Lin Manuel Miranda shows Fordham some love!

Photo left via Miranda's site; Photo right: Roz Baron
Photo left via Miranda’s site; Photo right: Roz Baron

It seems Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (of ‘In the Heights‘ fame) is a Fordham fan. At the photo on the left, the Wesleyan alumnus wears a Fordham sweatshirt in a group photo. At right, he poses with two Fordham alumnae in their Fordham t-shirts. (The one on the right is Roz Baron, an alumna of Fordham College at Lincoln Center.)

Baron, a blogger, tells me the photo on the right was taken this past weekend (Feb. 23) at a special screening of West Side Story at the United Palace Theatre in Northern Manhattan (Washington Heights, of course!), where Miranda introduced the film and interviewed Oscar, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy-winning superstar, Rita Moreno. (She played the fiery Anita. Watch the great scene in which she performs “America” below.)





‘Pure Bronx,’ new urban lit by Mexican American author

Castillo-Garsow with her mentor and co-author, Mark Naison.
Castillo-Garsow with her mentor and co-author, Mark Naison.

If you’ve ever walked around an urban neighborhood in a major city, you may have noticed them being sold on tables set up on the streets. They are slim novels, and usually depict people in the cover art. They are urban fiction books.

Also found in bodegas, urban fiction (also known as street lit) is one of literature’s fast-growing genres.

I recently got a chance to interview New York’s Melissa Castillo-Garsow, a Mexican-American author and Yale doctoral student. Her first street lit novel, Pure Bronx, which she co-wrote with her mentor, Fordham University professor Mark Naison, is set in the Boogie Down.

Read my interview with Castillo-Garsow, in which she gives her thoughts on the origin of the book, but also about health and fitness (the story appeared on the Latino-centric health and wellness website, Vida Vibrante), here.

But, below, she talks to me about the characters of Pure Bronx, Khalil and Rasheeda, a young couple from the South Bronx, trying to make it out of the ghetto and have a taste of the prosperity middle class Americans take for granted.


Gina Vergel: Dr. Naison mentioned (in an interview with the student newspaper, The Ram) that the story has a social justice aspect. Why did you two include such an aspect in this story?

Melissa Castillo-Garsow: Social justice for me is something that has always been a major part of my life. I originally did not like English or writing classes- the stories and main characters (mostly white male) never resonated with me and neither did classical language like that of Shakespeare. I was a good student, but I struggled a lot and didn’t enjoy reading very much. I first began to write because I proposed a column for the high school newspaper about human rights. I was a member of Amnesty International (one of two or three at my school) and was deeply concerned that people my age did know about what was happening in the world. Since then, everything I do has must have some sort of social justice aspect – I wouldn’t consider it worthy of my time, otherwise. Art for Arts sake is just not how I function. Art, writing, even academia (in the model of someone like Gloria Anzaldua) should invoke thought and emotion.

What many of the Street Lit books lacked, Dr. Naison and I found, was that aspect of social commentary. They often ended very tragically through the trope of the inevitable result of ghetto life, or overly glamorized monetary aspects of “the Life.” We wanted to provide an alternative narrative – that involvement in illegal or unsavory activities does not define you. Other possibilities are available and fulfilling, especially if you commit to social justice and your community.

GV: What can you tell me about Rasheeda’s character? 

MC-G: Rasheeda is definitely a strong female character. Raised in poverty, she is committed to bettering herself through high education, even when every aspect of her life provides her with other models or tells her its not possible. She overcomes many traumatic experiences without the guidance of a father or mother while assuming responsibility for her younger brother. I loved living with Rasheeda for the years we worked on this. She is so determined, strong and confident. But she is also sassy and fun. She is the one the keeps Khalil in check.

GV: Since the story is set in the Bronx, an area teeming with Latinos these days, how much do they come into play in the story? 

MC-G: Latinos are an important part of the story because they are a vital part of the Bronx. Like many African Americans, two of Rasheeda’s closest friends are Puerto Rican and there are also Mexican and Honduran characters. Khalil also understands Spanish from having grown up in projects with Puerto Ricans and other Latinos as well. At the same time we don’t glamorize relations in the Bronx – some of the African American – Latino relationships are friendship, others are antagonistic. But you will definitely find español in Pure Bronx!!

GV: You’re a doctoral student. What will your dissertation be on? What do you hope to do with your Ph.D? Teach? Any plans to continue with Street Lit?

MC-G: My dissertation is going to be on Afro-Latinos in 1920s and 1930s New York City. Afro-descended Latinos in this country are a completely understudied and diverse group in this country, especially in this time period. And yet, it was such a vibrant, artistic and important time in African American history. I want to uncover how Latinos (who because of their appearance and segregation were in very close quarters with African Americans) were relating or not relating to black culture and politics.

I do hope to teach, specifically Latino Literature and History, and perhaps some creative writing.

I also have a deep interest in popular culture – particularly Latino/a and Latin American Hip Hop. Currently, for example, I am working on a project about Mexican Hip Hop in New York. (Ed. That sounds interesting to us!)

Maybe more street lit? I’m not sure. We do have a sequel to Pure Bronx in mind. I guess it just depends on if there’s interest!

