THE MAGAZINE OF YA L E & N E W H AV E N
V VOOLL 4488/ / I ISSSS 33 // N OOCVT 22001 15 5
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editors-in-chief maya averbuch caroline sydney managing editor isabelle taft senior editors hayley byrnes kendrick mcdonald lara sokoloff associate editors ruby bilger joyce guo sophie haigney libbie katsev elena saavedra buckley copy editors douglas plume spencer bokat-lindell design editors chris paolini ivy sanders schneider edward wang photo editor jennifer lu web designer mariah xu
members and directors Emily Bazelon, Peter B. Cooper, Jonathan Dach, Kathrin Lassila, Eric Rutkow, Elizabeth Sledge, Jim Sleeper, Fred Strebeigh advisors Richard Bradley, Susan Braudy, Jay Carney, Joshua Civin, Richard Conniff, Ruth Conniff, Elisha Cooper, Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Jennifer Pitts, Julia Preston, Lauren Rabin, David Slifka, John Swansburg, Steven Weisman, Daniel Yergin friends Michael Addison, Austin Family Fund, Steve Ballou, J. Neela Banerjee, Margaret Bauer, Anson M. Beard, Jr., Blaire Bennett, Richard Bradley, Martha Brant, Susan Braudy, Daniel Brook, Hilary Callahan, Jay Carney, Daphne Chu, Josh Civin, Jonathan M. Clark, Constance Clement, Andy Court, Masi Denison, Albert J. Fox, Mrs. Howard Fox, David Freeman, Geoffrey Fried, Sherwin Goldman, David Greenberg, Stephen Hellman, Laura Heymann, Gerald Hwang, Walter Jacob, Jane Kamensky, Tina Kelley, Roger Kirwood, Jonathan Lear, Lewis E. Lehrman, Jim Lowe, E. Nobles Lowe, Daniel Murphy, Martha E. Neil, Peter Neil, Howard H. Newman, Sean Oâ€™Brien, Laura Pappano, Julie Peters, Lewis and Joan Platt, Julia Preston, Lauren Rabin, Fairfax C. Randal, Robert Randolph, Stuart Rohrer Arleen and Arthur Sager, Richard Shields, W. Hampton Sides, Lisa Silverman, Scott Simpson, Adina Proposco and David Sulsman, Thomas Strong, Margarita Whiteleather, Blake Wilson, Daniel Yergin and Angela Stent Yergin
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The New Journal is published five times during the academic year by The New Journal at Yale, Inc., P.O. Box 203432 Yale Station, New Haven, CT 06520. Office address: 305 Crown Street. All contents Copyright 2015 by The New Journal at Yale, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction either in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher and editors-in-chief is prohibited. While this magazine is published by Yale College students, Yale University is not responsible for its contents. Two thousand five hundred copies of each issue are distributed free to members of the Yale and New Haven communities. The New Journal is printed by Turley Publications, Palmer, MA; bookkeeping and billing services are provided by Colman Bookkeeping of New Haven. The New Journal encourages letters to the editor and comments on Yale and New Haven issues. Write to Editorials, 203432 Yale Station, New Haven, CT 06520. All letters for publication must include address and signature. We reserve the right to edit all letters for publication.
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THE NEW J O U R N AL volume 48
SINCE 1967 www.TheNewJournalAtYale.com
Black at Yale Why university students are protesting racism Essays by Dave Harris, Taylor Eldridge, Bria Godley
The Signal’s Back In Town A new radio station wants to localize New Haven’s airwaves Elena Saavedra Buckley
points of departure Speed Reader | Francis Lindemann Unmooring the Classroom | Dimitri Diagne The Uncertainty Never Ends | Griffin Brown
18 poetry Gideon Broshy 19 snapshots Indaba on Edgewood A bookstore builds a canon for the neighborhood Edward Columbia
It’s Easier Not to Think About It Sewage contamination in New Haven’s West River Libbie Katsev
28 profile Who Protects Picasso? Through the eyes of a guard at the Yale University Art Gallery Lora Kelley 38 endnote Madeline Kaplan
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P O I N T S O F D E PA R T U R E
SPEED READER A library on wheels combats illiteracy Frances Lindemann
illustration by Ivy Sanders Schneider
the bright orange paint on the New Haven bookmobile makes it look like a freewheeling bus of the nineteen-sixties. But if you walk inside, you will find that the carpeted interior resembles a preschool classroom. Wooden shelves jut out of three sides of the bus, filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Some are books for young children, like Angelina’s Big City Ballet and A Mare for Young Wolf; others are elementary school favorites, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Every year, the bookmobile visits over one hundred sites around New Haven, and almost every month it makes a two-hour stop at the Blake Street Early Learning Center in Westville. Children from low-income families have limited access to books. The bookmobile is trying to tackle this problem in a decidedly non-digital way, by bringing the physical book back. In New Haven, where thirty-five percent of kids live in poverty, the stakes are high: research shows that kids from underprivileged households who cannot read proficiently by third grade are six times likelier to drop out of high school than their peers. The New Haven Free Public Library has operated the bookmobile for fourteen years under the assumption that wheels could 12
be part of the solution. Last year, the original bus was retired due to maintenance issues, and the new bus got a head-turning orange paint job. The lettering on one side now reads, “expanding minds, unleashing potential” and “expandiendo mentes, desatando potencial.” Vehicles like the bookmobile have a long history in the United States, dating back to 1905, when a librarian in rural Maryland began carting books around in a wagon to reach people who lived far from the library. At their peak in the mid-twentieth century, roughly two thousand bookmobiles trundled down American streets; as of 2011, there were just under seven hundred library bookmobiles left. Increasingly a relic of a bygone age, New Haven’s bookmobile is playing a tiny part in America’s long battle for educational equality. In the morning, the first class of ten children filed onto the bookmobile from the Blake Street center, with two teachers in tow. They chattered noisily as their teachers ushered them onto the small benches lining the floor. “Who’s been to the library before?” asks Natasha Mickelson, who runs the bus’s programs for young children. She sits upright in a chair near the front of the bus, smiling at the seated children. The teachers are tasked with THE NEW JOURN AL
keeping the children quiet and attentive while Mickelson’s voice remains calm and level, commanding the attention and even awe of the kids. Every child on the bus raised his or her hand in response to the question. “What do you do at the library?” Mickelson’s voice contained an energy that permeated the room. “Read books!” “Do you like to read stories?” A little boy named Caden nearly jumped out of his seat: “Yes, we do!” Mickelson opened up a picture book that had been sitting on her lap, holding it so the children could see the pictures inside. She must have read the book a hundred times before, but she acted as if she were reading it for the first time, like the children. The book, called Wild About Books, tells the story of a bookmobile for animals—an approach that is heavy-handed in its self-promotion, but is also effective in capturing the attention of the kids, who connect the story to the bus they’re sitting on. “By reading aloud from the good Dr. Seuss, she quickly attracted a mink and a moose. A wombat, an onyx, a lemur, a lynx, eight elephant calves and a family of skunks,” she read. The children’s teachers occasionally had to redirect their attention to the story, because they were distracted by all the books waiting behind them, trying to decipher the titles or pull them out of the shelves to inspect the pictures inside. Sometimes, the kids got carried away in their excitement as they responded to one of Mickelson’s supplementary questions (“how tall is an elephant?”), chattering on over the exact height of an elephant. When story time ended, the session finished with a chorus of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Afterward, the children shuffled to the door. Someone asked eagerly, “Are we going to the playground?” As the last girl reached the stairs, she turned to face Mickelson and waved. “Thank you!” she called. Throughout the fall and spring, the bookmobile rolls down the streets of New Haven, from East Rock to Newhallville, Westville to Fair Haven. Between October 2014 and October 2015, the bookmobile had 4,350 program attendees, 2,774 books checked out, 112 site visits, and 180 new library cards issued at schools all across New Haven, but especially at early learning centers like Blake Street. According to Xia Feng, who administers the New Haven Library’s Young Minds Program, most early learning centers lack the library spaces for older kids that exist in public schools, and there are only five community libraries across the city. The bookmobile tries to fill that gap. Focusing on early learning centers, however, constrains the bookmobile’s reach: just under half of New Haven’s 8,500 children under the age of four are enrolled NOVEMBER 2015
WHEN ALMOST ANY FORM OF MEDIA CAN BE STREAMED AT THE PUSH OF A BUTTON, THE SIGHT OF CHILDREN ELBOWING ONE ANOTHER FOR BOOKS IS INHERENTLY NOSTALGIC.
