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Rutgers–Newark Speaker Series Celebrates the Power of Stories

February 23, 2018
Patreese Johnson

Patreese Johnson, who was born and raised in Newark, was incarcerated after fighting off a street harasser. Since her release, she has toured nationally as a social justice activist.

Mageline Litte

Mageline Little moved to Newark from Durham, North Carolina, in 1958. She worked as a librarian in the Newark Public School System for over 30 years. Photo: Bill May.

Sam Alden

Cartoonist Sam Alden has worked as a writer and storyboarder for popular series including Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.

A forthcoming speaker series at Rutgers University–Newark’s John Cotton Dana Library will celebrate the power of stories to help shape our sense of shared humanity.

Voices of Newark: Oral Histories and Cultural Heritage
March 28, 2018 | 6–7:30 p.m.
Dana Room, John Cotton Dana Library

The Comics of Sam Alden
April 25, 2018 | 6–7:30 p.m.
Dana Room, John Cotton Dana Library

The first event, slated for March 7, will welcome Newarkers Patreese Johnson and Mageline Little to the library to discuss their contributions to the university’s Queer Newark and Krueger-Scott oral history collections, respectively.

Johnson, a femme-identified poet who was born and raised in Newark, was incarcerated after fighting off a man who attacked her and her friends on the streets of Greenwich Village (a story recounted in the award-winning documentary Out in the Night). Since her release, Johnson has toured nationally as a social justice activist.

“I want to do everything to help out my community, help out my family, and to better my own self and my friends,” she said in her Queer Newark interview.

Little, who moved to Newark from Durham, North Carolina, in 1958, worked as a librarian in the Newark Public School District for over 30 years. She also served as interview coordinator for the Krueger-Scott African American Oral History Project and contributed an interview herself, talking about her experience of race relations both in the North and the South.

“When I experienced racism in New Jersey, I was totally shocked,” Little told the interviewer. “It hurt a little more than it did in the South.”

To digital humanities librarian Krista White, oral histories such as Johnson’s and Little’s are particularly valuable in a society where interpersonal communication is increasingly mediated by technology.

“In the digital age, it’s important to make a human connection,” said White, who is the principal investigator for Digital Scholarship as 21st-Century Pedagogy (DS21P), an undergraduate course suite to which the speaker series is tied thematically. “Internet trolling and harassment are serious issues, both linked to the sense of anonymity that everyone feels when interacting with others online. It’s helpful to remind students and the public in general that these are real people sharing their stories.”

On April 25, Sam Alden will visit the library to discuss his career as a cartoonist, including his work as a writer and storyboarder on the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time and Summer Camp Island.

“Like oral histories, comics allow us to tell deeply personal stories in a way that is easily accessible to others,” said Patricia Akhimie, assistant professor in the Department of English at the Newark College of Arts and Sciences. Akhimie has partnered with White on a DS21P course that asks students to explore themes from a Queer Newark or Krueger-Scott oral history using comics.

“Ultimately, it’s about trying to find commonalities with someone whose experience differs, sometimes greatly, from your own,” she said.