by Maria Thomas & Anna Woods, Managing Editor & Editor-in-Chief
Manhattan College students and faculty welcomed author Suzanne Cope, Ph.D. on Wednesday, Nov. 3 as a part of the Major Author Reading Series (MARS). The event was hosted at 8 p.m. in Hayden 100, where Cope read excerpts from her upcoming book, entitled Power Hungry: Women of the Black Panther Party and Freedom Summer and Their Fight to Feed a Movement.
This work of historical nonfiction documents the stories of two women, Aylene Quin and Cleo Silvers, who individually used food to further ignite missions of civil rights and social justice. The book’s synopsis notes that, “these two women’s tales, separated by a handful of years, tell the same story: how food was used by women as a potent and necessary ideological tool in both the rural south and urban north to create lasting social and political change.”
Cope was once an English professor at MC, but now teaches at NYU. She and English professor Dominika Wrozynski, Ph.D., who plays a large role in organizing MARS events, both began teaching at MC in 2013.
“I wanted Cope to have a platform to share this newest book, as well as her long and fascinating research process, with Manhattan College students and faculty,” said Wrozynski.
MARS events have been going on at Manhattan College since 2011, featuring writers from a variety of genres, which is valuable for Jaspers of all majors and disciplines.
“MARS events expose students to professional writers and give them access to these writers that they might not normally have. Students can hear a reading, ask questions, and interact with high profile writers who might normally appear in venues where audience members have to buy tickets — like at the 92nd Street Y,” said Wrozynski.
In the prologue of Power Hungry, which Cope read aloud, she notes how she partly wrote this book for “well-meaning white or middle-class folks” who lacked knowledge, but also for the network of people who shared their stories with her.
“And for this audience, I do hope to do their stories justice. My goal is to help share their message more broadly, honor their work and ideas in ways that haven’t reached a larger audience, and also add a layer of understanding that connects these two narratives as complementary and building on each other in a way that has not been told widely before,” said Cope.
One member of the audience, MC music professor Mark Pottinger, Ph.D., appreciated Cope’s goal of bringing light to these women’s stories, as well as her attempt to reframe the false misconceptions that were circulated in the media regarding the Black Panther Party.
“This is not the Black Panther Party that was maligned in the news of the time as gun-wielding vigilantes terrorizing neighborhoods, but a group of concerned individuals who saw that the children of their community were going to school hungry. The fact that the government wanted to shut that down rather than see the problem that the Panther Party was solving reveals the power of food and its ability to subvert poverty, degradation, and oppression,” said Pottinger.
During the Q&A section of the event, Pottinger asked an insightful question regarding race, related to the fact that Suzanne Cope is a white author telling the stories of two Black women, as mentioned in the prologue.
“As the Black Panther Party was a group that fought against the ‘white framing’ of Black lives in America, in my question, I was curious to know how the author navigated the racial space of the topic. The author admitted that it was not easy to gain the trust from her interviewees for the book as they all wanted to know why a white woman from Brooklyn would be interested in their story,” Pottinger said.
In her answer, Cope addressed her own race, as well as the possible biases she might have had in writing this book. She also reiterated that in writing this book, she was largely attempting to amplify the voices and stories of Cleo and Aylene, rather than amplify her own voice.
“Suzanne’s interactions with student and faculty questions were excellent. She was open and honest about the research struggles and triumphs she experienced while writing Power Hungry,” said Wrozynski.
There will be another MARS event on Friday, Nov. 19, where author Mark Doty will be reading.