Orange Is The New Paltz: Miss Rosa Visits New Paltz

Written by Amanda Copkov
Published in the New Paltz Oracle

Having made her great escape from Litchfield Penitentiary, Miss Rosa of “Orange Is the New Black” made a pitstop at SUNY New Paltz.

Actress Barbara Rosenblat, referred to as “the Meryl Streep of audiobooks,” plays the role of Miss Rosa in the critically acclaimed, top-rated Netflix series and came to the College as part of the One Book/One New Paltz (OB/ONP) program. The goals of this program are to foster community, encourage reading and support literacy by making one read accessible to everyone in the community, according to OB/ONP Committee Chair and Webmaster Charlene Martoni.

“The goal is to get people thinking so that they can go forth and make a difference in the world,” she said.

Martoni said she pushed for “Orange Is the New Black” by Piper Kerman to be read among those in the program because of all of the prevalent themes within the book, such as the issues of transgender people and sexual violence in prisons.

“These are issues college students can really make a difference about if they learn about them,” she said.

Martoni said she felt that this novel would be an important read in the community as more of these types of injustices are coming to light in the media.

“It’s important for people to realize that these communities, these institutions, have their own [injustices] going on inside of them,” she said. “The only way that they can be fixed, really, is if people outside of them are aware of them. Because the people inside of these institutions do have rights, but their rights aren’t easy to protect, so they need help from other people.”

During Rosenblat’s Nov. 21 presentation, she held a Q+A session and read an excerpt from “Out of Orange” by Cleary Wolters, the ex-lover of Piper Kerman, whose pseudonym in the “Orange Is the New Black” book is Nora, and who is portrayed in the Netflix series as Alex Vause, played by actress Laura Prepon.

Rosenblat, the narrator for the audiobook version of “Out of Orange” read from “Prologue: Karma,” where Wolters expresses her initial reaction to reading Kerman’s “Orange Is the New Black.”

The author wrote of her first experience watching “Orange Is the New Black” — unbeknownst to her. At first, she admitted, she thought the opening scene of the first episode was a shampoo commercial, nearly ready to turn off the television with her finger on the power button. There was a “soft, tinkling piano” playing in the background and an attractive blonde woman taking a bath, drinking a glass of red wine.

Then all of a sudden — a “loud-sounding alarm interrupted the piano and the haunting sound of a heavy, metal door slamming shut” gave her chills. The camera zooms out of the happy, showering blonde woman to reveal that she is now in prison. In the next scene, the same woman is dressed in an orange jumpsuit and says, “My name is Piper Chapman.”

“And I dropped the remote,” Wolters wrote. She heard “lesbian lover” and “drug smuggling” and instantly caught on to what she was watching — an on-screen adaption of the experience of her ex-lover.

Rosenblat said she was thrilled at the prospect of being in a show that took place in a women’s prison and had initially auditioned for the role as Russian character Red.

She was told she wouldn’t be cast as Red but was instead offered the role as Miss Rosa, a fictional character only found in the “Orange Is the New Black” Netflix series. To her agent she said, “Great, who is she?”

“A prisoner.”

“Oh, what’s she done?”

“We don’t know.”

“Where’s she from?”

“No idea.”

“Okay …”

“And by the way, she’s got cancer. Will you shave your head?” Rosenblat was asked.

Rosenblat said she initially walked away from the role, but decided otherwise days later when the producers of “Orange Is the New Black” employed three-time Emmy award-winning special effects makeup artist Josh Turi, known for his special effects makeup in movies such as “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014), “Men in Black 3” (2012) and “Ted 2” (2015). She kept her hair and endured a three-hour-long makeup process during each day of filming.

She said that the challenge of being cast as Miss Rosa was finding out who the character was, as she did not have much help.

“As an actor, you have to bring your A-game and you try to build something from whole cloth,” she said. “You have to invest what you get with blood, plasma, guts, a soul, an attitude and you have to make a choice and hopefully the director sees that and says, ‘Yeah, we can work with her.’ They like that.”

Rosenblat said she learned a lot about the life of women in prison as she played the role of one.

