Farewell to Professor June

For 20 years, Professor June Foley, who is the Senior Director of the Writing Program at NYU Gallatin, has been teaching an advanced writing class here at University Settlement. June has also been responsible for the editing and publishing of the Literacy Review, an annual collection of writing from adult education students throughout NYC. A new compilation of writing from University Settlement students, 20!, will be released soon and Friday, August 26, will be her last day leading her class. We sat down to talk with her about the past, the present, and the future.

Tell us a little about yourself…

I was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, into a working-class family, in what sociologists have called an “urban village.” I was the first of an eventual 40 first cousins, with dozens of relatives living within a couple of miles. I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in English and American Literature from NYU. My husband, Bob Stark (a native New Yorker) and I have been together for 38 years, and I have a 50-year-old son, Max Lindenman, from a previous marriage.

How did you first get involved with University Settlement and whose idea was it to start the writing class?

As the new Writing Program director, I was asked by the Writing Program chair to audit the first “Literacy in Action” (now “Race, Social Justice, and Adult Literacy”) class. The “volunteer work” the six students and two auditing faculty did was all at our first partner—University Settlement. Everyone else taught conversation, but I chose to teach writing. And I’ve been doing it ever since. 

Can you describe the format of the writing class?

Though I facilitate the class, with two Gallatin undergrad student teachers, the class is student-centered. The students write on any topic, in any genre. The student teachers and I edit the works (minimally), each writer reads her work aloud during class, and the other students offer comments about both the content and the style. The students are inspired and encouraged by one another. 

Any special memories of the writing class? Any memorable students?

To tell my special memories of the class, I’d have to write a book. Instead, I’ll quote from my introduction to 20!, our new book. In my introduction to one volume, I noted that almost all the original students came from China and many had survived Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Lisa Lee wrote that when she was growing up, many neighbors were so poor that “they sold their children to the rich”; Yuqing Gu wrote about being ordered, as a physician, to perform a forced abortion on a woman eight months pregnant because neighbors had informed the authorities that she already had one child; Biming Long remembered the Communist Party labeling a beloved teacher a traitor, hounding him into suicide. Many stories set in New York City described working many hours every week in sweatshops or restaurants. Nelson Feng described how his restaurant delivery bike was stolen, he was threatened with a gun, and a customer whose dinner cost $57.75 tipped him 25 cents.

There was joyful writing, as well: Ofelio Chen’s about his “first friend,” a calf on his family farm in China; John Cheng’s about meeting his father in New York City, after running away from home many years earlier in China; Wen Fei Liang’s whirlwind trip to Europe, using her wheelchair; David Chen’s about receiving two unjust summonses as a mini-pancake sidewalk vendor, writing careful descriptions of the experience, reading them in court, and having the summonses dismissed.

Over time, the class became increasingly diverse, with students from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern and Western Europe, and the writing also became more varied. Jackie Leduc’s brilliant introduction to the previous compilation, Remember, mentions the political issues of Bangladesh, passionately discussed by Afroza Yasmin and her son, Mahir Rahman; and the complex, frequently dark stories of the Brazilians Marilia Valengo, Vini de la Rocha and his wife Mariana Lemos Duarte. This year, we read Jennifer Alonzo’s love letter to her husband; Gabriela Robles’s story from the point of view of a Central Park bench; Annette Huang’s exhortations toward love and compassion; Grace Zhang’s writing about neighborhood tensions in Brooklyn; Fatima Sore’s fictionalized tales of women’s lives on the Ivory Coast, and much more.  

Did you learn anything from your students?

Again, I could write a book. As I also say in my intro, they’ve taught me much more than I’ve taught them. I’m in awe of their intelligence, thoughtfulness, courage, resourcefulness, resilience, patience, determination, compassion–and their writing talent. 

Can you describe the genesis of the Literacy Review?

LR started after I compiled that first little book of USS writing. The students were so thrilled to see their words in print that my class expanded. Soon I asked a few Gallatin students if they’d like to get together to create a book of the best writing from all NYC ESOL and adult education students. 

What are some important things all writers should remember?

The writer Henry James said, “Observe perpetually.” In addition, I’d say never stop reflecting, reading, and writing. 

What do you plan to do now?

I’ll be teaching one Gallatin course per semester in my field, the Victorian novel, at least for a year. 

Who will take over the writing class and Literacy Review?

