M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir Student Bios

The M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir  has approximately 50 students currently enrolled, including:



Jor Kane began writing poetry at the age of 11, not coincidentally the same time he began to hatch his plan to escape his fundamentalist Christian upbringing in small-town and rural Iowa. Despite his humble origins, he attended Sarah Lawrence College where he studied music, literature, theater, and how to be the queerest of the queer. He has thoroughly bounced about cities (NYC, Charlottesville, San Francisco, Philadelphia, NYC, New Orleans, NYC again), self-publishing chapbooks, hosting a poetry series, releasing albums, making films, and staging performances as well as a cabaret loosely based on Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. His writing has been featured in Weekday Journal and St. Claire Magazine. In 2015, he collaborated on a film and performance with director J Louise Makary commissioned by Bowerbird GATE for New Works: CINE-ROMAN, a festival of photographic filmmaking in homage to Chris Marker’s La Jetée. In 2020, he finally finished undergrad in a self-designed program of Creative & Critical Writing through the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique & Interdisciplinary Studies at Hunter College working with poet Donna Masini and novelist Michael Thomas and was awarded the Mary M. Fay Award in Poetry, the Virginia Clair Scholarship, the Edith Goldberg Paulson Prize for Creative Writing (Fiction), and the Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship, among others. He lives in Brooklyn.




C. Julian Jiménez (he/him/his) is a Queer, Puerto Rican, and Dominican playwright/actor/director. As a playwright he has garnered various awards including the New Dramatist Residency, 2019/2020 Rita Goldberg Playwrights’ Workshop Fellow at The Lark, 2018 LaGuardia Community College’s LGBTQ History Project Grant, 2015 Queens Arts Council Grant, and 2009 Public Theater Emerging Writers Group. Jiménez’s productions include Man Boobs (Pride Films & Plays, 2011), Nico Was a Fashion Model (Counter-Productions Theatre Company, 2013), Animals Commit Suicide (First Floor Theater, 2015), Locusts Have No King (INTAR, 2016), Alligator Mouth, Tadpole Ass (Theatre Rhinoceros, 2020/TRW Plays), Bundle of Sticks (INTAR, 2020), Julio Ain’t Goin’ Down Like That (INTAR Workshop/TRW Plays), ¡OSO FABULOSO! & The Bear Backs (INTAR, 2021), and Bruise & Thorn (Pipeline Theatre Company). He also holds an M.F.A. in acting from the New School for Drama. Past acting credits include TBA (by Carla Ching), Holiday Movies (directed by Liz Swados), and The Karaoke Show (directed by Diane Paulus). He is a co-producer and co-writer of the hit web series Bulk-The Series and serves as a Tenured Associate Professor of Theatre at Queensborough Community College.




Daniel Horowitz was born and raised in New York City, making extended forays to Boston and New Orleans, only to return to teach and work in his hometown. He holds a degree in Media Arts from Northeastern University, a Master’s in Creative Writing from the New School and is currently a student at the CUNY Graduate Center. In New Orleans and coastal Mississippi he has been conducting a long-term oral history project on the lived experience of climate change. For the last six years he has taught and learned alongside children at forest schools, first in our very own Prospect Park, then at NOLA Nature School in the Couturie Forest in the City of Dreams, egrets, alligators and all, and most recently in community gardens in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Currently, he is working on an oral history project about the Klezmer revival in New York City (incidentally, he plays the clarinet).







Vanessa Botelho (she/her) is a two time Emmy award winning television news journalist based in New York City.  In a career that has spanned nearly three decades, Vanessa has held staff positions with NBC and ABC, among others.  She has Produced and Executive Produced hundreds of hours of live breaking news coverage in New York City, the country’s largest news market, including at WABC-TV, which holds the number one Nielson rated spot in the U.S.  In her current role as Broadcast Journalist in Residence at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, she teaches and creates visual journalism courses, with a focus on television news.  She helps inspire and guide students as they prepare to enter and maneuver the highly competitive world of TV news.  Vanessa is a first year BAM student, learning the craft of long form writing, something she has been wanting to do for as long as she can remember.  She is working on a family memoir that traces its journey from India to New York City and the trials and successes of assimilating into a country vastly different from the one it left behind.







Abby Sumner is a writer and researcher of contemporary art and material culture. She most recently served on the editorial board as chief copywriter for Objective, the design journal for Parsons School of Design in partnership with the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Currently, she is working as a research assistant with Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellow, Helen Koh, on her book about video artist Nam June Paik. She also works as an art and fashion librarian for The New School. Research for her upcoming memoir traverses queer identity, mental health, and nostalgia for collectible porcelain figurines. She can be reached at sumnera@newschool.edu.




