Dee Dee Bridgewater has been at this for a while. The jazz singer (and U.N. ambassador) has been performing in New York since 1970, and now she’s got Grammy awards to show for it. But it’s her ability to interpret the flavor of her surroundings that makes this saucy Tennessee songstress really feel like our own, and her collaborations with the great musicians of our time — like Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Dexter Gordon, among many others — make her the perfect headliner for the 2014 Benefit Concert for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem tonight. Bridgewater performs alongside rising star and director-at-large Jonathan Batiste. Lisa Staiano-Coico, president of City College, and pianist McCoy Tyner are honored at this year’s awards ceremony. At Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.

Mon., June 9, 7:30 p.m., 2014



“I don’t want to write any story that I think can be written,” author Nathan Englander recently told Granta magazine. “The challenge and fun of writing stories is engaging with something that seems impossible to execute, so that even I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” So how did the stories of his new collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, turn out? Hear for yourself tonight at Hunter College’s MFA Faculty Reading, a celebration of new work from the school’s talented teaching staff. The evening also includes Peter Carey, reading from The Chemistry of Tears (not yet published in the U.S.); Kathryn Harrison, reading from the soon-to-be-published Enchantments; and poet Tom Sleigh, reading from Army Cats, which was recently excerpted in The New Yorker.

Mon., April 23, 6:30 p.m., 2012



Reading for the first time in New York since 2006, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, Nobel laureate of 1995, might well pack the 2,000-seat Assembly Hall at Hunter College, making this one of the biggest poetry readings in the city this year. Heaney, a longtime friend of the late poet Ted Hughes, has spent nearly 50 years writing about the small details of everyday life (specifically, his birthplace of rural County Derry) and, unavoidably, Ireland’s deep religious and political divides. Last in town to promote his collection District and Circle, he’ll this time be reading a selection of his best works. Go just to hear his deep Irish brogue—there’s no quicker way to be transported to the Emerald Isle.

Wed., April 21, 6:30 p.m., 2010


Best MFA writing program

If you’re considering an MFA in writing, you either don’t love money or don’t need to worry about it. Those of the latter stripe can cope with Columbia’s $50K price tag. The bargain seekers who can’t leave NYC should gravitate to Hunter College: In addition to a financial-aid package the school describes as “better than free,” at least one student a year gets a free ride, and most get help—often in the form of an apprenticeship with an author or publisher and/or teaching. Playwriting is handled separately by Hunter’s theater department, leaving the writing program free to inaugurate an MFA in memoir writing, one of only a handful in existence. Hunter also sports an accomplished yet diva-free faculty—the chair is Aussie novelist Peter Carey. Translation: The stars won’t be on academic leave or a book tour; you may get to work with them. Bigger names show for their intimate, free reading series: Annie Proulx visited October 4, Robert Pinsky shows up October 25. Grads include Absurdistan author Gary Shteyngart, who got into Columbia, too—as an associate professor.



When Russell Banks’s acclaimed novel Affliction, which later became a hit film, was published in 1989, the Voice called him a writer that “we, as readers and writers, can actually learn from, whose books help and urge us to change.” Nearly 20 years later, the talented Banks—who will discuss his craft tonight as a part of Hunter College’s Distinguished Writers Series—is still inspiring audiences with his gripping portraits of American life. His 2004 book, The Darling, about a former member of the Weather Underground, is currently being turned into a movie, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Cate Blanchett. At this event, Banks will read from his latest book, The Reserve, a romantic drama set at the height of the Great Depression.

Thu., April 17, 7:30 p.m., 2008


‘Mass Naked Happening’

February 1, 1968

I have seen the future—and it doesn’t work.


“Those things never start on time,” I was informed.

So I showed up about 10.40 just as the first young man slipped off this shirt and pants. Within seconds half a dozen young men joined him, all body-painted, all well-lit by the over-lapping flash of photographer’s bulbs.

