Saturday, April 26, 2008


Let Freedom Ring
Art and Democracy in the King Years, 1954-1968

April 16, 2008

The second day of the Georgetown/Lannan Foundation Symposium started off with a morning panel on "Scholarly Assessments." I don't have any photos of this one, as I was sitting on the panel and thought it might be rude to jump out in front of the table every few minutes to take pictures of my colleagues. If I later get any photos of our panel from the other photographers in the room, maybe I can post them after the fact. This session brought me together with friends and colleagues stretching back to my first teaching days at Howard University: Joanne Gabbin, Sandra Shannon, Valerie Smith, Eleanor Traylor and Michael Thelwell. We were moderated, to the extent that folks like us are susceptible to moderation, by Jabari Asim, who I'd read in the WASHINGTON POST but had never before met. The good Dr. Gabbin started us off with reflections on poetry and wrapped up with Nina Simone's moving performance from the night she learned of Dr. King's death. My own talk went back to Vincent Harding's reflections the night before, looking at Movement Music and the central role of such musicians as Len Chandler. (You can hear the opening moments of my contribution by clicking at the top of this blog entry. Be forgiving; I didn't run the recording through the Soundforge "Um" remover.) I was most pleased by the audience questions after our initial forays, which gave us an opportunity to widen the discussion to such visual artists as Sam Gilliam.

The panel after our lunch break break assembled many of the poets and artists who were there to perform in the evening readings: Sonia Sanchez, E. Ethelbert Miller, Amiri Baraka, Barbara Teer, and Haki Madhabuti, chaired and hosted by Professor Sonyica Diggs, herself a recent graduate of the Georgetown PhD program and an able representative of the good work being done there.

Then we all made our way over to a beautiful new theater on the campus, where Baraka delivered the annual Lacay Plenary Lecture, on "Art as a Form of Politics," introduced by Ammiel Alcalay. If you've ever spent time around Baraka, you know there are few moments when he isn't writing, doodling or both. His lecture was read fresh from a packed memo pad. (Amiri joked [I THINK it was a joke] that he was looking for somebody to donate a laptop.) The set for that evening's play ("STUFF HAPPENS" by David Hare) made a stunninng backdrop for Baraka's talk. I spent a few delicious minutes as Baraka spoke imagining the cast of the play (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, Powell and Rice) in their positions in office chairs circling the stage acting as chorus.

Following a reception and a quick dinner, the evening reading featured Sonia Sanchez, E. Ethelbert Miller and Askia Toure.

That photo at the top, by the way, shows Sonia Sanchez listening carefully to Ethlbert Miller.

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