Arnold Bloch (arnoldbloch52@gmail.com) is recently enrolled in the M.A. program, after being a non-matriculating student in the BAM program since fall 2020. He is a retired transportation planner (since 2020) living in New York City, where he worked for private industry, government, and academia for over 44 years. He worked on projects as big as the new Mario Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River and efforts to replace Rikers Island jails with smaller, more humane facilities spread throughout the boroughs of New York City, to smaller “complete streets” projects, dealing with pedestrian, bicycle, and transit improvements on city streets.  He loved working with the public on these projects, providing real opportunities for both learning about and participating in the planning process. He also loved writing, something he strives to bring to the field of biography and memoir. Already possessing a Ph.D. (in engineering), he sees the BAM M.A. program as an entrance to a new world of engagement – with fellow writers, experienced faculty, and the world of characters waiting to have their stories told. In 2012, while away from home on business, he took up drawing as a way to avoid endless TV and fast food. For ten years he has drawn and painted abstract versions of his dreams, emotions, and longings.




Aimee Maddalena (she/her) grew up on California’s Central Coast and attended college in San Francisco. She relocated to New York City to attend law school and earn a Master’s degree in English Literature. After practicing law for a number of years, Aimee left her practice to join the BAM program and write full time. She is working on a biography/memoir about three generations of women in her family shaped by the desolate, sometimes violent landscape of the California’s Central Valley. Her work has been published in Orion Magazine. She lives in New York City and Western Massachusetts with her husband, her two children, an elderly Shih Tzu, and a pandemic kitten.






Michael Abolafia is a writer, editor, archivist, and literary historian. He graduated from Columbia University in 2017 with a BA in English; as an undergraduate, he spent time in editorial and publicity roles at New York Review Books, Simon & Schuster’s Scribner imprint, and W. W. Norton & Co. He serves as lead researcher to Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Tom Reiss and as a research assistant to 2020-21 Leon Levy Fellow Francesca Wade. His writings on literary themes have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Daily News, among other outlets. Some of his interests include the cultural history of Manhattan; modernism, little magazines, and literary countercultures; writers’ lives; and studies of lesser-known, non-canonical figures in history. Michael welcomes correspondence at mja2181@columbia.edu.




Lisa Napoli was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from Hampshire College. After decades in journalism (including staff jobs at the NY Times, MSNBC, public radio’s Marketplace), a chance to help start a radio station in the Kingdom of Bhutan led her to the world of long-form writing. Her fourth book, about the “founding mothers” of NPR, will be published this April by Abrams. You can learn about her work at lisanapoli.com





Vincent Cross (www.vincentcross.com)  is a writer, musician, performer and educator. His four full length original albums have garnered critical acclaim with folk music charting success for Old Songs for Modern Folk (2016), A Town Called Normal (2013), and The Life & Times of James “The Rooster” Corcoran (2020). A twice fellow of The Academy for Teachers, his recent historical/biographical album received a New Works Grant from Queens Arts, funded by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. He was awarded the CUNY Dean Merits Scholarship in 2020, and presently teaches and resides in NYC.





Anjelica M. Enaje (she/her) is a second-generation Filipino American, born, raised, and still residing in New York. She graduated from Hunter College in 2015, where she studied Sociology, English/Creative Writing, and Asian American Studies. She hopes that her work as a writer will help to expand the ever-growing, complex body of Filipinx narratives. She joined the M.A. in Biography and Memoir program in Fall 2019. Her current project involves personal essays through the lenses of her intersecting identities. Her website: https://amenaje.com




Keith A. Dames (kdames@gradcenter.cuny.edu) originally from Miami, Florida, earned his H.S. diploma from Miami Jackson Senior High School. Mr. Dames earned an A.A. Degree in Liberal Arts (Music,Theatre & Dance) from Miami Dade Community College North-Campus. He has trained as a Modern Dancer In NYC at the world famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Center on their Certificate Program, and earned a B.F.A in Modern Dance, Choreography & Pedagogy and a M.S.E.D. in Education (Educational Theatre) from the City College of New York. . Currently he  is also the Vocalist/Bandleader of the Jazz & Blues Band “Kat’s in Black Hats” – a quartet rhythm section of piano, bass, guitar & drums.  Mr. Dames considers himself a student of the Billie Holiday School of Music and pays homage to Ms. Holiday annually around her birthday every April 7th. Mr. Dames aspires to write a biography on Ms. Billie Holiday which will be entitled Homage to Eleanora: A Musical Journey Through The Billie Holiday Songbook.