On a stage at the far end of the gym, the Group Image was performing against a huge backdrop of multiple-projections. It isn’t accurate to say they play extremely loudly—like many groups, they don’t seem to make sound at all, but to have entered another sensory dimension altogether. Movies were projected on several screens hung from the ceiling, moving lights dappled the walls, and from time to time strips of paper were thrown from the balcony. Two or three hundred hippies—the term is still valid in certain environments—were dancing in various stages of consciousness.

And in a kind of pen at the entrance-end of the gym, about the size of a boxing ring, with fluorescent posts at the corners and a C-movie projected on a screen at the back, the naked dancing continued—now 10 or 12 young men, and a few on the main dance floor itself.

“Put your clothes on,” the owner of the Gymnasium vainly implored, but suddenly, in a heterosexual followup to last week’s naked happening at the Palm Gardens, a fleshy blonde girl stroke naked into the pen, and the crowd, merely curious up to this point, clustered quickly around the area. The girl danced for a few minutes, then disappeared as quickly as she’d come—into clothes and into newsprint.

A little later, another girl lay down in a corner of the pen and casually smoked a dubious cigarette as her boy-friend gently lifted her skirt and deftly painted—but not so deftly that it didn’t tickle—what John Cleland referred to as “nether lips.” Eastman-Kodak stock must have jumped at least a point, and a Time reporter, more indignant than curious, asked “is this what’s going on in New York?”

For the next hour or so the over-30 reporters and photographers waited around, Marty-like, for more what used to be called “action.” But finally Kusama admitted that that was pretty much it for the evening, and she seemed as disappointed as anyone.

Actually, I’d very much wanted to like it. On the way up to the subway, I vowed not to use the banal and obvious jokes like telling boys from girls who having it up the here with nudity. After all, everyone had said that the Ann Halprin dance concert at Hunter College last year was exhilarating and liberating, many people in our time regard utopia as a sexual rather than a social ideal, and we have been told that the younger generation is finally overthrowing 2500 years of Platonic idealism in favor of tactility. This was to be a glimpse of the unrepressed future. Animal vitality and acceptance would sweep the world. Que viva body mysticism!

But how sad and depressing it was. The utopian fantasies, collapsed, and somewhere in between the titillated media and the post-civilization on 71st Street lay hopes that this was not to be the way of all flesh.

For the most disturbing thing about the evening was its complete sense of unreality. At first I thought they might be laughing at how serious everyone was getting about such a trivial thing—wow, we just take off our clothes and people write articles about the “glimpses of the unrepressed future.” But they weren’t putting us on, they weren’t even there. It was very much like one of those press conferences at which a public figure makes statements for television cameramen. The cameramen are bored, the public figure is just putting on his act for the cameras—the “reality” of the event, its essence, when it actually “happens,” is when the film is shown on television six or eight hours later.

Similarly, the reality of the “mass naked happening” seemed to lie in the media, in the pictures, in the gesture—which meant nothing except insofar as it was reported. I felt at first that it would be unfair to comment as a voyeur, that one would have to swing with it in order to understand it (another Voice reporter arrested), but the only reality of the situation WAS voyeurism. We had achieved a situation in which the voyeur was more real than what he observed.

For the scene—or at least this one example of it, which we can only hope is an exception—seemed like nothing so much as those futuristic movies (some of which were projected on the screens) full of pale, emotionless zombies. The participants were obviously in a state of ecstasy—but it seemed such a solipsistic, masturbatory ecstasy that the pleasure-principle itself may need re-definition. What a sad and lonely and disembodied ecstasy.

When telegrams announce the arrival of the Noble Savage, tactility has become the final abstraction.


A New Voting Age for Women: 26

Even shopping at an Urban Outfitters, a retail chain that caused a small scandal this year when it created a T-shirt with the phrase “Voting is for Old People,” 25-year-old Hunter College student Judy Denby hardly fits the mold of the sheltered and indifferent slacker. To earn money for tuition, she spent two years in Kosovo, working in the U.S. Army’s payroll department. She says being in the military was “not a good experience,” and she strongly believes high-ranking officials have abused their power in Iraq.