in early learning programs. The bookmobile also visits summer camps, block parties, and the annual tree lighting on the New Haven Green, but this doesn’t leave the time or resources for general neighborhood visits, which might allow people to stumble serendipitously upon the bookmobile. According to Catherine DeNigris, the New Haven Free Public Library’s deputy director, other challenges include the weather, which keeps the bookmobile from going out during January and February. “Ideally we would want the bookmobile on the road more,” she said. When almost any form of media can be streamed at the push of a button, the sight of children elbowing one another for books is inherently nostalgic. But Mickelson believes that libraries are still relevant, especially in areas where young children don’t have easy access to books at home. Story time, DeNegris said, is “a tradition that has been around forever but is still totally viable,” since it creates a gathering place and social experience for children. Though the bookmobile may not have the same reach or accessibility as broader digital initiatives, it has something those projects don’t: a physical space and a tactile reading experience that together make a lasting emotional impact on kids. At the end of the second session at Blake Street, the children were asked to pretend they were holding books of their own. “What do you see in your book?” Mickelson asked. “I see mushrooms!” “I see geese!” Almost every child stared into their hands as if they were really holding a book. I caught the eye of one little girl; she smiled, briefly, then turned back to the story she was developing in her palms. — Frances Lindemann is a freshman in Davenport College 13
UNMOORING THE CLASSROOM Alternative education on the waters of the Long Island Sound Dimitri Diagne
illustration by Ivy Sanders Schneider
enoc escobar watched cormorants glide inches above the waves of the Long Island Sound. Alex Mass noticed the way sandy bluffs slide towards the sea, and Alyssa Hall contemplated the impending flooding of downtown Manhattan by the water through which they sailed. “By the end of the century, it’s going to go up two feet,” she warned. As the three students told me about their educational voyage through the Long Island Sound, they painted a picture of a complex, important, and unexpectedly beautiful body of water in unsettling flux. All three were serving as sailors aboard the schooner Brilliant, and all three are seniors at New Haven’s Sound School, a vocational charter high school that focuses on aquaculture and marine trades, where students learn about the sea in the classroom and on the water. This year’s inaugural Brilliant Marine Ecology Program offered 14
seven students at the Sound School a special opportunity to do both, as they conducted research projects on ecological topics related to the Long Island Sound. Enoc investigated seabird adaptations, while the other two focused on closely related current environmental issues. Alyssa studied sea level change, and Alex researched coastal erosion in New England, which is becoming more severe as the waters rise. They saw their topics of inquiry firsthand during the sea component of the program, which culminated in a three-day, forty-mile, round-trip odyssey through the Long Island Sound. From Mystic, Connecticut, to Fisher’s Island, through the Watch Hill Passage, a.k.a. “seasick alley”, to Block Island, and back again, the students got the chance to experience the Sound firsthand. The blending of classroom and hands-on learning in the Brilliant Program captures the essence of the Sound THE NEW JOURN AL
School, where, as Steve Joseph, one of the teachers who went on the trip, told me, “the Long Island Sound is our biggest classroom.” The Sound School has had direct access to this natural classroom since 1995, when it moved to its waterfront location in New Haven’s City Point neighborhood. Since its founding in 1981, it has prepared kids to be stewards of the Long Island Sound, a mission it is joined in by other vocational high schools, like Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, and the Aquaculture Science & Technology Education Center in Bridgeport. Students at all three institutions are exploring the challenges of the changing waters. “We just went through a really tremendous warm spell,” said Tim Visel, coordinator of the school’s vocational program. “In 1998, the lobsters died. In 1999, our blue crabs exploded.” The past few years have been colder, and blue crabs, which prefer warm water, are giving way to lobsters again. Similar cycles have been occurring for as long as records exist, said Visel, who does extensive historical research on ecological patterns in the Sound. But, as the climate changes, cold spells are getting farther apart. As lobsters now run the risk of dying off in Connecticut, the Sound School’s aquaculture program started a lobster hatchery a few years ago. “We’re trying to educate people on farming the sea,” he told me of his work with students on the aquaculture track, as we toured the lab where much of this education occurs. “We’ve got one of the largest shellfish labs in the country here,” he added. The room, with its rows of bubbling tanks and networks of pipes, valves and filters, looked worthy of Monterey Bay Aquarium or Scripps Institution of Oceanography. But, like the wooden-boat workshops and outboard engine repair rooms of the marine technology program, it is run primarily by high school students. In their applications to the school, teenagers must demonstrate a strong interest in the marine. Besides being the overall focus of the vocational programs, the ocean seeps its way into every part of the school’s curriculum. “Even in our core classes, we’re doing more ocean-related stuff,” said Alex. “Like in English, we’re reading sea poems, instead of just normal poems. Teachers really try to relate the ocean to what we do.” “But we still love our core classes—we don’t just go on boats all day,” added Alyssa, who, like Alex and Enoc, is on the sailing team. Tim Visel compared the sailing team, along with the top-notch open-water rowing team, to “our school’s version of football.” “We’re ones to be reckoned with,” said Gabriel Neil Geist, an assistant coach for the rowing team. A short, soft-spoken, man who looked like he had stepped out of an L. L. Bean catalog, Geist is a 1988 graduate of the NOVEMBER 2015
Sound School, whose return to his alma mater makes him feel, he said, “like the luckiest man alive.” On a warm October afternoon, we stood on a grassy lawn between the school and the harbor, watching fiveand seven-person boats that would look appropriate chasing whales in eighteenth-century etchings. Each crew of students sped away from the shore. “Look, they just crashed,” Geist said, more amused than worried, as one group, pushed off course by a brisk sea breeze, tapped the side of a moored boat. Flustered and disorganized, the rowers struggled to manoeuver back into open water. They passed over small beds of oysters, started and maintained by students and teachers as replacements for ones that had died off over the past century. City Point, once a successful oystering community, had been on the decline since the nineteen-fifties, when the construction of Interstate 95 cut it off from in rest of New Haven. Even earlier, its oyster beds were plagued by pollution from a now-closed sewage treatment plant. When Geist was a student at the Sound School, the most prominent feature on the coastline was a shipyard where old boats were sent to be broken up for scrap. “It really looked like an old, New England run-down seaside town,” Geist said. Now, where derelict boats once lined the coast, buildings that host the Sound School marine facilities share the waterfront. The Pequonnock Yacht Club moved in next door from Bridgeport in 2009. The rowboats set off from a marsh-lined shore, dotted with recently refurbished houses. Seaside houses crumble and are rebuilt again. Climate changes and animal populations die. Even the brief return voyage of the Brilliant was plagued by the remnants of Hurricane Joaquin, which lashed waves into eight-foot swells and pelted the sailors’ backs with rain. But, as Enoc said, remembering the trials of the storm fondly, it’s all “part of bearing with nature.” The sea can indeed be a fickle being, and each new class at the Sound School enters a body of water surrounded by one of the most urbanized regions in America—and their studies there teach them that it’s also one of the most precarious ones. — Dimitri Diagne is a sophomore in Berkeley College
THE UNCERTAINTY NEVER ENDS The strangest performance space in New Haven Griffin Brown
illustration by Ivy Sanders Schneider
a typical trip to never ending books at 810 State Street delivers two things: disappointment and a ratty paperback. The lights will probably be off inside the store. In lieu of posting hours, owner Roger Uihlein maintains a shelf of free books outside the entrance. If, however, you pick an atypical day, the door will swing open to a fjordlike set of bookshelves and a wall of literature devoted to the apparently one-dimensional realm of “women’s issues.” All of these books are free, too. If you plan your visit with unbelievable serendipity, you’ll end up at Never Ending Books on the second Monday of the given month, right in time for Expression Mondays. About fifteen chairs face the curtained stage area, which is cast in a red light. Some of the New Haven residents are in their nine-to-five office casual, but the bookstore seems more like a friend’s apartment than a place of business. And, like a friend, Expression Mondays is only one of many recurring events to pass through the shop. The musicians and open-mic participants gather around, waiting for someone to jump in with original material or an homage. Uihlein’s attendance is never guaranteed. His manner of managing performances at the store is akin to setting wind-up toys in motion; for the most part, 16
