuted.)
  • The video arcade where the bomb went off was called дунамитor “Dynamite.” Oof.
I am having trouble making sense of it all, so I point you to a few things I’ve been reading:
The National Guard arrived in Ferguson last night presumably to keep calm in the streets. Would it not send an even more powerful message for those officers to guarantee the safe passage of thousands of children to school?
Grand juries nearly always decide to indict. Or at least, they nearly always do so in cases that don’t involve police officers.
The grand jury decision on the Ferguson case was in keeping with a longstanding pattern: Police officers rarely face prison time after a fatal shooting, as the Los Angeles Times reported last week. One reason is that intent is hard to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ prosecutors tend to see police as allies, and jurors are inclined to be sympathetic to law enforcement.

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