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Poet, Playwright, Broadcaster

Meet Maryland’s new poet laureate Grace Cavalieri. Grace is a language maven: she’s a poet (24 published books and chapbooks), a playwright (26 produced plays), and a broadcaster (creator and host of The Poet and the Poem, a public radio series now in its 42nd year). Her range of subject is matched by the depth of her observations. Her poems about old age can break your heart and make you laugh; she sometimes channels other women’s voices writing a series of poems as Anna Nicole Smith and another as Mary Wollstonecraft. She’s a poetic force to be reckoned to be reckoned with. Now, at the age of 86, Grace Cavalieri has been named Maryland’s new poet laureate. In this podcast, you’ll learn about where she’s been and where she’s going, how she made time for writing as a Navy wife with four kids, her long marriage to the boy she met when she was in junior high school, her loss at his passing, and her plans as poet laureate.

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Photo by Peter Serling

Composer

Composer Julia Wolfe recently premiered her third oratorio that is centered on American labor history—this latest piece is based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that occurred in New York City in 1911. 146 workers—most of them immigrant women—died. Julia was determined not show these women as victims, but rather as resourceful people who had the courage to travel to a new country and band together to struggle for better working conditions. Fire in my mouth, a multi-media work, opened with the New York Philharmonic as its orchestra, a chorus of 146 women, a sold-out house and a cheering standing ovation. It was a good night.

Julia Wolfe, who has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur fellowship, has a large and varied body of work. A composer that is hard to classify, she not only embraces all musical genres, she hears sound itself as a music which is helpful when you want to recreate the particular roar of a factory floor. In this week’s podcast, Julia talks about her deep interest in history, her wide embrace of music and her methods for translating the sounds of work into music.

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Photo by  Joanne Mullin

Filmmaker

Aislinn Clarke is the first Northern Irish woman to direct a feature-length horror film The Devil’s Doorway, and she brought a particularly female point-of-view by setting it in a Magdalene Laundry in 1960 Ireland. The Magdalene Laundries were institutions run by the Catholic church that were real-life horror stories for an untold number of women. They were essentially workhouses for women of “ill-repute” which could mean unwed mothers, prostitutes, women who wouldn’t get out of the way…the list of women who could be put away is quite long and varied. Aislinn Clarke feels connected to the laundries—shockingly, the last one closed in 1996—there was one in the town she grew up in and her father worked for a bakery and would deliver bread to the place. His stories stayed with her…as did his love for film, particularly horror films. Aislinn and I have a wide-ranging conversation about the history of the Magdalene Laundries, women in the film industry, what makes a good horror film and not a word about St. Patrick!

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Photo credit: NAACP

Prize-winning YA author

Author Renée Watson talks about her prize-winning YA title, Piecing Me Together and her most recent book, Watch Us Rise (co-written with Ellen Hagan). Both look at the lived experiences of black girls as they grapple with identity right at the intersection of race, class and gender. But Renée tells stories--she's not preaching...and, as in life, her characters can respond in unexpected ways. In the podcast, we talk about what goes into writing for young adults and Renée's own trajectory as a writer, educator and performer.

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Documentarians

Documentarians Gordon Quinn and Tracye A. Matthews discuss their film ’63 Boycott—a documentary about one of the largest (and possibly most-under-reported) civil rights actions in the 1960s. On October 22, 1963, more than 250,000 students boycotted the Chicago Public Schools to protest racial segregation. Many marched through the city along with their parents demanding to be allowed to enter under-enrolled white schools. Standard policy had been to erect trailers on playgrounds and parking lots of overcrowded black schools rather than let students enroll in nearby schools populated by white students. It was an extraordinary political moment that laid bare the racism of Chicago’s public school system and changed the lives of many of the students involved. By some quirk of fate, Gordon Quinn, who would go on to found Kartemquin Films, was a student at the University of Chicago in 1963 and took his camera out on the street to film the demonstration. That footage is at the heart of ’63 Boycott along with the participants’ reflections of that astounding time. Gordon Quinn and Tracye A. Matthews, who is also a historian, take us through the process of creating this documentary, from locating the people who were in the original footage to getting the history of the boycott right to finding the money to see the film through. (Spoiler alert: The National Endowment for the Arts has a role!)

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Editors: Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Photo Archives

Rachel L. Swarns and Darcy Eveleigh are two of the four editors of Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Photo Archives. In Unseen, the editors took on the monumental task of going through millions of unpublished photos in the archives (or morgue) of The New York Times. They were looking for pictures of African Americans--both the ordinary and the famous. They then tried to get the story behind the photo centering around two major questions: why was the photo taken and why wasn't it used. The process was like unraveling a mystery taking a lot of determination. And the result is pretty extraordinary. Both Rachel and Darcy were longtime staff journalists at and are now contributors to The New York Times--Rachel is a writer and Darcy a photo editor. They talk about the book from these different perspectives and also share how putting this book together influenced their own approach to the work that they do.

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Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Producing Artistic Director, Theater Alliance

Raymond O. Caldwell recently stepped into the role of Producing Artistic Director at Theater Alliance-the resident company of the Anacostia Playhouse. Theater Alliance is a small company that produces socially-conscious and thought-provoking work that aims to lead its audience toward positive constructive dialogue. It also happens to be terrific theater—nominated for five Helen Hayes Awards in this season alone. In today’s podcast, Raymond Caldwell talks about what it takes to create good, meaningful theater that speaks both to the neighborhood and the larger DC community. He also takes us on a journey through his own experiences as an actor and director who has worked in locations from India to Kiev to Berlin...and how those experiences inform his work at Theater Alliance.