Uihlein trusts performers to “do their own thing.” According to Robert Caruthers, a guitar-wielding emcee whose stage name is Bobcat, Expression Mondays were established “a bunch of years ago” on the West Coast. Harry Grammer, founder and CEO of the community outreach organization New Earth, wanted to create an environment in which people could perform without having to worry about record labels, agents, or career advancement. Eventually, the event grew beyond the walls of the café atmosphere, expanding into schools and correctional facilities. Bobcat had met Uihlein from the New Haven music scene, and when one of Grammer’s disciples came to Bobcat in search of a venue, Bobcat knew the perfect location. Performance has been encoded into Never Ending Books from the start, and Uihlein saw the books as merely a means to an end. “The concept was to sell enough books to have the space,” he says. After the workday is over, the space—which resembles some musician’s dream living room, replete with an upright piano, soft chairs, and a collection of vintage amplifiers–—could be used for classes, seminars, rehearsals, and concerts. Now that the books are free, the utility of the space hasn’t changed. Uihlein is THE NEW JOURN AL
just much more open about lending the space out: there’s nothing to steal, and so long as the performer cleans up after themselves, he isn’t worried. Inquiries about financial ledgers are met with circumlocution; aside from small donations, the shop seems to draw life from the sounds that reverberate in its midst. On the second Saturday of every month, Never Ending Books is the venue for the Uncertainty Music Series, the brainchild of New Haven artist Carl Testa. Testa’s “uncertainty” is not manifest in indecision, but rather in the sheer breadth of his curatorial direction. In the archive of past concerts online and on the store’s flyer-studded windows, you’ll find musicians whose work spans free jazz, minimalism, noise, musique concrète, IDM, and contemporary chamber music. Yale School of Music composition student Brian Heim, who performed for an Uncertainty concert in September, says the venue gives him the “opportunity to listen more freely” to certain strains of music that “wouldn’t be as well received elsewhere.” For Uncertainty artists, Never Ending Books is a sort of proving ground, before they head to larger local venues like Firehouse 12 or The Big Room. Uihlein approaches the concert scheduling with nonchalance. If someone whom he knows “well enough” asks to use the space, he’ll generally accept. And once the minimal promotional details are ironed out—“I don’t tell anyone about your gig,” he says—he backs off. It’s not uncommon for him to give performers the keys to the shop when he can’t make a concert. A semi-retired carpenter and occasional write-in candidate for Mayor of New Haven, Uihlein is quiet about how he spends his time. He’s a member of the New Haven Improvisers Collective that performs regularly at Never Ending. On the Collective’s out-of-date webpage, which enumerates each player’s main instrument, Uihlein’s name appears near the very top of the list. His instrument? Propulsion. While Uihlein’s presence is often felt from afar, at the Expression Monday I attend, he sits in the back and surveys the week’s expressionists. Bobcat ends his opening remarks with an admonition of sorts: “Here, you are encouraged—your arm may be twisted to express yourself.” A few folk songs round out Bobcat’s time on stage, and at the end of the last song, the room’s eyes turn to me. About twelve eager attendees greet me with hopeful gazes. For the first time, I realize that participation, whether through a twisted arm or my own volition, is the real entrance fee at Never Ending Books. The quality of my contribution, the consistency of my attendance—these are secondary to my obligation to take part in whatever exhibition has the store for the night. Uihlein trusts his musical tenants implicitly, and he seems to expect the same of those who chance on the store when it’s open for a concert. Beneath NOVEMBER 2015
his indifferent air, he propels his patrons to reflect upon Never Ending’s musical liberality. I pay the creative tithe and sing one of my songs at the piano. Thinking that I’ve said what I had to say, I close the fallboard, but Uihlein’s voice rises above the encouraging applause. He wants me to play another. — Griffin Brown is a sophomore in Trumbull College
VALLEY Gideon Broshy
The hills of Austria are like a sleeping Clifford, Or like the carcass of a giant babushka from the valley rises the thick fertilizer smell and three young boys in striped wool sweaters, lead by their blonde sister, weave through the still army of stalactic pines
illustration by Ivy Sanders-Schneider
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INDABA ON EDGEWOOD A bookstore builds a canon for the neighborhood Edward Columbia
photo by Edward Columbia
a three-storey building on the corner of Day Street and Edgewood Avenue bears two side-by-side signs. The first reads, “A Walk in Truth: Christian Books”; the other, “blackPRINT: a Black-American Heritage Gallery.” Hanging in the window to the right of the entrance is a large banner with the words “TELL ALL THE CHILDREN OUR STORY—WE’VE COME THIS FAR BY FAITH” in red, black, and green, the colors of the Pan-African flag. Campaign signs for Mayor Toni Harp run along the windowsills, beside black-and-white posters with the slogan “#BlackLoveMatters.” Fixed to the front door is a quote from the African American physician and astronaut Mae Jemison: “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” NOVEMBER 2015
Bea Dozier-Taylor, the New Haven native who opened the bookstore and gallery in 1988, has devoted the last twenty-seven years of her life to this message. “He who controls the images controls the mind,” she says, “and too often Black people are sold on false images of ourselves. This is a place for Black brilliance and Black beauty.” At 64, Dozier-Taylor has the easy wisdom of someone who knows what she believes. Some days she wears a wrap over her short-cropped hair, other times a baseball cap. She is quick to smile, if somewhat slower to laugh. She does not mince words, nor does she allow anyone to put them in her mouth. She quotes verses from Elizabeth Alexander, Langston Hughes, and the 19
yale institute of sacred music presents
Dona nobis pacem Advent concert
Marguerite L. Brooks, conductor Music of Bach, Mozart, P盲rt, and more Saturday, December 5 路 7:30 pm Battell Chapel 400 College St., New Haven
Christmas in L眉beck yale schola cantorum
Simon Carrington, guest conductor Music of Buxtehude and more Friday, December 11 路 5 pm Christ Church New Haven 84 Broadway at Elm, New Haven Preconcert talk at 4 pm Both concerts are free; no tickets required. ism.yale.edu
The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art Selections from the Linda Leonard Schlenger Collection and the Yale University Art Gallery Through January 3, 2016
Yale University Art Gallery
Free and open to the public artgallery.yale.edu Free membership! Join today at artgallery.yale.edu/members.
photo by Edward Columbia
Bible in good-natured debates with both first-time visitors and regulars. Her store’s shelves are stocked with the works of Black activists, scientists, radical thinkers, and historians. Topics range from the false mythology of Columbus’ “discovery” of America to the short life of Emmett Till, whose murder by white supremacists in Mississippi drew national attention to the Civil Rights movement. Along one wall, Romare Bearden’s collages depict Black people in states of workship and repose. Poster boards with images of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, and Barack Obama rest against the opposite wall. Christian paraphernalia lines the back section of the store: anointing oils, votive candles, prayer cards, and religious calendars. There are books on the importance of faith in Black communities and African American Jubilee edition of the King James Bible, which 22
includes color illustrations and articles on Black histories. A portrait of Christ as a Black man, surrounded by Black apostles, watches over the entire store from the back wall. The store’s motto is “Selling us on ourselves.” To Dozier-Taylor, drawing attention to Black struggles and accomplishments both in cultural and religious contexts not only instills greater pride in Black patrons and heightens awareness in non-Black patrons, but also corrects misrepresentations of history. Still, she says, while most appreciate the Blackprint section of the store, some visitors of color take issue with Dozier-Taylor’s decision to only display images and works that portray Biblical figures as dark-skinned Semitic people. “I often run into this sentiment of ‘Don’t touch my Jesus!’” says Dozier-Taylor. “Or people say, ‘Just knowing Jesus is enough,’ as if I was politicizing everything by showing him as a dark-skinned man. And that’s THE NEW JOURN AL
another thing I hear, especially from Black men—‘I ain’t gonna worship some white man.’ But because I do know Jesus and how important he is, I respond, ‘Well, if that’s your problem, get yourself a Black one!’” She adds, “Look, it’s not only about presenting an alternative image. Answer me this: do you think Joseph would have been able to hide Jesus in Egyptland if Jesus looked like a Scandinavian?” Dozier-Taylor works to make the bookstore a beacon in the community. She has, over the years, offered advice to other Black entrepreneurs on the verge of opening their own businesses. She opens her doors to people from the neighborhood who have businesses but might not yet have an office, particularly businesswomen of color who need a space to meet with clients. The bookstore also hosts events showcasing Black artists. At a book signing and reading in mid-October, self-published African American author Jill Snyder read from a book of love letters between her mother and father during their courtship in the nineteen-thirties. People filtered in and out of the event, and at any given time over the several-hour-long period there were roughly ten people in attendance, all Black, all local, all engaged. Snyder explained to her audience that she viewed creating the book, entitled Dear Mary, Dear Luther, as an exploration of family histories that long untold. In researching her mother and father, she found documentation of her grandparents and great-grandparents, the latter of whom were enslaved, and had fled slavery, in the American South. “My grandmother always said our ancestors escaped slavery in Virginia,” Snyder recalled. “But I only had that as an anecdote, something people weren’t really
“DESPITE ALL OUR LOVE, THERE IS THIS FEAR, AND IT’S A STRANGE DANCE WE DO.” —BEA DOZIER-TAYLOR