Allyson Paty, a graduate of Gallatin who has an MFA in poetry from NYU and has been the Writing Program associate director for a number of years, will succeed me as WP director on September 1st. Corinne Butta, who was the WP’s graduate assistant for two years, received her M.A. from Gallatin in May, and has experience as an editor, will take over the advanced writing class. They are terrific!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Many, many thanks to the director of the Adult Literacy Program, Lucian Leung; to Jon, the assistant director; and to Leanne Fung, program associate. You have all been so wonderfully supportive over the years. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with you at University Settlement. 

Thank you, June! We’ll miss you!

To check out past blog posts about June, the writing class, and the Literacy Review, click here!

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Writing Class & Literacy Review

Just sharing a class photo with you of our Advanced Writing Class which is taught on Fridays by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley. In this class, students read, share, and discuss their writing. NYU Gallatin publishes a yearly Literacy Review of writing from adult education students around New York City. Literacy Review Number 19 will be available later this spring, and several University Settlement Adult Literacy Program students will have their writing published in it. It will be available in print on a limited basis and also online – so in the meantime check out Literacy Review Number 18 by clicking here or on the image below. There’s audio too!

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Remember

Every couple years we publish a collection of writing from our Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley. Our latest collection is called Remember, and it’s full of stories and poems about NYC, technology, family, art, and the pandemic. Here’s a sample for you:

Counting Hours
Mariana Lemos Duarte

I am not sure why this memory returned.
Maybe because of the silence in the street,
Or because of the fear dancing in the air,
Or because of the sun that insistently
       invades the floor of my kitchen.

When I was a girl, I used to count the hours.

I used to wake up early just to have more hours to do nothing.
I used to sit on the top of my bunk bed just to have
       a different point of view of things.
I used to look out the window to find the Cristo Redentor.
I used to stop whatever I was doing just to see the sunset.

Now, I always have an unfinished task on my to-do list.
And these billions of incomplete to-do tasks grow in a way so
       fast and deep that I lose the joy of doing nothing,
And these billions of incomplete to-do tasks grow in a way
       so fast and deep that I forget to look at things from a
       different perspective.
And these billions of incomplete to-do tasks grow in a way
       so fast and deep that I find myself thinking: Why does
       the sunset take so long?

Suddenly the time goes so fast that I lose
       the ability to count it.

Stop! The world has stopped
To remind me of those days
When I used to count the hours.

To read more, click here.

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Adiós to Jon 

Jon and the crew in Albany for State Advocacy Day, February 2020

After 13 years, we cannot believe that we will say goodbye to our very own Jon Eckblad this Friday. While Jon has worn many hats at University Settlement, you may know him as our program’s assistant director. You may not know that he started our school blog here at usadultliteracy.com, over ten years ago! I’ll never forget all the videos he created for our program and the blog. Throughout his time here, Jon captured our uproarious holiday parties, garnered participation from his colleagues to make grammar videos, and showed us how easy it is for students to advocate for their own education and other programs. Jon is a reason we have a YouTube channel today, starting from his first video for our program. Professor June Foley of the NYU Gallatin Writing Program had the honor of interviewing Jon as he reflected on his fondest memories, what he’s learned about running an adult ESOL program, and what he’s up to next.

How did you first get involved with University Settlement Society? 

When I first moved to New York, I worked at some for-profit ESOL schools and after a couple years I felt like I wanted to explore non-profit work. So I think I just looked for jobs online, applied to University Settlement, had an interview, accepted the job, filled out my W2 (or is it a W4?), and the rest, as they say, is history.  

Can you tell us about your various positions and responsibilities over the years?  

I started as a part-time ESOL teacher, then I became a full-time ESOL teacher, then I became Curriculum-Technology Specialist, and finally Assistant Director. I’ve really been a jack of all trades: teaching and subbing, writing curriculum, interviewing and hiring, doing advocacy work, making videos and doing blog posts, ordering books and supplies and taking inventory, registering and testing students, arranging and leading workshops, going on field trips, helping write grant proposals and funding applications, updating computers, doing data entry, filing papers, hauling boxes and office furniture, serving food at class parties, co-leading teacher orientations, doing class observations, participating in union negotiations, revising student resumes, making calls to NYCHA about repairs, collaborating with other University Settlement programs, making work schedules, attending tons of meetings (both in person and on Zoom) and writing countless emails.      

Has there been one aspect of your job that’s your favorite? 

Of course, it’s the students. I’ve always enjoyed meeting and interacting with people from all around the world and trying to help them reach their goals. I also really get a kick out of assigning writing assignments—having students write on certain topics, revising, then having them read aloud in class and having their classmates respond. And then submitting to the Literacy Review, which a few of my students were lucky enough to get into.   

What has been your greatest challenge?  

Scheduling. My sense of time is really hazy, and I simply cannot wrap my head around multiple days, dates, hours, and locations.  