Wil Haygood
Photo Courtesy of the Columbus Museum of Art

Journalist, author, and cultural historian

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, the intellectual, social and artistic burst of African-American culture that erupted in the Harlem neighborhood in New York City. The Columbus Museum of Art is marking the anniversary with a dazzling exhibition I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100. Through paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, contemporary documents, books and posters, the exhibition sheds light on both breadth and depth of the Harlem Renaissance. Wil Haygood-a Columbus native-was guest curator and author of the companion book I, Too, Sing America. In this week’s podcast, Wil and I talk about the Harlem Renaissance: the lives of its artists and the spectacular work they produced, the social history that informed the art movement, and the work of bringing it all together in the exhibit and the book.

Eddie Bond
Photo by Pat Jarrett

In Part 1 of my conversation with 2018 National Heritage Fellow and old-time fiddler Eddie Bond, we learned about his deep musical roots and the family and friends that nurtured them. Eddie said that the music has taken him to so many places, and in part 2, we follow him on these travels as Eddie brings his old-time fiddling across the country and around the world—beginning in an unlikely spot: Iraq during the Gulf War where Eddie served as a young soldier.

Eddie Bond
Photo by Susi Lawson Photography

2018 National Heritage Fellow

Old-time fiddler Eddie Bond was born and bred in Grayson County, Virginia, which many consider the musical heart of Appalachian old-time music. Eddie himself comes from a rich musical heritage: he learned the guitar and flat-foot dancing from his grandmother, the banjo from his grandfather, and the fiddle from neighbors. He’s a stunning musical talent picking up all three instruments very quickly and excelling at each. But Eddie gave his heart to the fiddle—winning competitions and playing across the country and throughout the world. Because old-time music is so deeply rooted in place and because Eddie Bond is a great storyteller, this is a two-part podcast. In part 1, we’ll learn about Eddie’s upbringing, the place music had in his family’s life, his own playing, and talk about the roots of old-time music.

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Photo by Maria Ventura

Producing Artistic Director and Founder of Native Voices

For almost 25 years, Native Voices at the Autry has been providing opportunities and support to Native American playwrights…and by extension Native actors, designers, musicians and other theater artists. It is the country’s only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to producing new works by Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nations playwrights. Deeply committed to developing as well as producing new work, Native Voices also provides a venue for new plays with festivals and public staged readings as well as retreats and workshops for emerging and established Native playwrights. Randy Reinholz is a founder of Native Voices and has been its producing artistic director since its inception. In this podcast, Randy talks about the unique and changing points of view Native artists bring to the table, the issues facing Indian Country, and the place theater has in telling Native stories.

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Photo courtesy of HBO

Actor, director, producer

Actor Jeffrey Wright discusses the documentary he produced for HBO, We Are Not Done Yet, which profiles a group of veterans and service members as they come together to collaborate on a series of poems. The former and current service members are part of a United Services Organizations’ writing workshop at Walter Reed National Military Center; and, all of them struggle to cope with PTSD. The workshop creates a safe place for them to grapple with their experiences through poetry. In fact, they decide not just to write a poem collectively but to present a publicly staged reading of it. That’s where actor Jeffrey Wright came in—he had worked with veterans in the past and was looking for an opportunity to involve himself again. He came to Walter Reed to direct the staged reading of the poem. And that experience became the HBO documentary We Are Not Done Yet. Listen to this conversation with Jeffrey Wright about his work with these veterans, his continuing relationships with them, and his commitment to making sure their stories are heard.

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Photo © blue lily photo

Y.A. fantasy/horror author

In her novel, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, young adult author Kiersten White retells Mary Shelley’s classic. In White’s book, we get the story from Elizabeth Lavenza—the childhood companion and then wife of scientist Victor Frankenstein. Kiersten White closely follows the outline of Shelley’s Frankenstein, but by changing the point of view to Elizabeth, we get another story entirely about Victor Frankenstein, the monster, and Elizabeth herself. For this Halloween podcast, Kiersten and I talk about the original Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s singular life, and the challenges and fun of taking this well-known classic tale, telling it from a different perspective, and finding a story that hadn’t been told before.

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Photo courtesy of David Tomas Martinez

Poet and Big Read author

Poet David Tomas Martinez’s book (and new Big Read title) Hustle explodes with verbal dexterity about street life. Born in San Diego to a working class Chicano family, David Tomas Martinez found power and strength by running with a gang. A father at 17, he ended up in college as a returning student through sheer luck, and there he found strength and power through language. David became a poet and the rough side of town and the people he knew (and knows) there became his subjects. His first collection, and first publication, is Hustle which became a prize-winning book…and a new Big Read title. David’s joy in linguistic playfulness isn’t confined to the page. His honesty, exuberance, and charm comes through in this podcast as we walk with him down the streets of Southern California; there’s violence and meanness—but also heart-stopping moments of grace.

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Photo by Tom Pich

2018 National Heritage Fellow and African American Quilter

2018 National Heritage Fellow African American Quilter Marion Coleman is a story teller with fabric. Her narrative quilts depict personal stories, history, and portraits…from small nightclubs in Oakland to a series about Black Cowboys to the life story of the first African American woman pilot—Marion’s quilts create visual stories. She’s combines both traditional and contemporary quiltmaking techniques, using ceramics, whole garments, buttons, paper, and photographs in her quilts. Sometimes, she transfers photo imagery onto the quilt itself—which she then fills in with fabric. Her distinctive way of looking at the world is apparent in her conversation as well. Listen to the podcast and follow Marion from Texas to Oakland where she had a thirty year career as a social worker and became one of the most innovative quilters of her time.

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