[News] Sekou Sundiata passes

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 19 18:10:14 EDT 2007

From: "Louisreyesrivera at aol.com" <Louisreyesrivera at aol.com>

Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2007 7:04:07 AM

Sekou Sundiata

Gifted Poet Sekou Sundiata
(August 22, 1948 -- July 18, 2007)
by Louis Reyes Rivera

Sekou Sundiata preforms "Blessing ...

On Wednesday, July 18, 2007, at 5:47a.m. (ET), poet Sekou Sundiata 
passed away. A highly esteemed performing poet, Mr. Sundiata wrote 
for print, performance, music and theater. Born Robert Franklin 
Feaster in Harlem, on August 22, 1948, Sundiata came of age as an 
artist during the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

While attending the City College of New York (CCNY), where he began 
reciting poetry publicly, Sundiata converged with several other 
student activists, including once-mayoral candidate of Pittsburgh and 
longtime friend, Leroy Hodge, to form the basis for what soon became 
known as the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community of City College 
(BPRSC). This phalanx of 400 students soon made their own history, 
closing the 21,000-student campus during the Spring of 1969, to 
demand, among other things, that CCNY be renamed Harlem University. 
The net effect of the student takeover culminated in both an Open 
Admissions Policy that took effect in September 1970, the full 
legitimization of ethnic studies departments throughout the nation, 
as well as the requirement that all education majors within the City 
University take courses in African American History and to have 
Spanish as a Second Language.

Among his acknowledged mentors at City were Toni Cade Bambara, June 
Jordan, and fellow student Louis Reyes Rivera, with whom Sundiata 
helped to establish the first Black student newspaper in the City 
University, CCNY's The Paper. Their association would span close to 
forty years of mutual respect and admiration.

Upon completing his Bachelor's Degree (circa 1974), Sundiata enrolled 
and completed his Master's in Creative Writing while regularly 
producing community-based poetry readings that were known to draw SRO 
crowds. In 1976, his creative sensibilities, his innate organizing 
skills, and his associations with a convergent generation of 
excellent poets, musicians and dancers immediately led to a 
collaborative project he directed that would commemorate 100 years of 
Black struggle for freedom and Human Rights. Titled The Sounds of the 
Memory of Many Living People (1863-1876/ 1963-1976) , this 
production, which included upcoming novelist Arthur Flowers and such 
poets as Safiya Henderson-Holmes, BJ Ashanti, Tom Mitchelson, Louis 
Reyes Rivera, et al, was staged in Harlem over a period of two days, 
signaling much of what was to come from Sekou's sense of vision, 
steadily breaking ground for what was then a new literary genre,
Performance Poetry, fully anticipating elements of both Hip Hop 
Culture and Spoken Word Art.

In 1977, the aforementioned poets, along with Zizwe Ngafua, Rashidah 
Ismaili, Fatisha (Hutson), Sandra Maria Esteves, Akua Lezli Hope, 
Mervyn Taylor, and Sekou, among others, formed the Calabash Poets 
Workshop, which group signaled the arrival of a new literary heat in 
New York, regularly producing soirees and forums (1977-1983) that 
included all of the arts and culminated in a three-year attempt 
(1979-1982) to establish an independent Black Writers Union.

Upon the release of his first vinyl album (circa 1980), Are & Be, 
Sekou Sundiata was dubbed by Amiri Baraka as "the State of the Art." 
Since then, Mr. Sundiata established a longtime relationship 
with  CCNY's Aaron Davis Performing Arts Center, through which venue 
he intermittently produced new material for the stage, consistently 
collaborating with musicians, dancers and actors. He was eventually 
selected for a number of earned fellowships, including a Sundance 
Institute Screenwriting Fellow, a Columbia University Revson Fellow, 
a Master Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts 
(Florida), and as the first Writer-in-Residence at the New School 
University in New York, in which university's Eugene Lang College he 
remained a professor.

He was, as well, among those featured in the Bill Moyers' PBS series 
on poetry, The Language of Life, and in Russell Simmons' Def Poetry 
Jam on HBO.

Among several highly acclaimed performance theater works in which he 
served as both author and performer are: The Circle Unbroken is a 
Hard Bop, which toured nationally and received three AUDELCO Awards 
and a BESSIE Award; The Mystery of Love, commissioned and produced by 
New Voices/ New Visions at Aaron Davis Hall in New York City and the 
American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia; and Udu, a music 
theater work produced by 651 ARTS in Brooklyn and presented by the 
International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, the Walker Art 
Center and Penumbra Theater in Minneapolis, Flynn Center in 
Burlington, VT, the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College in New 
Hampshire, and Miami-Dade Community College in Florida. Throughout 
this period and since 1985, he developed a close association with 
co-collaborator and legendary trombonist Craig S. Harris.

blessing the boats, Sundiata's first solo theater piece, an 
exploration into his own personal battles with kidney failure, opened 
in November 2002 at Aaron Davis Hall, NYC. It has since been 
presented in more than 30 cities and continued to tour nationally. In 
March 2005, Sundiata produced The Gift of Life Concert, an organ 
donation public awareness event at the Apollo Theater that kicked off 
a three-week run of blessing the boats at the Apollo's SoundStage. in 
partnership with the Apollo Theater Foundation, the National Kidney 
Foundation and the New York Organ Donor Network with support from the 
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 2006, his the 51st (dream) state has been presented throughout 
the U.S. and in Australia. Both blessing the boats and the 51st 
(dream) state were produced in collaboration with MultiArts Projects 
and Productions (MAPP). In addition to working within community 
engagement activities at Harlem Stages/Aaron Davis Hall, the 
University of Michigan and University Musical Society (Ann Arbor, 
MI), the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC), the 
University of Texas Austin (Austin, TX), in Miami Dade College 
(Miami, FL), and the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, Sundiata has 
appeared as a featured speaker and artist at the Imagining America 
Conference (Ann Arbor, MI), at the Institute of Contemporary Art 
(Boston, MA), and at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed 
Conference (Minneapolis, MN), among others. Prior to his demise, he 
was engaged in producing a DVD documenting the America Project for 
use by universities and presenters as a model for art and civic engagement.

In addition to the 1979 Are & Be album, Sundiata's other releases 
include a second album, The Sounds of the Memory of Many Living 
People, and two CDs, The Blue Oneness of Dreams, nominated for a 
Grammy Award, and longstoryshort. Each of these works are rich with 
the sounds of blues, funk, jazz and African and Afro-Caribbean 
percussion, with the latter two featuring Craig Harris.

He is survived by his mother, Virginia Myrtle Feaster, his wife, 
Maurine Knighton, daughter Myisha Gomez, stepdaughter Aida Riddle, 
grandson Aman, brothers William Walter Feaster and Ronald Eugene 
Feaster, as well as a host of relatives, admirers, students and friends.

A private funeral service of family and friends is scheduled for 
Saturday, July 21, and a commemorative celebration of his life and 
work is scheduled to take place on August 22, his birthday, at 
Brooklyn Academy of Music's Opera House. Details to follow. In lieu 
of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in the name of 
Sekou Sundiata to the New York Organ Donor Network or to the National 
Kidney Foundation.

Sekou Sundiata Days of Art and Ideas


(l. Craig Harris; r. Sekou Sundiata)

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