This past week, Sonia Sanchez was in residence at Penn State. The high point of the week was Wednesday night's concert performance, which opened with a series of recitations by PSU students. Then Ronnie Burrage's group took the stage. During their first number, the stage nearly took them. A large flat fell on the empty chair that was waiting for Sanchez to sit in it. As it went over, it snagged a light tower, and the next thing we knew a large set of speakers was leaning precariously towards the audience as well. Thanks to attentive and fleet-footed audience members, no equipment was lost. Seeing students and members of the community straining to hold up the leaning tower of lights, I did think of the Iwo Jima memorial, and I did think of Sisyphus, but mostly I thought it was a good thing they were so nimble. Everything was returned to order (though the flat was retired for the night out of concern for Sanchez's safety). Through it all, the band never missed a beat. After the first selection, Sonia Sanchez joined the musicians and dancers on stage to read her poetry, accompanied by new arrangements of music Burrage had created just for the occasion. The band that Burrage assembled for the night included Rasul Siddik, who had come all the way from Paris, and Rene Mclean, carrying on the tradition of his father, Jackie.
The rest of the week saw Sanchez in a whirl of class visits, lectures and readings. She went to the recently reopened Webster's Book Store for a poetry reading. Friday she sat with grad students and faculty from English and Philosophy to share part of her life story and think out loud about how she wrote such works as Does Your House Have Lions. (The title is a question Rahsaan Roland Kirk asked her when she told him she'd bought a house.) She gave a final lecture last night. I was asked to walk the band members over to the hotel for dinner afterwards, and several of them paused to take the obligatory photos of themselves with the Nittany Lion. Nothing quite like seeing a sax player from Saint Louis mounting and riding the Nittany Lion --but then, in all these years the lion has yet to eat any visitors.