Any special memories? Any special memories of colleagues and students? 

My memory is very bad, but I always enjoyed attending the Literacy Review readings at NYU with my students. And often, when I’m walking around the Lower East Side or Chinatown during my lunch break, I run into former students. It’s really great seeing familiar faces by accident—it feels like I’m living in a small town where everyone knows each other rather than a metropolis. It’s also been a pleasure to see current and former students become my colleagues. Quite a few have gone on to work for other programs at University Settlement and three now work in our program, Meribeth Gao, Khanbibi Ybrash, and Mayra Mantilla. Mayra is actually going to be my replacement, which I think is great! It’s also been great working with director Lucian Leung and program associate Leanne Fung, who have been working in the program a year longer than I have. I started in 2009 and they started in 2008, I think. 

What are some things you’ve learned from your experience? 

I’ve really become a more disciplined and detail-oriented teacher and administrator, which is mostly due to the influence of Lucian. I think I’ve also learned just about everything that goes into running a free English program in NYC—and let me tell you, there’s a lot that goes into it. 

What do you plan to do now? Will it involve travel?  

Yes, in September I’m going to Greece, where I will hike to the top of Mount Parnassus and also consult with the Oracle of Delphi about next steps.   

Anything you’d like to add?  

I’m grateful for the opportunity Lucian gave me to become Assistant Director, and also the guidance both she and Jennifer Vallone, who is the Associate Executive Director of Adult Programs, provided me over the past few years. Additionally, I’m at ease knowing that my old duties will be in the very capable (more capable than mine, to be honest) hands of Mayra, who will do a great job and who has already done so much for our program. I also want to wish everyone a happy and successful school year and I’m sure I’ll see you all around…  

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Remember for the Third Time

Here’s yet another story from Remember, a collection of student writing from our Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley.

To Madison, Who Asked Why I Write

Marília Valengo

Today, I write mainly to breathe. It wasn’t always like this, or maybe it was, but only now I realize the importance, for me, of writing. After some time, even things that one doesn’t choose end up being part of one’s life. Therefore, today, I would say I write to keep myself alive. I recognize how bold this statement sounds. I don’t like to admit the seriousness of this subject. It sounds a little desperate, making a confession that strong. I’ve never thought of myself as someone radically committed to a “life or death” idea, but I guess I’ve gotten to a point where I need, once and for all, to rely on something. That is writing. All this nonsense makes me think that I also write to understand life; not only life, but existence.

Yet, saying I just want to understand is very vague; I don’t really recognize the deep meaning behind it. I am not searching for words just to translate whatever I am feeling or seeing. It’s more like modeling, like an engineer does. The more I think about words, the less I see them divided between sound and meaning. To me, words are pieces from a Lego box, available to any child who wants to play and build whatever they desire. I like being this child, writing things and creating possibilities.

I also write to control my own story. It’s my narrative; I’m the agent behind the facts. It’s ironic when, at some point, I realize that as much as I try to keep things organized, I always end up at a new starting point, knowing nothing. Sometimes, I feel like I’m becoming crazy. On the other hand, without words, I would never stay sane. It’s so contradictory. If only I was a little bit more succinct. The thing is, nothing moves me more than blank pieces of paper, a little notebook with pens and pencils. When I read a good sentence, when I learn a new figure of speech, when I see writing so good it makes my mind stop working, I feel this love invade me. It’s like I am facing the primordial, the basic goodness of us all. I just want to do the same.

Here in New York, I have been writing specifically to not lose track of who I really am. As an immigrant, I find it more and more complicated to locate myself while I roll from one culture to another, shaking the moss off my identity’s surface whenever a new aspect suddenly appears. I have also been writing to reconceptualize what culture, belonging, longing, and loving are.

If I had to choose just one answer, though, I would say I write mainly because I love words. I love words until the point that they are not necessary. I love words because even better than them is silence, but without the first I would never be able to know the second. So I write to maybe one day run out my need to say things.

To read more, click here.

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Remember Again

File:Triples-ma-jiang.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another story from Remember, a collection of student writing from our Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley:

Crazy Family Time

Qiao Zhuang (Grace) Zhang

       When my husband came back from work at night, I felt like I was facing a formidable enemy. I put on gloves, wore my mask, carried my two-percent diluted bleach water, and sprayed it on his hands, hat, coat, pants, shoes, lunch bag, etc. And then as he entered the house and went to take a shower, I sprayed everything he could possibly have touched. I alerted my kids to keep a social distance from him. I doubted if it would be okay for him to eat at the table, or if he should just stay in his room without coming out. As time went by, I accepted this new normal. If things happen, they happen. I can’t be like a crazy spinning top, sanitizing all day.