“The thing to understand is that they are people,” Rosenblat said. “They are mothers. They are sisters. They are daughters. And they have lives.”

Martoni said that the OB/ONP program is a great opportunity for people in the New Paltz community to learn more and empower themselves.

“This program and the books we choose get people inspired,” she said. “We have a very diverse age range, from the elderly to those in high school, and I think that the benefit of being empowered affects them all.”

OB/ONP chooses a book each February. Book suggestions for the upcoming year can be emailed to

One Book/One New Paltz initiative takes on the prison system with this year’s community read “Orange is the New Black”

Written by Sharyn Flanagan
Published in the New Paltz Times

Pictured are some of the members of the One Book/One New Paltz Committee (L-R): Linda Welles, Abby Chance, Darlene Davis, Charlene Martoni, Shelley Sherman, John Giralico, Sue Books and Myra Sorin. This year's book is “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Book clubs are a great way for people to get together to talk about ideas. But usually the clubs are made up of people who are already friends, or at least already know one another, and therefore probably have somewhat similar backgrounds. But what if a book club could encompass an entire community; a diverse range of people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels who could stimulate each other’s ideas through the common ground of a shared reading experience?

That’s the premise behind the “One Book, One City” concept that began in 1998 when Nancy Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book in the Seattle Public Library, initiated a project called, “If All Seattle Read the Same Book.” She obtained funding to bring an author to the area and invited members of the public to read his book and discuss it in a series of free public programs.

Since then, “One Book, One City” projects have been adopted nationwide. People in New Paltz have had the opportunity to participate in One Book/One New Paltz since 2005, when Dr. Gerald Benjamin, director of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, founded a committee to organize the annual project as a way to build community between the college and the greater New Paltz population.

The initiative also promotes reading and literacy, says Charlene Martoni, who recently became chairperson of the One Book/One New Paltz Committee. “It’s really all about bringing people together and getting them talking and getting them thinking, so that we can start a conversation about current ideas going on in the world,” she says. “We present these ideas without any bias on our part, through the book, and through program speakers who offer their own take on the book.”

With minor exception, the programs are free of charge to attend. With 15 offered this year during the week of November 15-22, there are ample opportunities for people to attend one or more of the book discussions, film screenings and presentations that will be offered at different locations throughout the town. “The whole point of having so many programs is to give everybody the opportunity to be a part of the experience,” explains Martoni. “We encourage people from all backgrounds to participate; the more diverse, the better.”

The book selected by the One Book/One New Paltz Committee for this year’s community read is Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, a memoir by Piper Kerman. (It should be noted that the discussions in New Paltz will concentrate on the book by Kerman and not the Netflix TV series that it inspired, which changes names and takes creative license with the facts.)

In her memoir, the author recounts how her decision to help a woman she was romantically involved with led to her indictment years later on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. Despite the fact she’d left that period of her life behind and moved on to graduate from Smith College and live an upright life, Kerman was convicted and spent 13 months in the federal correctional facility in Danbury, Conn. She later wrote Orange is the New Black about that period in her life. Kerman now serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association and frequently speaks to students and judicial groups about prison reform. The One Book/One New Paltz program will use Kerman’s story as a jumping off point to look at issues relating to our nation’s flawed criminal justice system.

The book was selected for the community read because it fits the criteria the committee uses each year in its selection process. The book chosen needs to encompass many different issues that can be talked about in the various programs and has to be relatable to different parts of the population, says Martoni. Suggestions are taken during the first months of each year and after books are read by several members of the committee, a final five are voted on with one selected by spring.

In addition to editing VISITVortex Hudson Valley magazine and doing graduate studies on library and information science, Martoni works at the Sojourner Truth Library on the SUNY New Paltz campus as the evening and weekend circulation supervisor. One of her goals for One Book/One New Paltz, she says, is to increase the student turnout for the programs and the college’s involvement with the project, noting that a student panel discussion will take place in the Student Union Room 62/63 on Monday, November 16 at 2 p.m. — in which SUNY New Paltz students and professor of sociology Alexandra Cox will speak about their work with inmates in educational and advocacy contexts — and an academic panel led by Dr. Gerald Benjamin will follow at the same location at 4:30 p.m.

