By Jack Byrne
Sitting on the edge of a table in front of his class, Ennis Addison leads yet another engaging conversation. This time the topic is the Spanish realist novel “La Tribuna,” and the impact of authorial prejudice. Addison’s opinion is that the author’s bias is exposed in the text’s depictions of people from the country. One student disagrees and feels that the author is just trying to accurately portray the opinions of people from the city regarding those of the country. The discussion is lively, but they run out of time. Class is over.
This is far from a one-off occurrence for Addison’s Introduction to the Novel class. Often, the vibrant in-class discussions require more time than the hour and 40 minutes allotted; it’s not uncommon for them to bleed into the ensuing class. Freshman playwriting and screenwriting major Kisa Torres, a student in Addison’s Introduction to the Novel class, appreciates these conversations. “I enjoy the conversations that we have in class because they feel lively.”
The engaging in-class discussions are far from the class’s only draw. The diverse reading material is something that manages to impress many students as well.
“So far I’ve liked most of the stuff that we’ve read,” Torres said. “For the most part, they’re definitely interesting. We read one of my favorite novels, 'Don Quixote.'”
Addison works hard to vary the texts he assigns both in terms of country and race. Most of the work that students read in his classes come from outside the English-speaking world, and for many that’s a breath of fresh air.
“This is a really exciting opportunity for us to have somebody teach that class in a very different way,” said Aviva Taubenfeld, the director of the School of Humanities. “It’s helpful for students, but it’s also helpful for the rest of the faculty. They can see how we can cover the same questions about form and function, and social issues around the novel, in a really different way with different material. To have a model like this is really helpful to shake things up for us.”
Associate Professor of Literature Mariel Rodney is of a similar opinion. “One of the things that the literature department really needed was a representation of voices from different regional and linguistic backgrounds. That I think is a rich opportunity that we hadn’t had before in the literature department.”
Rodney emphasized the positive impact of this on the students. “Just to be able to have someone who teaches literature from the perspective of dual or multiple languages is important, but also because it speaks to many of our student constituents,” she said. “We have so many groups and bodies of students who are not only English-speaking, but who are multilingual and have multilingual families. So, I think just in terms of bringing that and representing that, that’s really important.”
Addison is particularly successful in exposing students to the world of Spanish-language literature. As someone who specializes in Spanish-language literature, he is in a unique position to do so. The journey he took in discovering this passion began in childhood.
“I’m African American and Italian American. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was really raised by my mother and her family, who are Italian American,” he said. “I grew up in the capital city of Connecticut, Hartford. In Hartford, there’s a large Puerto Rican population, and I think that a lot of people thought based on the way that I look that I was Puerto Rican or Spanish-speaking. People would speak to me in Spanish all the time, and in many ways, I was adopted by that community. That’s what initially piqued my curiosity for Spanish.”
As a young adult, Addison put this curiosity to good use. “I did social-economic development volunteer work right after high school, which took me to Venezuela. I was there for a year, and I didn’t really speak the language before I got there. But I ended up learning it while I was there. I was pretty fluent, not totally fluent,” he said. “I entered college when I came back, and I didn’t want to give up what I had just learned. I came back and I started taking courses, but I was pretty advanced. By sophomore year, I was done taking language. I had maxed out. Once I was done with advanced language, if I wanted to continue, I had to go into literature. And then I had a couple of amazing literature professors who really changed my relationship with the subject.”
Addison’s love of Spanish-language literature grew out of his experiences with the Spanish-speaking world, and since his undergraduate studies he has gone on to expand upon those experiences.
“I did a study abroad during college in Mexico, I did a study-abroad during my master’s in Spain, and then over the last 20 years I’ve been traveling to Cuba. I’ve traveled to the Dominican Republic, and I’ve been to Argentina as well.”
Addison uses these experiences to better connect with students who may be able to relate to them.
“For Purchase specifically, when we think about the surrounding communities around Westchester, having someone who can contribute to our Global Black Studies Program and out Latinx and Caribbean Studies Program is also equally important,” said Rodney. “I think that that’s something that Professor Addison does seamlessly. They’re literature classes, but they also contribute to these other intellectual programs that we have on campus that actually do work with the community.”
Even though Professor Addison’s positive influence on the Purchase College community is quickly receiving acknowledgement, he is only a part-time faculty member. There are many who wish to see him come on full-time.
Taubenfeld is one of them. “So, he is a part-time faculty member, but it would be great to keep him.”
No matter what happens, his impact in class will continue to be felt for however long he remains at Purchase College. Torres said, “He’s definitely very passionate, and I appreciate how he’s always looking to hear a new voice.”