Read more about Melissa Castillo-Garsow on her website.

Are TV shows better than movies these days? I think so.

Malik Yoba plays the death row inmate / Still shot via CBS video on

Much has been said about today’s television shows and whether they are better than movies. 

Slate’s David Haglund says “the TV-is-better argument is a way of saying, “I don’t have to keep up with the movies anymore, and neither do you.” Yeap. Not going to lie: Watching a movie in my underwear while on my couch beats paying $25 for popcorn. (mild exaggeration on pricing there. Sorry about that.)

Meanwhile, Vulture writer Gavin Polone says “some of the reason for there being more good TV shows than movies is arithmetic: There are more networks producing series than ever, and also it is much more convenient to access those shows on your DVR or streaming service. But there’s more to it than just volume and convenience. The most significant reason TV is favored has to be the overall malaise that has taken hold of the movie audience, which is illustrated by the oft-heard phrase, ‘There is nothing out worth seeing.’” 

I tend to agree. 

I feel like the last few movies I’ve seen in the theaters (and I’m talking major Hollywood films) were just OK. 

I argue that television is superior these days because it’s bringing social issues to the small screen (read: more accessible to your average Joe) with much less controversy (and the bias that comes with it: i.e. Zero Dark Thirty, Argo). Take, for instance, The Good Wife. 

In the first episode of this season (the show’s fifth), there is a death penalty scene that brought tears to my eyes. In the scene, the capital punishment staff has trouble finding an accessible vein in which to conduct the execution. Two and a half brutal hours later, the attorneys from Lockheart and Gardner intervene. Now, they have 48 hours to, once again, try to prove the death row inmate (and their client’s) innocence. 

Leaving the “my client is innocent” part of the story aside, this isn’t just a made-for-tv scenario. This is an issue that actually happens in real life.

Fordham School of Law professor Deborah Denno, in fact, is a death penalty expert who often weighs in such cases.

A foremost legal scholar on lethal injection, she has conducted much of her scholarship on a botched Louisiana execution in 1946 and its legal legacy. Per, Denno is calling for a nationwide study of lethal injection protocols conducted by an independent commission consisting of a diverse group of qualified individuals, including medical personnel. This review should consider the extent of physician participation in executions. Second, she recommends that states release information about execution procedures to the public.

And why is she calling for this? Take Ohio, for instance. Did you know the state leads the country in botched executions? As Denno wrote in this Huffington Post opinion piece, the state imposed “a method of execution never before used on anyone, anywhere. [Ken] Biros died from a lethal dose of a single-drug and he could have died from an even riskier back-up plan — procedures prompted by Ohio’s disastrous attempts to execute another inmate this past September.

“Biros’s execution was not problem-free. Executioners required a half-hour, and nine unsuccessful attempts, to finally find a vein in which to put an IV catheter. According to one AP reporter, Ohio officials warned him and other witness-journalists that Biros could end up vomiting and convulsing if in fact the backup plan went into effect.” (Bold emphasis mine.)

That’s just … wrong. To learn why lethal injection has “never met its purported goal of humaneness,” read Denno’s piece in the Huffington Post.

And I’ll add: Yes, death row inmates are there for a reason. And many folks do not pity them. Sometimes I do not. (Mostly when I’ve just read a detailed account of the crime they allegedly committed.) But a botched execution can’t be the answer. Especially when there have been cases of death row inmates acquitted thanks to DNA. 

Now, back to TV. As far as I’m concerned, I prefer television (primetime and cable) shows to movies these days. Convenience + good stories = happy. WATCH the episode of The Good Wife here! It’s a good one.


National Suicide Prevention Week

Suicide_preventionIt’s National Suicide Prevention Week and National Suicide Awareness Day was on Sept. 10, 2013. This Saturday, Sept. 14, the radio show, Fordham Conversations, will feature a discussion about males and suicide.

Fordham University Professor Daniel Coleman discusses his research, which examines gender stereotypes and the link between masculinity and mental health.

“It’s not a very widely known fact that 80 percent of suicide deaths in the United States are men,” Coleman told Inside Fordham in February. “So the cutting edge in suicide research now is to understand why there is this gender discrepancy.”

Read the full story about his research here.

Jarrod Hindman, director of the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention, talks about the “Man Therapy” mental health and suicide prevention campaign.

You can hear Fordham Conversation’s every Saturday at 7am on 90.7 WFUV or at

You can listen to the show on WFUV’s News Page on Saturday beginning at 7am

Town Hall on LGBTQ Rights

Via the Fordham Notes blog:

article-shot-0518The murder of Mark Carson (pictured above), who was shot and killed in Greenwich Village in an anti-gay hate crime, brought a message to New York City: although we have come far in ensuring the rights of the LGBTQ community, we have not come nearly far enough.

With the aim of promoting social justice and a culture of tolerance, Fordham’s Be The Evidence Project (BTEP) will host a presentation and follow-up dialogue on the current standing and future of LGBTQ rights.

“What a Tipping Point Looks Like: LGBTQ Rights and Future”
Tuesday, June 18
12:30 p.m.
South Lounge | Lowenstein Center | Lincoln Center Campus
113 West 60th Street | New York, NY 10023

Read more here.