M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir Student Bios

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

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.


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) (aenaje@gradcenter.cuny.edu) is a second-generation Filipina American with Bikol roots, born, raised, and still residing in New York. She joined the M.A. in Biography and Memoir program in Fall 2019, with a focus on memoir writing with some academic research. Her thesis project is a memoir/literary criticism and analysis of the Maria Clara archetype, drawing from Jose Rizal’s 1887 novel, Noli Me Tangere.
Ms. Enaje graduated from CUNY Hunter College in 2015, where she studied Sociology, English/Creative Writing, and Asian American Studies. She hopes that her work will help to expand the ever-growing, complex body of Filipinx narratives. 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.




Jennifer Skoog (jskoog@gradcenter.cuny.edu) is a Harlem-based writer who hails from a farm in Minnesota. She is the youngest of nine and an aunt to more than sixty-five people. After she moved to New York City, Jenny became a “bride to baby” personal trainer and got her own TV show that earned her an Emmy nod. She studied Writing and Black Studies at City College and got published in The Promethean. She is currently working on a memoir at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Biography & Memoir program about the trauma of leaving her childhood religious sect.



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 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 three and a half years as an editor at Pointe Magazine. She has also written on dance for publications including Tablet, Playbill, Dance Teacher Magazine, and Musical America, and is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine. Chava joined the Biography and Memoir program in the fall of 2020 with a focus on biographical writing, studying the lives of mid-twentieth century American ballet and modern dancers. Chava is also the recipient of a 2020-2021 Research Assistantship through the Leon Levy Center for Biography.





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.




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




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