       According to my sixth sense, I got a mahjong set before our quarantine. I taught Jason to play; he picked it up quickly. Irene was like a scholar; she asked too many questions to learn. Mahjong is usually played by four people. As my husband was blessed to have shortened his business hours, I asked him to join us last night. He said he wanted to sleep after eating. Jason was watching his screen on the couch. I told Jason that his father was lying; he wanted to lie in bed watching TV and his phone simultaneously. I asked Jason to set up the cushion carpet on the table, and I poured out mahjong cards from a box. I said we would play four games, so each one of us could possibly win once. Three of us sat down and started to stack the cards in front of us. Irene was still on her Apple computer while texting on her phone. Father said she studied hard to get into the Ivy League. I said two Apples would kick her doctor’s degree away. She finally joined us.

       Father won the first game. I won the second. Irene won the third game. So we hoped Jason would win the fourth, and everybody could switch back to their own screen time. Father put down his cards and claimed he won again. I examined his cards, and found he had too many twos. According to my knowledge, he didn’t win. But he insisted. I took a picture, and shared it with my friend groups. Immediately, they responded that he didn’t win. We continued the game, and I won. I said we wouldn’t stop the game until Jason could win once. Irene won the fifth game. I asked Jason if he didn’t win because he didn’t get the special card. He said he didn’t. I said we would change the rule for him. We would change the special card until he got one. I drank a little. I joked a lot. I observed I had less self-repression after drinking. I enjoyed the freedom of being half-drunk. Jason said, “You’re high.” I believe all of us will remember this special family time, as I don’t recall many four-people moments in my married life. I wish we could create more love moments in our future.

To read more, click here.

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Writing Class in the Time of Coronavirus

Like our other classes, the Advanced Writing Class taught by NYU Gallatin Professor June Foley continued online this spring and recently had their final class of the school year, a screen shot of which is above. Thank you to June, her student assistants Kristi and James, and her students for persisting through these tough times. Below is a story by Afroza Yasmin about her experience with coronavirus which will be included in the upcoming writing class collection:

My Days of Coronavirus

Afroza Yasmin

From the beginning, we were very alert about Covid-19. When people couldn’t find masks, gloves, or hand sanitizers in the grocery store in my neighborhood, I had already collected these necessary items, including disinfecting wipes, alcohol, hand soaps, etc.

In early March, my daughter came home from medical school in Pennsylvania during spring break. One day, she started reading online about the coronavirus. At that time, the first few cases had started in the Bronx, Harlem, and Westchester. She told me that this virus would go into every household. So she advised that I go shopping right away, to buy those kinds of things. I realized that maybe two years ago, Jon, my teacher at University Settlement, showed the film Contagion in class. So I thought this virus was going to spread like the pandemic in the movie. I was shocked and fearful, so I ran to the supermarket, bought those items and also bought some groceries from the grocery store.

Then we stayed home as much as possible. Sometimes, my husband would take some of the food and give it to his family, friends, and our neighbors though drive-in. When he went outside, he always wore a mask and gloves. At that time, our daughter had exams, so she went back to Pennsylvania.

A few days later, in the middle of March, my husband was sick. He had a high fever, coughing, and a light breathing problem. Then, after a few days, our two sons and I were also sick. We didn’t take a test, but we looked online, and we had symptoms of the coronavirus, so we made some video calls with our doctors. They gave us cough medicines and antibiotics and also advised us that we had to stay home for two weeks. We took the medicines. My sons and I felt a little better, but my husband didn’t recover; his symptoms kept coming back.

I know these kinds of symptoms. Sometimes the medicine doesn’t work, so we decided that we would do some homemade therapy, like warm water with lemon and honey, clove powder and black seed powder, and also some ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black seeds, and cardamom, made into a drink, like tea. We drank this at least two times a day. Also, I put a pot of steaming water into my bed and we covered ourselves with blankets at least three times a day. This type of treatment uses breathing exercises of inhaling and exhaling with hot boiling water. In addition, we gargled three times a day, with some salt or alcohol in a glass of hot water. After those kinds of treatments, everybody was recovering.

Now it is the month of Ramadan. We are fasting and enjoying it. Now we stay home as much as possible. We have to be grateful that we are all still breathing and active. Every now and then, I go outside my apartment, and I hear the sound of sirens coming from the ambulances on every corner. But there is still hope. I hope everybody enjoys a happy and healthy life at this moment. Stay safe and be strong in this crisis.

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