willing to speak on because it was too painful. When I found my great-grandfather’s obituary, it finally validated his story and brought to light some of this little-known Black history.” Snyder spoke to her frustration with widespread portrayals of Black men as being rough and crude. An exchange of written love letters, she pointed out, is a form of romance seldom afforded Black men in their depictions in novels and other media. She added that her father, during the time she knew him, always appeared a hard and stoic man. Finding his tender letters was a revelation in and of itself. “Here is the heart of my father,” she said, fanning the dog-eared pages of her book. “He put his heart on paper.” Dozier-Taylor hopes that such events impact her neighborhood. Several friends have urged her to move downtown, for increased safety and foot traffic, but staying in Dwight is important to her. “We often have so much fear of our own communities,” she says. “Despite all our love, there is this fear, and it’s a strange dance we do. I wrestled with that for a long time, wondering whether it wasn’t some kind of punishment that I was here. But recently it became very clear to me: I am here precisely because I am not afraid. I know that this is where God always intended me to be.” Behind the building that houses A Walk in Truth and Blackprint is a small backyard garden, between the store and the neighboring Antillean housing project. Up against the fence of the yard is a bright mosaic depicting Black men, women, and children. Beside the mosaic is a grey stone cross. “Remember that this space is, first and foremost, a place of exchange,” Dozier-Taylor explains. “For people to exchange ideas, perspectives, hope, and love. That mosaic is showing you an indaba—a place to meet, a place to gather, a place to exchange. And that is what I try to do here: give people their indaba.” Over the nearly three decades Dozier-Taylor has occupied her corner, she has seen the neighborhood around her change. She has seen businesses open and close. She has seen old liquor stores pack up and new schools open. She has seen schools torn down to make room for condominiums. She has watched and aided the growth of Black entrepreneurs, just as she has seen Black tenants wracked with rent from white landlords. Through it all, she has built and nurtured a space of safety, learning, and welcome for her community. Through it all, the indaba’s doors stay open. — Edward Columbia is a sophomore in Morse College
IT’S EASIER NOT TO THINK ABOUT IT Sewage contamination in New Haven’s West River Libbie Katsev
photo by Jen Lu
new haven is a city of unseen rivers. In addition to sitting on the shores of the Long Island Sound, it is part of three separate watersheds—water runs off into three different rivers that run through the city: the Quinnipiac River, the Mill River, and the West River, the last of which is twenty-five miles long and, in New Haven, largely out of sight of the city dwellers. “Some people honestly don’t even know that the river exists,” said Kendall Barbery, the Green Infrastructure Program manager at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound. Yale, for its part, only widens the gap between people and the river. The athletic complex cuts off river access by cutting off the path trailing the West River with a large fence; while a sign reads, “PUBLIC ACCESS TO WEST RIVER: SUNRISE TO SUNSET,” the gate is padlocked shut. It should be no surprise, though, that locals have looked away from the rivers—for centuries, they have been sites of serious pollution, continuing up to the 24
present day. Each year, an estimated fourteen million gallons of untreated sewage flow into the West River, which runs through Bethany, Woodbridge, and New Haven before emptying into the harbor. The overflows are caused by storm water runoff: in cities and suburbs, where the soil is typically obstructed by layers of cement and pavement, the runoff can’t permeate through to the soil. It either floods the streets or is directed to a management system via downspouts and gutters. In New Haven, the sewage and storm water systems are one and the same, leading to combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, during storms. Storm water combines with sewage as it flows into the pipes, which are designed to overflow into the river when they exceed the sewage treatment plant’s capacity. And even before the storm water makes contact with sewage, it is a source of pollution: it brings with it all the debris and pollution it has picked up on the sidewalks and streets, including chemicals, fertilizer, antifreeze, and animal feces. And the few residents who do regularly interact THE NEW JOURN AL
with the river tend to be those who use it as a source of food—they fish in it and crab in it, unaware that their dinner has been swimming in sewage. In an effort to alleviate pollution in the West River and reconnect residents to the river, local organizers have created a plan to bolster New Haven’s grey (i.e. traditional and man-made) water infrastructure with green infrastructure inspired by the Earth’s natural system. On the border of Edgewood Park runs Westpark Avenue, one block of which is lined with plant beds that look like miniature secret gardens, with small clusters of trees and plants framed by stone blocks and little rails. These are bioswales: landscaping elements that collect rainwater. They are an element of New Haven’s recently established green infrastructure, designed to mimic the ways that Earth’s water cycle naturally filters out pollutants. A few blocks away, rain gardens—woodchip-and-gravel lined rectangles filled with shrubs and flowers—dot the roads, diverting water from storm drains and filtering out pollutants. The bioswales are part of a larger initiative put forth by the West River Watershed Coalition, a group of local residents, activists, and government officials trying to heal New Haven’s rivers using methods that rely on cultural change and green infrastructure. The West River Watershed Restoration Plan, which was approved this October, outlines the Coalition’s goals— using green infrastructure projects like bioswales and rain gardens to reduce CSOs, preserving and restoring habitat along the river, increasing flood resilience, and educating the community about the rivers to encourage connection and stewardship.
When Europeans first founded urban settlements in the New Haven area, early New Haven residents began “using rivers basically as conveyance systems for sewage and other types of trash,” Barbery told me. Eventually, the river and its tributaries became so contaminated that people preferred no waterways at all. By the middle of the twentieth century, the rivers were full of contaminants and impossible to use for any recreational purposes. “When I was a kid, the river was something to be afraid of,” Wallingford State Representative Mary Mushinsky said. “It was very foul— once in a while there was a boat trip and it would be so unpleasant that you wouldn’t want to go again.” As a child growing up in Westville, environmental anthropologist David Casagrande, FES ’95, remembers going down to play in the river, near where the pulp factory where his father worked discharged its waste into the water. Casagrande’s father has childNOVEMBER 2015
hood memories of collecting the lead dumped by a steak knife factory near the river and melting it down into toys. As the public’s understanding of sewage and the importance of clean water has evolved, the conditions of the rivers have improved over time. This change was largely catalyzed by the Clean Water Act, which Connecticut passed in 1972 and introduced regulations for water polluters and water standards. Recalling the pollution in the nineteen-seventies as its worst ever, Mushinsky notes the drastic improvements all three New Haven rivers have made since then, largely due to the Clean Water Act. Fish populations, for example, have rebounded. Now ospreys and bald eagles nest along the Quinnipiac River. But as suburbia has encroached on the undeveloped areas, Mushinsky says, so too has the amount of impermeable surfaces—sidewalks and streets—that create runoff to the rivers. And while the rivers are no longer streams of sewage and trash, parts of the river and its tributaries remain practically cut off from human access, generating indifference to them. As a result, the river’s health suffers, and New Haven residents don’t know they are being robbed of their waters.
THE FEW RESIDENTS WHO DO REGULARLY INTERACT WITH THE RIVER TEND TO BE THOSE WHO USE IT AS A SOURCE OF FOOD— THEY FISH AND CRAB IN IT, UNAWARE THAT THEIR DINNER HAS BEEN SWIMMING IN SEWAGE.
photo by Jen Lu
Gary Zrelak, director of operations at the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility, tells me that while CSOs are a problem, he is more concerned about storm water as a source of pollution in the West River. However, he says, “I’m not trying to say [CSOs] are good. They’re part of the problem, and we have a longterm plan to address those.” The abatement facility, which processes waste and sewage for New Haven, Hamden, East Haven, and Woodbridge, is surprisingly picturesque, once you get past the primary treatment process and the sludge, and before you get to the incineration room. It’s situated on the shore of Long Island Sound, and surrounded by groves of trees that cut it off from the nearby residential areas. The first time Zrelak and I speak over the phone, it’s raining. He mentions that tonight will be one of those nights when the pipes overflow into the river, which makes the sound of rain on my roof a little less enjoyable than usual. On rainy days, when the pipes are over capacity, they are designed to release untreated sewage and storm water right into the river. The forty million gallons of sewage (the daily average, although 26
it can increase by 100 million gallons on rainy days) that do make it to the treatment plant end up in giant covered tanks whose contents aren’t visible from above. They make their presence known by their smell: the solid waste is first filtered out of the sewage, leaving “grey water” that travels out through secondary treatment. As it begins the bacterial treatment processes, the air begins to take on the not-quite-pleasant but not-quite-repugnant smell of living mud. By the time it passes through clarifiers and is disinfected with chlorine, it is clear. The solid waste, meanwhile, takes a different path. It ends up in the massive, multistory incinerator where the solid waste circulates and burns. As I peer into the incinerator’s flames, it occurs to me what challenges environmentalists contend with: often, the tradeoff for one problem brings another: we (mostly) no longer dump raw sewage into rivers or the sound, but sewage treatment creates some significant pollution if its own, including the air pollution caused by incineration. By using green infrastructure, the coalition may be able to solve the problem, at least for CSOs, without making that trade.
