Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work


"I think I can, I think I can," said the little engine.
Who inspires you to do your thing?

For me, the characters change as the path meanders.  Right now, sitting at my dining room table in Galicia and punching out this dissertation project that seems to have no end, I've got three:

1)  The Little Engine That Could:  This book floated around my grandparents' house for years.  Old and dusty, dissolving at the edges.  A simple seed was planted into my little brain that took root. Positive thinking, reconstructed narratives, decades of psychological mumbo-jumbo all complicating what this 1930 children's book sets forth so effortlessly.
2)  The Negro Streetcorner Men:  Over this last week, I finally read Elliot Liebow's classic 1967 study of Black men in Washington DC: Tally's Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men.  This book, which had a huge impact on US social policy, was Liebow's PhD dissertation.  There's a bar set high. His work argued that it is the lack of opportunity in society, not a "culture of poverty," that keeps low-income men from steady employment and social relationships.  Liebow was the son of Eastern European Jews, who grew up in the nation's capital.  His father ran a small grocery in an African-American neighborhood and the family lived on top of the store.  His book concludes with these words:  "In searching for guidelines to help us shape our responses, we would do well to keep in mind W.H. Auden's admonition to twentieth century man:  We must love one another or die.  Perhaps this is too much to ask of ourselves and others.  Perhaps it will be enough if we just act as if we do."  Perhaps indeed.
3)  My Dad:  After a lifetime of athletics, my father had to have his hip replaced and a complication in the surgery has extended his recovery from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.  Everyday this month, he's got to do a series of tedious activities in order to heal properly.  Every day closer than the last.

My Dad, Eliot and that little blue engine, all creeping up the mountain.  We'll get there!  Life has it's way. That's what Christine says.