But Denby has other strong beliefs. “I’m not voting,” she says. “It’s out of our hands. There’s nothing we can do.”

Women like Denby help to account for the 62 percent of females between the ages of 18 and 25 who didn’t show up for the last presidential election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “There is a huge number of women who are on the sidelines of democracy, and young women are on the top of those bleachers,” says Page Gardner, project co-director of the nonpartisan Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote.

Historically, younger women of all races and classes have been less likely to vote than their older counterparts, but they have at least edged out their male peers. Then a study funded in 2002 by the Pew Charitable Trust for People and Press painted a gloomier picture. It showed that only 22 percent of 20- to 25-year-old women vote regularly, versus 28 percent of men in that age group. Could it be that young women are giving up on the game?

Reasons abound for why young women don’t vote. They’re alienated from the political process. Politicians don’t connect with them personally. College life disengages them from the real world. “They are concerned,” says Brandon Holley, editor of Elle Girl, “but they’re uprooted, disorganized. Things don’t occur to them until the last minute.”

Many young women report feeling too uninformed on current events to be confident about voting. Despite her military experience, Denby doesn’t watch the news and says she doesn’t know enough. “Maybe it is ignorance, but I think there’s no difference between the two candidates,” she says.

Taylor Mitchell, 21, is working on a magazine article in which she interviewed young women from all walks of life about their opinions on the upcoming election. “I was disappointed, because anytime a girl was with someone else, they were weak with their responses, especially when they were with guys,” she says. “They would hesitate and ask their boyfriends, ‘What do I think?’ ”

This year, activists on both sides hope to spark a surge in turnout by young female voters. Working with the Dixie Chicks, Rock the Vote has launched “Chicks Rock, Chicks Vote,” a campaign that’s sending volunteers to malls, concerts, and college campuses to teach young women about voting. Bands like Sleater-Kinney, a feminist rock band, are joining with Music for America to sign voters up at their concerts. “Onstage, we sometimes encourage them to vote Bush off,” guitarist Carrie Brownstein says. “But usually we just let them know the registration stands are there. It’s better than being didactic.”

V-Day has begun its own campaign, called V is for Vote: “We have something called ‘Get your Pussy Posses to the Polls.’ Each girl is responsible for bringing friends to the voter polls,” says founder and playwright Eve Ensler.

The concerns of younger women seem to differ from those of older women only with regard to perspective. “For education, young women are concerned about mortgage-sized college debts. For older women, they’re preoccupied with education for their children,” says Christina Desser, co-director of Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote.

Desser says she expects a huge increase in voting by young women, because she’s meeting so many who are registering for the first time. Her optimism is shared by young activists like Molly Kuwachi, 19, who staged a production of The Vagina Monologues at her school and donated the proceeds to a local women’s shelter. “Look, so many of the things we took for granted are in danger, like abortion rights,” says the Connecticut College student. “Look at the March [for Women’s Lives] in Washington. Organizers didn’t think many young women would show up, but out of the million, a third ended up being 18- to 24-year-olds.”

Despite the optimism, it’s all conjecture until November. Says Brownstein, “The older generation is riled up, so I worry that there is some projection. Eighteen-year-olds hardly have urgency about anything, let alone voting, so you never know. But I hope they’re right.”


Sex From Seville, and the Same Old Same Old From Brooklyn

You missed “¡Viva El Flamenco!” uptown at Hunter College? My sympathies. You missed arguably the realest, baddest, sexiest man in dance today—Rafael Campallo from Seville, Spain—and his partner, Asunción “Choni” Pérez, with their clean lines and contours, hands articulated with piscine fluidity, august command of space. You missed effervescent Manuel Lombo, whose dramatic gestures made heart-stopping dances of his songs; and the flavorful guitar work of Tino van der Sman and Juan Campallo. Where were you when Pérez lifted her skirt’s cascading ruffles against her body, the better to display crisp footwork; or when Campallo danced like a man possessed, snatching his jacket and her shawl from the floor and whipping them around his thighs as the music charged on? You really ought to get out more!