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Supporting the existing combined sewer system with green infrastructure requires less time and money than deconstructing the current system to rebuild two separate systems. Separating the sewage and storm water system would theoretically involve tearing up the streets and installing another system of pipes that carry storm water only. While the GNHWPCA has a longterm plan to control CSOs, it will take decades. And, even then, the storm water runoff will continue to pollute the bodies of water into which it flows. Instead, the coalition plans to eliminate sewage overflows by stopping storm water runoff from reaching the pipes in the first place. As the city of New Haven has become more and more developed, the runoff has increasingly become a cause of pollution in the river— both because it causes sewage to overflow, and also because it is polluted. Small-scale innovations like the bioswales redirect the storm water runoff through natural means towards the major bodies of water. While pristine at its source, the West River grows increasingly polluted as a result of increased pavement and streets that block the re-absorption of storm water. Forty percent of surfaces in the lower watershed are impenetrable, far above the threshold level of twelve percent—the level at which local rivers begin to see degraded water quality as a result of storm water runoff. Unable to be absorbed into the soil, the storm water flows into the river, bringing pollutants with it. The river, unsurprisingly, suffers, as does Long Island Sound, into which West River ultimately empties.
THE HOPE IS THAT, WHEN IMPLEMENTED ON A LARGE SCALE, SMALLER TREATMENT MEASURES COULD ELIMINATE RUNOFF INTO THE RIVERS ALTOGETHER, AND PAVE THE WAY FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE WATER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM.
To extend conservation efforts beyond the bioswales and urban gardens, members of the coalition have gone house to house asking watershed inhabitants to disconnect their downspouts, which carry storm water directly from roofs to rain gutters. Local environmental activist Lynne Bonnet, who helped bring together the group that became the coalition, is working on gathering and distributing rain barrels, to help people store storm water on their property until the storms have cleared and the system is no longer overcapacity. The hope is that, when implemented on a large scale, smaller treatment measures could eliminate runoff into the rivers altogether, and pave the way for a more sustainable water management system. “To undo urbanization is not cheap and it’s not easy,” Mushinsky said, but the watershed plan also offers what she says is the “easiest and cheapest” solutions to the problem. “When you have to dig up a whole street and install a storage for sewage overflow or some of those big projects, those are just so expensive that they’re going to take decades to do. But the smaller ones, disconnecting people’s downspouts … that kind of thing is just a cultural change. We just have to go through the neighborhoods and educate people to do it.” In addition to small-scale intervention, the coalition intends to reinvigorate community connection to New Haven’s bodies of water. As demonstrated by the coalition and its members, when people feel connected to the rivers, they work to improve them. Currently, much of the river and its tributaries remain blocked by either steep banks or private property. Improving access will hopefully further entrench community commitment to improving the water’s pollution. So far, the coalition is working to create an unbroken walking path along the West River, given it recently received greenway designation. At Common Ground High School, students are working on ways to increase access to Wintergreen Brook, a tributary of the West River that runs by their campus. Already, the West River Watershed coalition has succeeded in bringing together a diverse group community members—including people who live in the Mill and Quinnipiac watersheds—and uniting them around the rivers. The plan provided them with a vision of how to achieve a New Haven with effective management of both sewage and storm water. They hope they will one day see the waters restored to their natural state. — Libbie Katsev is a junior in Davenport College
WHO PROTECTS PICASSO? Through the eyes of a guard at the Yale University Art Gallery Lora Kelley
“What is a museum guard to do, I thought to myself; what, really, is a museum guard? On the one hand, you are a member of a security force charged with protecting priceless materials from the crazed or kids or the slow erosive force of camera flashes; on the other hand you are a dweller among supposed triumphs of the spirit.” — From Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner it’s noon, and Imani Lane looks over forty-seven tiny security screens spread across two PC monitors. Lane has been a guard at the Yale University Art Gallery for more than thirteen years. After years on the floor, she now also works at the front desk in the Nolen Center, the museum education building across the street from the Gallery. She scans the screens for movements the on-floor guides might miss. When visitors walk through the galleries, sit on benches, or encounter a Van Gogh for the first time, Lane is watching. As a guard, especially when in the gallery, Lane is tasked with helping patrons. But, mostly, her job is not to get in the way. “We’re supposed to be invisible,” she says. It’s difficult to imagine Lane, who is bubbly and effusive, fading into the background. Lane laughs often
LANE STANDS STILL AS HER WELL-PRACTICED GAZE CUTS EASILY TO THE CENTER OF THE PAINTING, TO THE KNIFE IN THE FIGURE’S HANDS. SHE FOCUSES ON THE SLITS AND ANGLES ON THE CANVAS; THEY REMIND HER OF THE FLIPBOOKS SHE USED TO MAKE IN ART CLASS AS A KID.
when she talks. She is at ease in her black leather office chair, wearing a uniform of a blue button-up shirt, khakis, and clogs. But she emphasizes that the role of a guard is to maintain order, not to “to bother or talk too much to people in the gallery.” It can be tough not to talk, especially when patrons want to address Lane. “When you’re in an art gallery, you can get emotional,” Lane says, and visitors sometimes look to her to unload their reflections. Van Gogh’s Night Café, in particular, often moves people to talk. Lane just listens and nods politely. When people ask if she likes the art, she can’t share her opinions. But, at her desk away from the art, Lane makes it clear that her natural impulse would be to engage enthusiastically with visitors. A few minutes into our conversation, a museum patron wanders out of the elevator near Lane’s desk, looking lost. Interrupting herself mid-sentence, Lane greets him, “Hi, how are you doing? Welcome to the Nolen Center. Are you looking for the way out?” The man responds yes, revealing his French accent. Immediately, Lane asks, “Parlez vous Francais?” and, when he nods, she adds, “Je m’appelle Imani.” He grins and asks if she speaks Spanish, too. Lane replies, “un pocito,” before laughing and giving him directions to the exit (in English). Sending the tourist off in the elevator, Lane modestly shrugs. “You meet so many people from around the world, you want to be able to say something.”
