Monday, November 06, 2006


Performing the Narratives of America Now: Sekou Sundiata's The 51st (dream) State

From left, the poet Sekou Sundiata, Christopher McElroen, Adam Klipple and Graham Haynes in rehearsal. Richard Termine for The New York Times

"World history is being dreamed despite the fact that America is conceptualized in a monochromatic way sometimes."

An extended excerpt of a story from the New York Times this past Saturday in which yours truly was briefly quoted:

Questioning U.S. Identity in the Aftermath of 9/11

Published: November 4, 2006

To answer the question of what it means to be an American citizen in these turbulent times, the poet Sekou Sundiata traveled the country for two years, conducting classroom discussions and attending potluck dinners to forage for people’s personal experiences to add to his own insights. The result is “The 51st (dream) State,” a hyperactive mosaic of poetry, music, dance and videotaped interviews that has its New York premiere on Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Mr. Sundiata met with students, professors, artists and people in various neighborhoods. He asked: What is the American language? What does it mean to be the dominant country in the world? What future do people imagine? When he found powerful voices and ideas that shaped his thinking, Mr. Sundiata said, he turned on the camera. He is continuing to look for ideas this weekend, with discussions at Harlem Stage’s new facility, the Gatehouse.

“State” had its genesis after 9/11, he said, when like many citizens he began sifting through what he calls his “troubled love” for a country he had often critiqued.

“I thought maybe the 51st state is a dream state,” he said. “I discovered an active discourse in academic circles about the 51st state. Maybe the 51st state is a state of war. Rumsfeld has said the 21st century will be a time of constant war. You need dream language to get at it.”

A woman to my right worried a flag

the size of a handkerchief

the kind you get at the fairgrounds

And little Emmett Till came to me

a face that long ago cured

my schoolboy faith

in that lyric

So that I could no longer sing

With the voice of praise

As if it was my own

O Beautiful for spacious skies.

The Walker Art Center preview of “State” was sold out and had people dancing onstage at the end of shows, said Reggie Prim, the center’s community programs manager. “It’s such a compelling way to link citizenship to art,” Mr. Prim said. “The idea is to seed a movement.”

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