Come Ye, by Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, prompts a question for this exceptional, beloved ensemble. With songs by Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, the work revisits well-traveled Evidence territory. Tight, smooth interweaving of West African, contemporary, and social dance moves. Deep-in-the-bone musicality. Heart and spirituality worn on the sleeve. It’s about living in prayer, righteousness, and peace; being your highest self. As expected, Brown’s quicksilver, intelligent crew danced the hell out of it, blessed by video images of a black pantheon—Paul Robeson, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, and many more. Following three other dances steeped in Brown’s aesthetic, Come Ye‘s movement looked too familiar, simply rearranged in different patterns on the stage. As Simone saucily reworked John Lennon, you had to wonder just how Brown’s corresponding good-looking, feel-good groove is supposed to translate into revolution. A revolution in dance? You’ve done that, Ron. What’s next?



• • • art

Before applying brush to canvas or chisel to stone, you might—or might not—need to know what art is in the first place. Along with courses on Native American art, performance art, and 20th-century artists, the New School (229-5600) is taking it back to basics with a course on what art is anyway. The class will discuss how definitions of art, and its role in society, have changed over the course of history, and will look at recent attacks on art funding in the United States.

Collage is one of the most important art forms of the new millennium. Or so says the School of Visual Arts (592-2000), which is devoting a course to the medium this fall. Mosaic, cut paper, mixed-media and photomontage will be covered.

If a less high art is more of interest, Hunter College (650-3850) offers instruction in “basic drawing for graphic communication.” The class, “Cartoon & Caricature,” is taught by Irwin Hasen, creator of Dondi and the Green Lantern. —Kurt Gottschalk

• • • cooking

Every fine wine starts with good dirt. Andrew Harwood (917-838-8591; has had plenty of fertile soil on his hands. He’s made wine in Hungary, France, and California, and now teaches a semiweekly wine appreciation course that emphasizes understanding wine “from the ground up.”

Sharpening your skills through cutting class: This would be an oxymoron anywhere but at the New School (255-4141;, which offers a one-day “Knife Skills Workshop’’ for those interested in chopping, mincing, slicing, boning, carving, and filleting like a TV chef.

Dare to surpass Smuckers, transcend Welch’s, and put Bonne Maman back on the étagère. The Institute of Culinary Education (847-0770) provides “Jams, Jellies and Preserves,” a one-day crash course in preserving berries, apples, and other fruits. Grandma would be proud. —Danial Adkison

• • • dance

“Belly dancing, to me, is a uniquely feminine form of expression—unfathomably deep and powerful, yet playful and joyous at the same time,” says Stella Grey, who teaches the Middle Eastern dance at the New York Open Center and the 92nd Street Y. Contact her for her private classes at a Tribeca loft: 541-5054. Cost: $10-$15 a class.

Mamadou Dahoue, who danced with the National Ballet of Côte d’Ivoire, is from a family of traditional masked dancers, teaches the distinctive leaps and bounds of West African dance with live drummers on Thursdays and Saturdays at the Rod Rodgers Dance Studios on East 4th Street (674-9066). Cost: $12 a class.

Beginners and those with physical challenges are welcome at the New York Contact Jam (Monday nights at the Children’s Aid Society in Greenwich Village; $5 donation) to experience the wild, early-’70s–born communal modern dance form known as contact improvisation. Contact Jim Dowling (718-768-3492) or go to for info on classes and jams. —Anya Kamenetz

• • •

Augusto Boal developed the Theater of the Oppressed to serve political groups in Latin America, helping them to seek solutions through direct action. In this workshop at the Brecht Forum (242-4201;, on September 21 and 22, you can learn the same problem-posing techniques that have been utilized by organizers for decades. Explore the role of power, learn how to transform the spectator into a participant, and find ways to build consensus. Cost: $60-75, sliding scale.