Benjamin still serves on the One Book/One New Paltz Committee he founded a decade ago.

In addition to chair Charlene Martoni, who also serves as webmaster, the group includes Mick Adams, professor emeritus of mathematics at SUNY New Paltz; Joanna Arkans, New Paltz High School librarian; Gerald Benjamin, committee founder and director of The Benjamin Center at the college; Sue Books, secondary education for SUNY New Paltz; Abby Chance, Barner Books; Mark Colvson, Sojourner Truth Library; Jacqueline Denu, SUNY New Paltz; John Giralico, director of Elting Memorial Library; Robin Jacobowitz, The Benjamin Center; Linda Welles, Elting Memorial Library trustee; and New Paltz residents Darlene Davis, Shaylene Meyers, Shelley Sherman and Myra Sorin.

More information is available at

In the loop

Written by Charlene V. Martoni
Published in The New Paltz Times

For the Ulster County Area Transit (UCAT), SUNY New Paltz students are 7,767 opportunities to gain ridership, and Village of New Paltz residents are an additional 6,000.

Over the past few months, UCAT has focused on encouraging more students to ride its countywide bus system, recognizing that SUNY New Paltz and the surrounding village comprise the second largest population center in the county.

Improvements that have been made in New Paltz so far are expected to work with additional effort.

According to UCAT Director of Transportation Bob Di Bella, Ulster County students used public transportation about 30,000 times in 2012, and about 13,000 of those rides were by SUNY New Paltz students.

Guiding Out of the Darkness

Written by John Tappen
Published in the New Paltz Oracle

Photo from oracle.newpaltz.eduCharlene Martoni’s best friend lost  someone to suicide.

“I saw how one person’s suicide can have an affect on others — a ripple effect,” Martoni said.

For three years, Martoni, a fifth-year journalism and education major, has been the chairperson for the SUNY New Paltz Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention.

Martoni said the walk is an event where people can feel safe speaking about suicide — a subject that continues to be stigmatized.

“No one wants to talk about it,” Martoni said.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, following car accidents and addressing this fact is important because “suicide is preventable,” Martoni said.

During her time coordinating the Out of the Darkness Walk, Martoni said she has met neighbors, classmates and co-workers who are suicide survivors and felt comfortable talking about their experience.

The term “suicide survivor” encompasses anyone who has attempted suicide or has had a close friend or relative attempt or commit suicide, Martoni said.

“The biggest problem is getting people to talk about it,” Maria Idoni, Hudson Valley and Westchester chapter area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said.

Idoni said the goal is to make people comfortable speaking about suicide — much in the same way that in the past it was taboo to talk about drunk driving or child abuse.

The Out of The Darkness Walk will raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Idoni estimates that in its first year, the event amassed $6,000.

Martoni said through working with the area AFSP, she “feels a part of a family,” and each year organizing the walk has gotten easier. Martoni said she’s been able to do more with this walk because of her experience from previous years.

At this year’s walk there will be three musical performances, a raffle and guest speakers from the school and from AFSP, Martoni said.

The walk, which will take place on Saturday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m., will begin on Parker Quad.

Martoni said the walk is “slow-paced and calming” and will culminate in a closing ceremony that involves announcing raffle winners, and a reading of names of lost loved ones given by participants at the beginning of the event.

Biodegradable balloons will be released at the end to honor the victims of suicide, Martoni said.

The Hudson Valley and Westchester chapters of the AFSP will host another Out of the Darkness Walk on Sunday, May 19 at Clarkstown High School North, Idoni said.

New Paltz students reduce stress by practicing yoga

Video by Charlene V. Martoni
Published in The Little Rebellion

This piece is part of a series that examines how SUNY New Paltz students spend their free time.

Yoga is a popular extracurricular activity at the State University of New York at New Paltz.  The Athletic and Wellness Center on campus offers students free weekly yoga classes, and many students also attend meetings of the school’s Yoga Club.  Whether they are beginners or advanced yogis, SUNY New Paltz students cultivate their yoga interests by joining together to exercise.