Lane fondly recalls the excitement of getting on the train with her class as a kid in New York City and visiting the Museum of Natural History, the Tomb of Perneb at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the MoMA. This early love of museums has stayed with her, and she thinks all her fellow guards share it at least to some extent. “You couldn’t work here and not like the art, ” she says. “You can’t tune it out.” When there aren’t visitors in the galleries she’s guarding, Lane switches from being a guard— watching people watching art—into being a patron of the museum. She fixes her gaze on her favorite pieces, focusing on one or two at a time. “I love objects THE NEW JOURN AL
illustration by Emma Liebman
that look like they’re in motion,” she says. When I meet Lane again, this time in the lobby of the Yale University Art Gallery, we take the elevator up to the Modern and Contemporary section to visit The Knife Grinder, one of Lane’s favorite paintings. In it, a man hunched over a knife pushes through geometric shapes. It’s a cubo-figurist piece. Shapes radiate outward from the central figure as multiple iterations of each of his body parts repeat in shades of orange, blue, and grey. Lane stands still as her well-practiced gaze cuts easily to the center of the painting, to the knife in the figure’s hands. She focuses on the slits and angles on the canvas; they remind her of the flipbooks she used to make in art class as a kid. “The more you look at it, the more you notice the movement of the knife,” Lane notes. Then she starts to recount the progression of her relationship to this work: at first she was puzzled by the knife, since when she looks at a painting for the first time, she never reads the labels. (She waits until she has explored the painting on her own.) “For a while when I first saw it I was like ‘is that a fork?’” She told herself, “Let me figure it out.” So she asked questions. Where is the figure standing? Is he in a basement? Is he using the knife to create or destroy? She muses, “Sometimes I don’t want to know too much because that wouldn’t leave as much for me to do on my own.” Looking closely, Lane cycles slowly through the museum’s collection, interpreting and re-interpreting. But then, as soon as a visitor walks in, she snaps to attention. She needs to make sure that the art is out of harm’s way. NOVEMBER 2015
The Gallery holds pieces by Picasso, Brancusi, Rothko, and Fra Angelico, to name a few. But, for most of her day, Lane is not focusing her gaze on brushstrokes. Instead, she says, “I make sure no little children are crawling on the floor crying that they lost their mommies” and “I’m just here to make sure the art stays on the walls.” She scans the corners of the room in case someone trips on a bench. From her perch at her security desk, she focuses more on the moving shapes of visitors than the tiny, static art on the gallery walls. She is constantly watching to make sure no one gets too close to the art. “Everyone has the urge to touch,” she says. Leaning in, as if telling me a secret, Lane describes her dream exhibit: the full a tactile museum space. She envisions a “touch gallery” with touchable copies of famous pieces. Instead of discouraging tactile engagement, this space would sanctify it. She pictures a space filled with reproductions of the museum’s greatest hits. She has a specific room in mind, one in the basement of the YUAG that has an empty wall. Visitors (and Lane) could view pieces that, she says, for example, will “Feel and look just like an actual Picasso. And you can touch it.” There would still be guards in this gallery, to help out if someone trips or if a kid wanders in unaccompanied. But the works would not need to be watched so vigilantly. This dream space would make Lane’s life as a guard easier. In this touch gallery, she imagines, “people can hopefully get the touchies out of them,” so upstairs they would not try to touch original works. Lane prefers when she does not need to stop visitors from doing what they want to do. When visitors come in, she says she always thinks, “I don’t want to talk to you,” hoping that the patron will not cause trouble. Lane develops all kinds of plans while in the gallery, and she acts on some. After hours looking at Picassos, she had the idea to start sketching famous Picasso paintings “from a security guard’s perspective” in her free time. She just ordered some fabrics on eBay to start sewing dresses inspired by patterns in paintings. “All these ideas come from me working here, me being around the art handling, the exhibitions department, conservation,” she says. The museum guard does a delicate dance—protecting art while trying not to interfere with the onlooker’s experience. In the tactile gallery of Lane’s imagination, this task might be easier. But for the moment, she continues to guard the space, eyes flickering across the canvases or computer screens, absorbing all the angles. — Lora Kelley is a junior in Davenport College
a new radio station wants to localize New Haven’s airwaves 30
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THE SIGNAL’S BACK IN TOWN by Elena Saavedra Buckley
illustration by Katie Colford
halfway through a show on New Haven’s new local radio station, Onyeka Obiocha is talking about rural Tanzanian villages. But, as is standard on WNHH, the conversation loops back to the city. Obiocha’s warm, tenor voice describes how the beans make their way to his downtown coffee shop, The Happiness Lab. Shafiq Abdussabur, the host of Urban Talk Radio, asks him about the ins and outs of the business in a voice that can command a room. Adbussabur takes measured, attention-grabbing pauses between sentences as if he were speaking to an audience of thousands. He sounds like he’s been doing this for a while. Near the end of the show, Obiocha asks if he can explain some of his business’s philosophy. “Now that I hopefully have one or two people’s ears here—” he 31
begins, but Abdussabur interrupts: “You have ten thousand ears!” He’s joking, and the men laugh again. They know they don’t have ten thousand ears, not even close—but they’re still in the studio, broadcasting, for the sake of local news. Abdussabur had never done radio before August, but he has since hosted episodes about gun violence, policing, a local arts nonprofit, and urban biking, to name a few. Most days, he works as a New Haven police officer and treasurer of the New Haven Police Union. Now he can also call himself a radio personality. He and the hosts of twenty-five other shows make up the voices of WNHH, the city’s newest independent news source, which launched in August. There are shows about politics, sports, books, businesses, cooking, and local music. Two hours a day are dedicated to Spanish-language programming. Mayor Toni Harp comes into the studio on Mondays, and a man named Joe Ugly hosts three hours of talk radio and local hip-hop each morning. WNHH is an attempt to inject New Haven’s airwaves with conversation by and for locals, with stories that national news outlets often overlook. As it becomes easier and easier for people to curate the news they want to hear, whether with podcasts or topic-specific apps, WNHH stands by the belief that tuning in, without the ability to control what you might hear, is what 32
it really means to be in the know. Unlike New Haven’s more established stations, WNHH is classified as “low power,” a type of FM radio license for nonprofits. After the Telecommunications Act of 1996, national radio groups were allowed to buy clumps of smaller stations and turn them into corporate chains. Suddenly, many once-autonomous stations across the country were broadcasting identical content. The FCC created the “low power” license in 2000 as an answer, giving people the ability to broadcast independently, albeit with a weaker signal. These same large companies then lobbied for the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act in the same year, limiting the growth of low power stations in order to avoid interference with high power, commercial ones. Grassroots activists spent more than ten years fighting for their right to broadcast until Congress finally passed the Local Community Radio Act of 2010. WNHH is one of the successful applicants for the new low power licenses. That means that it’s part of a small but growing community of independent stations. Today, there are more than 1,300 in the U.S., many of which are Spanish-language or run by Christian groups. They often serve a hyper-specific listenership, priding themselves on their locality, their honesty, and their ruthlessly unedited material. It’s the spirit of piTHE NEW JOURN AL
rate radio, upgraded to legal status. At a time when podcasts—with soundtracks, charming quips, and artful room noise—dictate the marketable future of radio, low power stations and their advocates hold on tightly to a certain grittiness (though the FCC still doesn’t allow them to swear). But WNHH isn’t just trying to combat the Goliaths of media; it wants to inform, and sound like, its home city. It works in concert with the New Haven Independent, a local online news publication meant for “the knuckleheads to the dreamers and schemers, and everyone in between,” according to the site’s mission statement. Both WNHH and the Independent operate out of two rooms on the third floor of a downtown brick building. The leader of the five-person team that runs both is Paul Bass, Yale class of 1982, who founded the Independent in 2005. WNHH’s signal spans only about three miles, reaching north of New Haven but breaking up when blocked by tall buildings downtown. (When I first tuned in, blips of a Katy Perry song from another station interrupted the signal.) To make up for this deficit, WNHH relies heavily on its presence on the Independent website, where audio content is increasingly finding its home. Each episode is uploaded to SoundCloud and can be heard live on the Independent’s website, where most episodes average around thirty listeners. WNHH has a dramatically smaller audience than pop stations or established podcasts. But even if the airwaves are hard to find and online listeners tend to be few, the station still broadcasts content for twelve hours a day. The Independent’s sense of duty to telling New Haven’s stories, and having the right people tell them, pervades the entire station—it pushes the hosts to get behind the microphone, with people they know, and to simply speak, even if it’s to speak to an audience of a hundred, thirty, or even zero. “You’re listening to WNHH LP 103.5 FM New Haven, streaming live at www.newhavenindependent.org,” says Lucy Gellman, the station manager at WNHH, into her microphone. She’s in the studio—a room the size of a walk-in closet next to the main Independent office—to introduce Paul Bass and produce his daily news show Dateline. Gellman stands behind a wooden desk at the back of the room, headphones covering her short, curly hair. There is no glass barrier between the talent and the technician. She uses a desktop control panel, stuck between her computer and keyboard, to fade out the music by local bands that plays before the show starts, and she spends most of the broadcasting time writing and responding to tweets or transcribing NOVEMBER 2015
interviews for the Independent site. She does this for almost every show on WNHH, every day. On Fridays, she gets to be the host of Kitchen Sync, her show about food in New Haven. One episode was about her favorite ratatouille recipe. Another discussed the city’s food truck laws. Sitting at the small linoleum table, across from Bass, are two WNHH regulars: State Senators Joe Markley and Gary Holder-Winfield, who are here to debate issues from the day’s headlines. The men trade pleasantries first; Markley, a balding Republican with impressive posture and teeth, asks Bass about the recent Jewish holidays. Holder-Winfield, a young Democrat with broad shoulders, has his hands on his knees, ready to spar. “I thought we’d lead with Planned Parenthood,” Bass says, referencing the rallies against defunding the organization that took place downtown on September 29. He leans forward to rest his forearms on the table. There’s no script. Bass calls out the topics they’ll discuss as the clock ticks to 11:00 a.m.: the pope, John Boehner, state cuts to Medicaid funds, the debate over the name of Yale’s Calhoun College. But, first, Planned Parenthood. Markley raises his eyebrows. “I’d rather talk about the pope than Planned Parenthood,” he hopelessly offers, before placing both palms flat on the table. He’s bracing himself. It’s 10:59 a.m. Gellman fades the music.
THE INDEPENDENT’S SENSE OF DUTY TO TELLING NEW HAVEN’S STORIES, AND HAVING THE RIGHT PEOPLE TELL THEM, PERVADES THE ENTIRE STATION—IT PUSHES THE HOSTS TO GET BEHIND THE MICROPHONE, WITH PEOPLE THEY KNOW, AND TO SIMPLY SPEAK, EVEN IF IT’S TO SPEAK TO AN AUDIENCE OF A HUNDRED, THIRTY, OR EVEN ZERO.