You may not master the art that dare not speak its name, but you can certainly try to get inside the comedy. In the New School’s “Mime and Comedy Workshop” ( on September 28, you’ll start off learning how to slam a hand into a window, or how to trip on a rug, and then graduate into breaking a priceless vase or choking during opera singing. Cost: $80.

The projector is broken, and the needle on your record player just snapped. A roomful of guests and no entertainment. Time for some face-to-face storytelling. At the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies (998-7200;, from September 25 to December 4, you can learn the complex process of incorporating voice, body, and movement and adapt the folklore performance of your ancestors. You’ll be prepared for anything. Cost: $415. —Ariston Anderson

• • • fashion

So you’ve finally found the closet apartment of your dreams. Now the only problem is how to add a few decorations while still being able to maneuver around the 4 x 6 space. Learn the secrets of the pros at NYU’s “Interior Design: Manhattan Style” (, from September 18 to October 9, and master the secrets of lighting, color, storage, and furniture. Recent classes have visited apartments by Jamie Drake and Clodagh. Cost: $235.

You’ve spent 18 years in the PR industry. And yet your closet is full of handmade designs, and your desk crowded with patterns and prints. It’s time to quit your office stint and chase after your natural calling. Start at the Fashion Institute of Technology (, the place to learn the industry. With “Image Consulting” or “Decorative and Wearable Arts,” you’ll be able to make up for lost time.

At the Learning Annex’s “How to Start Your Own Cosmetics Line” ( on Tuesday, September 24, makeup gurus Anthony Gill and Christina Bornstein show you how to capitalize on your homemade pomegranate lipstick and turn it into your own company. They’ll give you the lowdown on their own visualization technique for success, as well as provide advice for every business starter. Cost: $49. —Ariston Anderson

• • • film

For the past week your kitchen has been full of pie tin flying saucers and ketchup blood, and you forced your own mother to hold up the Super-8 camera while you dragged your G.I. Joes across the linoleum floor. There’s a little more to it than that. The New School’s “Independent Filmmaking from A to Z” ( gives you the ins and outs of everything you need to know, from directing to producing, and yes, even how to make a masterpiece with a low budget. Course begins September 18. Cost: $425.

If you’re serious about breaking into the biz, get it all through the Digital Film Academy‘s 14-week course (333-4013). They’re the only school that starts you off writing your own screenplay, which they’ll copyright. Then you’ll move into directing, complete with live talent. On top of that you’ll get 24-7 unlimited lab time and master three editing forms; when your movie’s complete, they’ll teach you Web streaming and DVD authoring.

TV sucks, but you can change that. DV Dojo (477-2299; favors revolutionizing video. Whether you’re ready to dive into a career in digital video, or want to start with night classes, this Lower East Side school has a variety of workshops to fit your schedule, as well as regular screenings. You’ll make several beginning projects in the five-week, full-time course, which begins on September 3 or October 7. Get the lowdown on shooting and editing as well as broadcasting and film festivals in the eight-week evening course, which begins on September 2. —Ariston Anderson

• • • finance

Get started in the sizzling-hot creative bookkeeping field now with “Fundamentals of Accounting” at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (998-7080;, Monday evenings from September 23 to November 25. Tighten your belt, though, ‘cause this prerequisite for more advanced courses costs $655—shredder not included.

The six-hour “One-Day MBA Workshop: Practical Knowledge It Takes Years to Learn in Biz School” at the Learning Annex (; 371-0280)
on August 24 runs $124. Learning good business planning from a CEO who’s made good by. . . teaching folks good business planning sounds. . . good, but the
circularity’s distracting; Dale Carnegie, eat your heart out.

Leave it to Borough of Manhattan Community College (220-8350; to give it to you under budget during these grizzly-market times: “The ABC’s of Investing” has two-day sections for $50—that’s four AOL shares plus change—beginning in October, surveying basic investment outlets plus education and retirement finance. —E. McMurtrie

• • • international study

If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. So why not try Vietnam, South Africa, or Nicaragua? The School for International Training (888-272-7881; specializes in semester-long study-abroad programs like “Revolution, Transformation, and Civil Society in Nicaragua.”

