Monday, December 8, 2014

Living Legacies of Lorde and Baldwin


The panel discussion moderated by Josef Sorett
An intimate conversation bloomed around the intellectual immortality of the works and lives of Audre Lorde and James Baldwin at Harlem Stage last Thursday, Dec. 4th.  

“Audre Lorde and James Baldwin are alive in our consciousness and we need not confine them into something that we call the past, because that will deny us of the true revolutionary idea of being conscious and of being alive,” said Alexis De Veaux, one of the panelists of the evening. 

The exchange, part of Ancestral Witnesses: Literature and the African American Religious Imagination, focused on the breadth of meanings behind their diverse narratives and shared experiences. 

Both Lorde and Baldwin were known for their extensive discourse on American society, activism in human rights and ability to translate the meanings behind human existence across geographical borders. 

The panelists included De Veaux, author and activist, Rich Blint, of Columbia University, and Imani Perry, of Princeton University. 

“They both register for me as itinerant preachers, they clearly travel the globe putting forward this idea of social justice,” said Perry regarding the impact of their writings. “They both stand in a very long tradition of black internationalism.”

It was the roles of being a person of color, a mother, a feminist that shaped the overpowering spirit that readers have come acquainted with when reading Lorde. In his search for peace, equality and understanding Baldwin found himself writing from all areas of the world. Lorde traveled the world documenting and connecting with communities she's encountered, and in the search for rediscovering his identity, Baldwin relocated to Paris.


Duet between Marti Newland and Brandee Younger
“When he was 14, he was an evangelist, he left the church when he was 16 but he never stopped preaching,” said De Veaux. 

The place of religion and revolutionary ideas during the times of Baldwin and Lorde were examined as well as discussed for their applicability to the political and social climate of today. 

A dialogue originally printed in Essence Magazine’s Dec. 1984 edition, “Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde” was reenacted by Sheyenne Javonne Brown, a New York actor and Columbia University MFA Graduate, Jarvis C. McInnis, of the W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute, and Marcel Spears, of Columbia University’s School of the Arts Graduate Program. 

“That was not a conversation that happened ever,” said De Veaux, also the author of Warrior Poet: A biography of Audre Lorde, “not black man/black woman, but black gay man and black lesbian woman and that kind of publicizing of the eroticized component of the conversation is pretty powerful.” 

“When we think about revolution today, when we think about people who are out in the street around the country and around the globe, people are understanding that revolution needs to be tied to a sense of conciousness,” said De Veaux. “That’s what they were talking about not a revolutionary conversation, but a revolutionary consciousness.” 

Musical selections included traditional spirituals that served as strength, such as “Here’s One,”  performed by vocalist, Marti Newland, and harpist, Brandee Younger. 

“What this conversation suggests is that we have to also answer to a need to be in deep contemplation,” said Perry, “and for me the texts of both writers and artists provide spiritual sustenance in this moment; it’s important to spend time with them in order to understand what we need to do now.” 

For the spring 2015 Ancestral Witnesses series, reflections on the works of Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka will take place at Harlem Stage. The series is a joint partnership between Columbia University, the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.

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