Bass has only been hosting Dateline for three months, but his long-standing track record as a New Haven journalist allows him to talk to people like Markley and Holder-Winfield like they’re old pals—often, they are. In the book The Wired City, about the founding of the Independent, author Dan Kennedy describes Bass as “single-handedly holding city hall accountable with his fierce reporting” during his stint at the now-defunct New Haven Advocate. He wrote for other publications, including the Connecticut section of The New York Times, Connecticut Magazine, and USA Today, but went rogue when he saw the local journalism scene dissolving. “I felt that corporate media monopolies had destroyed local journalism for the most part,” Bass told me, “and now everything has to be scaled up, including on the web.” In 2005, while local journalists lost their jobs and publications closed their doors around the nation, Bass started the Independent. Like the Independent at its inception, WNHH has filled an empty spot in the radio landscape. WNPR is a popular station, but it’s based in Hartford and is dominated by national NPR programming. WELI is based in New Haven, but the likes of national talking heads
Unlike listeners of WNHH, those who tune in to WNPR and Dankosky’s show aren’t necessarily looking for hyper-local programming. “If you ask [our listeners] in the street what’s the story that’s really important to them, they may say the school board in their town, and they might also say the war in Afghanistan, or they may say what’s happening with the state budget,” Dankosky said. When we spoke, the day’s episode of Where We Live had just aired (following NPR’s Morning Edition). A thirteen-piece funk band from Hartford called West End Blend had played live, and Dankosky interviewed a Yale professor about the Iberian film festival she organizes. That’s pretty local. But there remains a divide between WNHH and WNPR when it comes to the intended audience of that coverage. “Public radio has a traditionally very educated, sometime wealthier audience. They tend to be older,” Dankosky said. WNPR is larger than WNHH, but compared to what Dankosky calls “big radio”—stations with the same voice tracking pop songs for hours—it’s still miniscule. They need money, as do similar stations across the country, and that often means getting it from the people who tune in faithfully and are likely to donate during pledge drives. While they try to attract young listeners, it’s still a balancing act. “If you turn away from the things that audience likes, you risk losing the THEY KNOW THEY DON’T funding base,” he said. WNHH doesn’t have to worry about that. As a low HAVE TEN THOUSAND EARS, power station, they’re funded by grants that Bass apNOT EVEN CLOSE—BUT plied for years ago instead of by ads, and the future of the station depends on getting more grants in the THEY’RE STILL IN THE STUDIO, coming years. This financial freedom explains why Bass cares less about spreading the gospel of WNHH BROADCASTING, FOR THE than the public radio hosts who spend days doing SAKE OF LOCAL NEWS. pledge drives for their stations. “We’re not doing any billboards or ads on buses,” Bass said. “The way we built the Independent was one by one. Every time we did a story, people would find out about it because you interviewed them. And I feel like we can do it the same way, piece by piece, by word of mouth.” His publicity like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck fill its airwaves. model is, essentially, to do his job. Local WYBC (different from WYBCx, Yale College’s That’s how Gellman found out about the Indepenradio) claims to be “the rhythm of the city,” but it pro- dent. When she came to New Haven for a fellowship vides music, not discussion. at the Yale University Art Gallery, she didn’t predict Where We Live, a daily morning talk show on WNPR, she’d end up behind the controls at WNHH. After a is one of the top radio programs for Connecticut-based, few months at the Gallery, though, she felt stuck in the national, and global news. John Dankosky is the host— Yale scene. he’s worked at WNPR for years, and many of the sto“I had been profoundly lonely when I moved here,” ries he’s reported in the state have been broadcast na- she told me. “I made a couple friends through Yale and tionally on NPR. A month before WNHH launched, met the guy who is now my boyfriend, but when you Bass asked Dankosky to give a workshop to the hosts to move to a new place…” She trailed off. A colleague teach them the basics of interviewing. had told her about the Independent, which had an
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opening for a music writer. She started claiming assignments. Trying to get away from Yale herself, she noticed limitations in the Independent’s music coverage. “We weren’t covering Cafe 9. We weren’t covering Bar or Stella Blues, and we weren’t covering anything in the Hill, Dixwell, or Newhallville,” she said. “New Haven is such a tale of two cities. There are a lot of poor white people, there are a lot of poor Black people, and there are a lot of poor Latino and Hispanic people, and they’re all in different neighborhoods,” she explained. “Sometimes, music venues are what bring them together.” So, four nights a week, Gellman, who describes herself as a “crunchy granola Jew,” set out to report. After working a full day at the YUAG, she’d go to performances around the city, sometimes staying up until 2 a.m. to finish a story for the next day. She covered the music beat for over a year. The more she wrote for the Independent, the more lukewarm she felt about her pending Ph.D. applications. She had reservations about leaving New Haven, which she had come to love one concert at a time. So, when she was accepted to Duke, Paul Bass offered her a different job: the station manager of a new radio station. For any media venture, finding an audience is critical—and tricky. Aliyya Swaby, a 2013 Yale graduate who hosts the transportation-themed show In Transit on Monday afternoons, told me that she simply doesn’t know what kind of people listen to her show. She thinks, though, that they probably aren’t her age. Even with an online presence, getting young people to listen to an hour of radio is difficult when many of them are used to picking and choosing their own news. Getting their attention often depends on editing and scripts to add on-demand entertainment value; WNHH is less predictable. The Independent could feasibly do away with the satellite dish and only upload their content online—it’s something Bass says may happen in the future. But, for now, sending their shows out into the airwaves still allows potential listeners to stumble upon it while driving. There’s less choice on a radio dial than on the Internet—with fewer places to turn when they lose interest, maybe listeners are likelier to be lured out of momentary boredom by terrestrial radio. On one of her episodes, Swaby interviewed Doug Hausladen, who directs the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking. (He’s also a water polo coach at Yale, and his voice has the energy the job demands.) Hausladen, blond and with the build of a once-brawny athlete, is well known in New Haven and the WNHH office. When he entered the studio, he inNOVEMBER 2015
IT’S THE MINDSET OF THE INDEPENDENT EMBODIED BY WNHH: TO REALLY LIVE SOMEWHERE, NEW HAVEN OR ELSEWHERE, YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION. YOU HAVE TO LISTEN. stinctually hung up his suit jacket on the door hook. We started talking about whether people were tuning in to WNHH. “The number of people that know that I almost burned my house down during the cooking experience I talked about on Lucy’s show?” he offered. “It’s pretty impressive how many people heard that story.” There’s no way of knowing how many people heard it on the air, but SoundCloud shows that seventy-seven people heard the episode, and the count gradually keeps growing. “It’s interesting,” Hausladen said. “I have more work to do now that WNHH exists. It used to be that I could just read the newspaper article, and I could read it quickly. Now I have to listen to an hour of radio.” It’s the mindset of the Independent as embodied by WNHH: to really live somewhere, New Haven or elsewhere, you have to pay attention. You have to listen. On the curb outside the Independent’s offices on 51 Elm Street, Shafiq Abdussabur is standing with his 17-year-old daughter Salwa, who’s dressed in head-totoe magenta. For the Abdussaburs, radio is a family affair. Today, Salwa and her mother Mubarakah Ibrahim—who is broadcasting her own show on WNHH as we stand on the sidewalk—will be guests on Shafiq’s show. Though most kids her age are in class during Wednesday mornings like this, Salwa recently withdrew from her charter high school, choosing homeschool instead. After parking his silver minivan, Shafiq shakes my hand and says hello in the same baritone I’ve heard on air. He and Salwa climb the stairs to the Independent offices. Mubarakah is already inside the studio wrapping up Mornings with Mubarakah, which airs an hour before her husband’s Urban Talk Radio. “First we talked about doing a show together,” she told me. “Then, in my full feminist voice, I was like, ‘Nope! I want my own show!’” 35
Like the rest of the family, when Mubarakah laughs, she doesn’t giggle—it’s always loud and full. Mubarakah often talks about women’s health for her show, covering mindfulness, estrogen in grocer store chicken breasts, and obesity. She’s the founder of Fit Haven, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing health disparities affecting women and girls, and she used to run a gym called BALANCE Fitness Studios. She also has a project called Fit Muslimah, an on- and off-line community of Muslim women for whom she leads private fitness retreats, since many Muslim women don’t exercise outside of their homes. In 2007, she was on the Oprah Winfrey Show for an episode about impressive thirty-somethings in America. Now, her accumulated Facebook following is upwards of 205,000 people, numbers Bass doesn’t hesitate to admit he cares about. For Mubarakah, issues like Islam in America and what it means to be a Black woman are hard to get away from, since they’re parts of her everyday life. Radio, she says, “is my intersection.” It’s where she can talk about all of them at once, to people who might never hear about them otherwise. Shafiq and Salwa arrive at the office and greet Bass, who tells Shafiq to pick out one of the WNHH sweat-