International studies heavyweight Columbia University gives select non-degree students the opportunity to take such courses as “Politics and Society of Pakistan’’ and “Human Rights in Post-Soviet Eurasia’’ through its Continuing Education and Special Programs division. (854-9699;

If you aren’t the type who could spend a semester unravelling the intricacies of Uzbek monetary policy, try the smorgasbord at the 92nd Street Y (415-5500; “Great Decisions 2002,” a foreign affairs colloquium that shifts its focus for each of eight weekly sessions. —Danial Adkison

• • • language

Voulez-vous parler avec moi? At the French Institute/Alliance Française (355-6100;, serious classes at several levels of difficulty and intensity will have you pronouncing the wine list in no time. Registration for the fall term begins September 17. (Cost: $400)

NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (998-7080; offers three-week intensives for $995 in standard Arabic, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish; you study in the classroom and practice on field trips to ethnic neighborhoods. They teach over 25 languages, in a broad range of schedules and formats.

The Lexington School for the Deaf/Center for the Deaf in Queens (718-899-8800; teaches American Sign Language classes, two hours a week, to the general public as well as staff and parents of Lexington students. Register early for the $120 nine-week session. —Anya Kamenetz

• • • music

Picking up where 1970s matchbook covers left off, Hunter College (772-4490) will help you turn your poems into songs. Their lyric-writing course, through the Music Department, promises to help hone your heartfelt verse into commercial product and to help composers learn to work with lyricists.

The New School (229-5600) doesn’t just offer instrument instruction and appreciation courses (Al Jolson, Bob Dylan, and a reggae primer), but will make you an audio engineer as well. A five-course sequence covers the nuts and bolts of engineering, using Pro Tools, producing pop and hip-hop, and an internship.

If a percussion orchestra at your fingertips is what you’re after, tabla master Samir Chatterjee offers classes at Lotus Music & Dance (718-335-3465) in the small Indian drums that can make you sound like you’re hearing a trumpet here, a cat there—the high-speed patterns behind traditional ragas. —Kurt Gottschalk

• • • nature

If you think New York would be the worst place to study botany, than you’ve never been to the New York Botanical Garden. Offering over 750 courses, the garden has been teaching the ways of plants for over 70 years. With “Great Women in the Garden” (September 8, $35) you’ll learn the secrets of the world’s greatest female horticulturists. In “Plants That Changed History” (September 14, $35) you’ll discover how plants have radically altered commerce, medicine, and even stories of love and war. Visit or call 718-817-8747.

The average American uses more than twice the amount of land resources than the average European. Fortunately there is Vermont’s Institute for Social Ecology (802-454-8493;, an independent institution for activists. “Ecological Land Use” explores organic agriculture and permaculture with the goal of creating a self-sustaining community. Don’t let the “free society” fool you, though. The programs carry university-sized fees ($8900 for the fall semester), so look into their financial aid packages.

Strengthen your gardening skills while adding a little color to your neighborhood. Since 1978, GreenThumb (788-8070) has transformed vacant land into community spaces. It is the nation’s largest urban gardening program, with over 650 groups in all five boroughs. GreenThumb provides resources, materials, and seasonal workshops to jump-start groups and individuals. —Ariston Anderson

• • • photo

Somewhere between your old Instamatic and the age of digital was the Poloroid era. The International Center of Photography (857-0001) offers a weekend course in October on the creative use of Polaroid materials. Previous coursework at the center, or a portfolio review, is required.

Is there anything better to catch in a shutter than New York? The city loves to be photographed, and a nine-session course at the New School (229-5600) will use the city as its model, looking for patterns, colors, and shapes in field trips from the river to the parks.

And if New York is the place, the last year has certainly been the time. The School of Visual Arts (592-2000) offers instruction to budding documentarians in “Photography on Assignment: Witness to Our Times.” The class covers researching subjects, building a portfolio, and aspects of working in the publishing world. —Kurt Gottschalk

• • • religion

The Tibetan Studies Program at Professor Robert Thurman’s Tibet House ( offers meditation instruction, courses based on the Dalai Lama’s teachings, and a variety of lectures on dharma East and West. Call the New York Open Center to register at 219-2527. Cost: $20 per session.

