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Jersey City Memoirist Stapinski Guest Lectures for Fordham Students

by Liz Bowen, Editor-in-Chief

“One of the first things I ask when I meet people, I always ask them where they’re from,” author Helene Stapinski said to a full classroom of students on Tues., April 27. “Where you’re from just totally makes who you are.”

Though she often has to ask other people about their origins, there’s no guessing where Stapinski comes from. Best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Five Finger Discount, which doubles as a history lesson on her hometown, the warmly snarky writer is unabashedly a product of her childhood in Jersey City, N.J. As a result, she appeared as a guest lecturer for the “Religion and the American Self” class at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, taught by James Fisher, co-director of American Catholic studies. Stapinski’s memoir had been assigned reading for the class prior to her visit.

“I get people coming up to me, saying, ‘My uncle was a bookie, too!’” Stapinski said of readers’ reactions to Five Finger Discount. The book details her experiences as a child growing up in a family that was involved in the city’s corruption, particularly when it came to gambling. According to the author, her decision to write about her place of origin prompted numerous phone calls from other New York and New Jersey locals, asking for her help in writing their own similar memoirs.

During the Fall 2010 semester, select Fordham students will have a chance to seek exactly that kind of counsel from Stapinski in her master class, “Writing About Place.” Open to five graduate students and five undergraduate students, the class will focus specifically on creative nonfiction centered around place—particularly New York City. Undergraduates interested in taking the master class must submit a six-page writing sample to Stapinski by April 30. Guidelines for the application can be found here.

Stapinski welcomed all students to apply for her class after stressing the importance of place throughout her lecture. “It’s so important,” she said, “because if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you can’t get where you need to go.”

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