shirts from a cardboard box that just arrived. Salwa slips into the studio and takes a seat at the head of the table. Her mother sits to her left in a sweater and hijab, both scarlet, and her father is on the right. The studio is tiny, but WNHH enables the Abdussaburs’ conversation to expand beyond its walls. And it’s easy conversation— they crack jokes, laugh the same rousing laugh, and nod their heads in time with the jazz Gellman sends through their headphones before the top of the hour. Salwa is often a guest on her parents’ shows for brief segments called Sass Talkin’ With Salwa. Her elevator pitch requires some choreography: “Sassy is saying what you think and meaning what you say, and being, like, ‘hey,’” she told me, snapping her fingers, popping a hip, and giggling. Salwa decided to withdraw from high school because she was diagnosed with depression. She calls her current routine “doing her own thing.” Part of that thing is preparing her Sass Talkin’ segments, which, for now, mostly means reading aloud essays on Urban Talk Radio. Today, she’ll talk about economic disparity with her parents and describe the feeling of attending a Shakespeare festival at Edgerton Park in East Rock, a wealthy neighborhood surrounded by areas with some
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of the city’s highest crime rates. The division troubles her, and she takes to radio to talk about it. Radio is a way for Salwa to feel in control. “Usually I just go home and say, ‘I’m upset about this, and this,’ but now I get to say ‘I’m upset about this, and this,’ and people are listening to me,” she says. She says her friends from school listen to her show. She’s infectiously optimistic, but she still remembers how difficult it was to talk about her illness with her family. “There’s this stigma in the African American community about mental illness that’s kind of like, ‘Get over it,’” she says. It’s something she hopes to eventually confront through radio. “In the future, I’d hopefully have my own show. I think I’m going to do a whole series about mental illness and not be afraid of talking about it.” A few weeks after hearing Onyeka Obiocha on Urban Talk Radio, I went to The Happiness Lab. He stood behind the counter when I entered, taking a detailed pour-over order from the man at the register. A dark, curly beard, eyes crinkled into a steady smile, a baseball cap—he looked exactly like he did on the Independent page. He asked for my order in a voice
I already knew well. “I heard you on Urban Talk Radio,” I said. Oh, and a latte, too. Obiocha raised his eyebrows before he started gently chuckling. He turned away from me in mock disbelief. “You’re the first,” he finally said. “I hope I sounded OK.” Swaby came in a few minutes later, followed by another host from the station, which is only a few blocks away. I waved at them and Obiocha when I left, skirting around the society of the knuckleheads, dreamers, schemers, what have you. I biked home the long way at 4:00 p.m. WNHH’s Spanish-language programming was starting. I imagined the waves flying past my face, holding a quiet density, trying to squeeze past tall buildings and sometimes making it. I couldn’t hear them at that moment, of course—instead, cars horns wailed and dissolved. A bus sighed as it came to a stop, and as the passengers hopped off, I caught only the beginnings and ends of muddled words that grazed my ears. The air, a tangle of energy, buzzed. — Elena Saavedra Buckley is a sophomore in Silliman College. She is an associate editor of The New Journal.
HOME MOVIES What does the university’s DVD collection say about Yale? Madeline Kaplan since i started working at the Film Study Center last September, I’ve walked past Pedalphiles hundreds of times. It’s shelved right by the entrance to the film library, below Pan’s Labyrinth and a few rows above Pulp Fiction. The title is written in orange Comic Sans, which tends to catch the eye. Last week, after fourteen months of intrigue, I checked out the DVD, carried it several blocks up Wall Street, and pushed it into my disk drive. Here is what happens in Pedalphiles: a documentarian follows several S.C.A.B.s (Skids Creating Apocalyptic Bicycles) in the year 2000. S.C.A.B.s are anti-car, pro-bicycle activists who customize bikes and attempt to intimidate drivers. They say rebellious things while being interviewed and shout rebellious things while riding through the streets of Minneapolis. This goes on for thirty-eight minutes. Then the film is over. (The credits are also in Comic Sans.) There are more than 22,000 DVDs in the Film Study Center collection, which is housed in the basement of the Whitney Humanities Center. Most of the students who come to the library need to make up for a missed class screening, and restrict themselves to several shelves of films reserved for courses. Huge lectures tend to have quite a few stragglers. (It will take a while
IN ONE SHORT, A HAMLET OF SQUAT ORANGE VILLAGERS WRESTLES AN INVADING ARMY OF SLITHERING BLACK SNAKES. NOT AS SHINY AS PIXAR, BUT JUST AS DELIGHTFUL.
to scrape the Disney syllabus out of my long-term memory.) Professors can check out an unlimited number of films, and many keep a constant stash of several dozen DVDs on loan for as long as they want, no risk of late fees. One woman brings us a stack of ten movies every Tuesday, then asks for ten more. But even the regulars tend to stick to certain subsets of the collection: old Hollywood classics, contemporary TV dramas, influential Japanese cinema. After months of fetching the same films over and over, I began to wonder about the thousands of movies that go perpetually unwatched. It was an inspired stroke of procrastination: a search for the strangest, most obscure film in the archive. The “Experimental” section seemed a logical place to begin. Since database entries are organized alphabetically, I started with filmmaker Robert Frank’s 1971 project, About Me: A Musical. It’s a strange little movie, if not a shocking one. Originally intended to be a piecemeal meditation on the American music scene, at some point during production, it morphed into Frank’s first-person journey through various musical settings—including the inside of a federal penitentiary. (The twist: The filmmaker casts himself as a young woman.) About Me: A Musical has no Wikipedia page, which makes it pretty obscure by modern standards, but its depictions of American music are surprisingly meaty. Next on my alphabetized list was The Best of Bulgarian Animation, which sounded random enough to elude the average Film-Study-Center-goer. In one short, a hamlet of squat orange villagers wrestles an invading army of slithering black snakes. Not as shiny as Pixar, but just as delightful. I set out to find the film least likely to pique anyone’s interest. It would have to be something no professor would put on a syllabus, something without much of a contribution to its cultural moment. Something really unappealing. I sat through (most of) The Lake House, a bland and confusing sci-fi romance starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. But even this could have an audience (a scholar of the mid-2000s turtleneck aesthetic, or a Sandra Bullock fan who made a wrong turn). Searching further for obscure projects, it occurred to me that the most unknown films would be listed under the “Yale” designation—unlikely to appear in any other THE NEW JOURN AL
film archive and, hopefully, impossible to track down on the internet. After a bit of digging, I discovered Coeducation: The Year They Liberated Yale. The halfhour-long documentary tracks the first year of coeducation at Yale, from Move-In Day of 1969 to the spring of 1970. Though it was filmed forty-five years ago, the University looks unnervingly similar to the present-day. Female first-years and their parents are worried about the social climate of campus, sure, but they’re also worried about lugging overstuffed suitcases up four flights of Vandy stairs. My favorite interview was filmed during Parents’ Weekend in the Pierson courtyard. The documentarian asks a father how his daughter is enjoying her first few months at Yale, perhaps hoping for an answer about the pressure of representing her gender, or maybe the anxieties of student unrest over Vietnam. “Well, I think she is like most freshmen,” he answered. “Lonely.” Coeducation is like a communal home movie, the places and people instantly familiar. The Yale archive is not just a storage space for the anxieties of eighteen-year-olds past. It is also a time
capsule holding a pair of student-made documentaries that speak directly to the student activism unfolding on campus today. The first, Warrington Hudlin’s Black at Yale, concerns the unconventional education of Eugene Rivers. Lacking traditional academic credentials, Rivers moved to New Haven in 1973 and started attending philosophy classes, studying more than fifty hours a week, though not enrolled as a student. Once Yale administrators discovered that he wasn’t enrolled, they were forced to decide whether or not to allow Rivers to stay, and to confront an age-old institutional question: who is Yale for? Thirty years later, Monique Walton and Andia Winslow decided to make their own account of Black life at Yale in 2004, Still Black, At Yale. In one scene, a meeting of The Black Student Alliance at Yale discusses holding a Day of Action in response to incidents of racial profiling in residential college libraries. We tend to think that the things most relevant to our moment are happening right now, outside, where everyone can see. But sometimes they’re sitting in a film archive, one shelf over from the best of Bulgarian animation and Keanu Reeves in a turtleneck. — Madeline Kaplan is a junior in Morse College
illustration by Ivy Sanders Schneider