Evening classes at the New York Kollel (Hebrew for “community”) at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (674-5300, ext. 272; cover fundamentals—liturgy, history, theology, major Jewish texts in a “transdenominational, pluralistic, egalitarian environment.” Ask about their comprehensive Mechinah program. Cost: $160 for a five-week class.

The international Theosophical Society (753-3835;, founded in New York in 1875, sponsors study of various aspects of the universal “Wisdom Tradition” through their Quest Bookshop (758-5521) in midtown. Discover the fundamental unity of existence, as revealed through various religions and ancient wisdom. —Anya Kamenetz

• • • sports

David Lee Roth recently disclosed a yen for kendo, the sport of Japanese fencing. Intrigued? The New York City Kendo Club (874-6161) holds beginners sessions Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:30 to 8 p.m. If you adopt the Way of the Sword, regular practice is $80 per month—cheaper than Van Halen reunion tix.

Sailing lessons from friends or loved ones can entail plenty o’ cussing. The nonprofit New York City Community Sailing Association (Port Imperial Marina, Weehawken, New Jersey; takes lubbers on gentle three-hour “Introduction to Sailing” jaunts for 30 clams; a $300 “Basic Keelboat” course advances you toward ASA certification. Remember: The icebergs are melting.

World Cup fever’s fine on TV, but your own fifth-grade soccer skills need upgrading. The Field House at Chelsea Piers (336-6500; hosts adult league play for skill levels (like “over 30”) this fall; registration starts August 26, and the season’s $200 per head. —E. McMurtrie

• • •

Looking to receive expertise in a less formal, yet productive environment? Louis Reyes Rivera (, author and co-editor of Bum Rush the Page, gives an all-inclusive workshop at Sistas’ Place in Brooklyn starting September 1. Contributions are accepted in lieu of an enrollment fee!

Do you feel you didn’t get that perfect promotion due to your hang-ups with assertiveness? If so, you don’t need counseling to pinpoint your issuesjust attend Ken Wydro’s “Write Yourself” at the Harlem Institute for Higher Learning (280-1045), starting October 9. Cost: $125

It’s time for a lot of us closet writers to put down the latest Anne Rice book and get to work on our own. Do it at Pace University’s “Introduction to Creative Writing” (346-1244;, starting October 14. This course will utilize exciting methods like visual imagery and aromatics. Students will develop their talent through memoirs, short stories, and journals. Cost: $265.
—Celeste Doaks


A Textbook Case

Most institutions of higher learning offer courses in creative writing—but if you want to hear poetry of the purest sort, find a student who’s been offered stock options by a dotcom business to sell its goods on campus: “I bought all of my books from this year,” sings Hunter College campus rep Nicole Hobot. “I didn’t have to wait in any lines, and I saved money!”

Hobot’s unbridled enthusiasm aside, it was only a matter of time before the e-commerce tide rolled into the lucrative realm of textbook sales. Competing with corporate stores, both physical and virtual, has been an uphill battle for independents for years. But while privately owned general bookstores have been struggling to keep their territory, those that cater to the academy have relinquished their status with barely a murmur.

This is due, in part, to their dependency on the universities that support them. Increasingly, universities are earning extra money by leasing space to corporate chains such as the Follett Education Group, which has stores on 600 campuses. Academics and independent store owners are fearful that this trend forecasts the disappearance of a place that once concentrated on promoting an intellectual atmosphere, not just making an easy buck. But in today’s hooked-up world, any “e-tailer” can plunk down in cyberspace and begin selling wares, and textbooks have recently become a hot item. In response to the latest threat to its bricks-and- mortar members, the National Association of College Stores (NACS) filed a lawsuit against, a leading online textbook retailer, claiming that VarsityBooks advertises textbooks at a 40 percent discount when it really offers only a small percentage of books at 40 percent below what it calls the “suggested price.” Cynthia D’Angelo, a spokesperson for NACS, argues that this promo is misleading and dupes student customers. A spokesperson for VarsityBooks says that the suit has absolutely no merit, and the company has filed a motion to dismiss it.