Walker Simon (walker.simon@gmail.com) comes to the Graduate Center after a 35-year career as a journalist with the Reuters news agency, for which he reported from 19 countries, most of them in Latin America and the Caribbean. He was raised in Mexico.  Recently, he won prizes for his documentary film “Antonio Norales: Garifuna Guardian,” and he produces a bilingual television program on Latin American art in New York. He co-authored a chapter on Central Americans for the book “Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition,” published by the Notre Dame University Press. His biography project is on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their relation to Judaism and the circle of their close Jewish friends, for which he has already tapped numerous archives in the United States, Mexico and Germany  and consulted hundreds of books and articles. He has found the GC a stimulating environment, with many useful research workshops and input from other departments, like that of the Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures doctoral program in whose peer-reviewed journal he published a piece on Kahlo. He also attends their Mexican Studies Group discussions.





Timothy Ledwith has been a full-time writer and editor for many years, including two decades in multimedia communications at United Nations agencies in New York and Rome. He has also independently published personal essays, articles and reviews online, many of which deal with family history and Irish-American social and political perspectives. He is currently developing a virtual exhibition to showcase the mostly unknown work of a prolific visual artist from Staten Island whose life and career were cut short by AIDS in the late 1980s. Tim has a B.A. in Labor Studies from SUNY Empire State College and a graduate certificate in creative non-fiction from The Writers Institute at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Contact: tledwith@gradcenter.cuny.edu



Iliana Emilia Garcia (igarcia1@gradcenter.cuny.edu)  received her AAS from Altos de Chavon/The School of Design, affiliated with Parsons the New School of Design, in her native Dominican Republic in 1989, and later received her BFA in Communication Design from Parsons The New School of Design in 1991, after being awarded the Ruth Vanderpool Parsons Institutional Scholarship for Portfolio Excellence. iliana emilia garcia works in big format drawings on canvas and paper, escalating installations, printmaking and digital photos on canvas depicting her most iconic symbol: the chair. The base of her work is the emotional history of everyday things. It’s not about the geographical or physical history, but about the value we give to what we keep from the landscapes we come from; and that we unconsciously keep with us through crossroads. The symbols that seem to breed from the memory of our heritage are her personal instruments related to tradition and visual history.
Her work has been writing about in numerous art publications and catalogues, and exhibited at Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC; BRIC, Brooklyn, NY; Exit Art, NY; No Longer Empty at Sugar Hill, NY; The Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; El Museo del Barrio, NY; Aljira Center of Contemporary Art, Newark, NJ;; Howard Scott Gallery, NY; NOMAA, NY; Joan Guaita, Spain; the 3rd Triennial Poli-Grafica, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Barnard College, NY; Belgium and many other venues. Her work is part of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art collection, El Museo del Barrio’s collection, the Museo de Arte Moderno of Dominican Republic and several private collections.
She is also a founding member of the Dominican York Proyecto Grafica (DYPG), a printmaking collective
Garcia currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.


Originally from Amherst, Massachusetts, Chava Pearl Lansky (clansky@gradcenter.cuny.edu) graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College with a B.A. in Dance and English. Following a fellowship in the Music Division of the Library of Congress, Chava spent over three years as an editor at Pointe Magazine. She has also written on dance for publications including Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, Musical America, Playbill, and Tablet. Currently based in New York City, Chava is a contributing editor and writer for Dance Magazine and works as an essay writing instructor at Writopia Lab.

Chava joined the CUNY Graduate Center’s Biography and Memoir M.A. program in the fall of 2020 and was the recipient of a 2020-2021 research assistantship through the Leon Levy Center for Biography. She is now working on a collection of personal essays centered around the themes of chronic illness, dance, inherited trauma, beauty, and control.




HI! My name is “Cleo” Carol Knopf. I am an aerialist/ dancer/ singer/ seeker/ scholar and am very happy to be in BAM. I love to be immersed in the study of how history is shaped and reflected by the lives of human beings. I affirm that each of us is not a passive actor randomly appearing on the stage of history limited by the roles given us, but a mover and creator of history. Perhaps there is some reason why each of us comes to live in our respective era. Perhaps we are born because we are needed here. Perhaps we cannot but be part of every breeze that blows and every cry of life with which we sound in unison on our planet.






Sarah Goodyear is a career journalist whose work has appeared in CityLab, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, Ms. Magazine, Psychology Today, and many other venues. She is the cofounder and cohost of The War on Cars, a podcast that looks at the effects of automobile dependence on our society. She is also the author of a novel, View from a Burning Bridge, published by Red Hen Press. She lives in Brooklyn.






Elise Ahrens is a Brooklyn based filmmaker. She got her start in broadcast news after relocating to New York from undergrad at Emerson College. Her work in post production includes editing stories from the near and distant past. As an assistant and junior editor she’s worked on shows including Good Morning America, Headliners, and Netflix’s The Pharmacist. She is interested in exploring mediums to tell human stories that focus on the individual within systemic social injustice. Elise is currently balancing studying and writing with several feature films in development.





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