As cyber pioneers enter the tricky realm of academic politics, plucky sites have come up with a variety of creative ways to attain book lists for courses. For most online stores, the best way to infiltrate a college campus is through the students., a popular online seller, enlists student assistance directly from its pages: “And if your professor hasn’t signed up with the Professor BOOKLIST program, tell them to do it now!”

And then there is the human touch. VarsityBooks employs campus representatives (enticing them with stock options) who try to sell the e-commerce option to profs and kids, with greater subtlety than the site can manage. Hunter representative Hobot attended a VarsityBooks marketing conference in San Diego at company expense. She was urged to pay close attention to school rules concerning advertising on campus. Hobot says that CUNY is fairly lax compared to other places; all she has to do is get her posters stamped by the student government. At the conference, she was also coached on how best to sell her product. Although the 19-year-old education major e-mails and speaks with as many professors as she can, she’s careful not to be a nuisance. “Professors have a big impact,” she explains. “A lot of professors are cool enough to say, ‘OK, I’ll check it out.’ But some, you know, are stuck in their old ways.”

Apparently, many professors at Hunter prefer Shakespeare & Co. to the overpriced Hunter College Bookstore, a Barnes & Noble-owned business. With horror, Hobot recalls having to wait in a Shakespeare & Co. line for an hour “just to get into the store!” For Hobot, no mere physical bookstore can beat the sheer convenience of VarsityBooks.

With no official link to professors, virtual textbook-selling businesses also pursue syllabi from public schools with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA was implemented in 1966 to enforce the release of federal agency records to the public). The majority of all FOIA requests are submitted by corporations, and physical textbook stores have been using this strategy for years. The National Association of College Stores provides a state-by-state list of Freedom of Information laws, known as “sunshine laws,” on its Web site.

Yet taking this route doesn’t always work. Matt Johnson, CEO of, complains that book lists found this way are often incomplete or out of date. He touts a program marketed by BigWords called “b-code,” with which a professor can update a course list and give information such as examination dates directly on BigWords’s site. The professor uses a four-digit code to access his or her specific information, then gives the codes to the students. The students use the code to pull up the professor’s page, which displays all the books the student needs for that particular course.

Programs such as this show how eager Internet businesses are to compete for the collegiate consumer market. Yet online transactions still have several kinks to work out. Shipping and handling charges often negate the money that is ostensibly saved by discounts. Sales tax is usually added as well. But in New York State, if a student walks into a bookstore and shows the salesperson a syllabus, he or she is exempt from paying tax. After considering these factors, most college-store owners agree that they still have an edge while battling Net stores for sales.

Even without fancy codes or the irrepressible Hobot, good indies die hard. The NYU Book Center, one of the few remaining independents, seems to have secured a hold on its particular market. Long before NACS’s lawsuit, NYU quietly began to outsmart the competition with its own Web site in 1997. Unlike BigWords, which has to push to connect with professors, the NYU site gets its information directly from the school’s registrar.

Professors provide the Book Center with a syllabus, and all that remains for the student to do is log on and tell the site who they are. A list of all the books they’ll need that semester will appears. The store also e-mails students to tell them when required out-of-stock books have arrived. Assistant director Phil Christopher rhapsodizes over the system’s efficiency. “The beauty of using the Internet for college campuses is that students and faculty can get us information quickly and find it quickly.”

Still, the lure of a deal is hard to beat—this is what drives shoppers online in the first place. Cliff Simms, owner of Labyrinth Books, an independent serving the Columbia University community, admits that textbook prices are inordinately high, but adds that publishers establish the price. And he’s quick to point out that this isn’t the only unfair financial drain on student wallets. “Tuition prices at universities are also too high.”

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