Right about now, you’re hopefully on your third (or fourth) round of leftovers, giving new meaning to the term “comfort food”—and no judgments, since we can use all the comfort we can get as this tortured year comes to a long-awaited close. But as you’re feeding your body, don’t forget to nurture your mind and soul, as well; there are a number of cultural goings-on this weekend featuring voices past and present that will provide ample food for thought as you continue to nosh your way through the holiday weekend.
For instance, feast on Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, an ongoing virtual exhibition released in monthly toolkits in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). The multimedia exhibit is an artistic collaboration between the late author-activist and acclaimed musician Meshell Ndegeocello, who describes it as “a 21st-century ritual toolkit for justice. A call for revolution. A gift during turbulent times.” The toolkits, which initially launched in September, have become available each month at thegospelofjamesbaldwin.com.
From the MCA:
Inspired by James Baldwin’s truth-telling treaty on justice in America, The Fire Next Time, and our current endlessly changing world, this is a call for revolution in the form of an ongoing gift during turbulent times. Artists making vital work from theater to sculpture share testimonies of resilience in this monthly release of music, thoughts, meditations, and visual media, including poet and activist, Staceyann Chin, artists Suné Woods and Nicholas Galanin, and director Charlotte Brathwaite.
The exhibition was developed with Ndegeocello for the MCA by Associate Curator of Performance Tara Aisha Willis, whose enchantment with the project began when it premiered as a live performance at Harlem Stage several years ago. “It was one of the first things I wanted to bring when I started at MCA in 2017,” Willis told The Root during a phone call. “So really, I’ve been like, this is the project for me...I knew I had to do this even before I started working here.”
If both Baldwin and Ndegeocello both possess an almost preternatural ability to create work that feels eternally relevant, Willis contends it’s an outgrowth of the relentless truthtelling each has made a hallmark of their work.
“You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason,” Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time. “The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”
“It’s always relevant, right?” asks Willis in response to our suggestion that Chapter & Verse feels prescient in so many ways. “It’s like, the way that we’re coming to the table as Black people—and especially as Black women—is always relevant; it’s always been in style, even if it isn’t acknowledged as such. So there’s that aspect of it. And then on top of that, you know, this B.S., for lack of a better way of putting it, around sort of how race works in America is always coming back around. So I think, you know, even when it’s not at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, it’s still so relevant.”
By sheer dint of identity and occupation, how race works in America has always at the forefront of our minds here at The Root. As much more of America has joined us in that conversation this year, the timing and execution of Chapter & Verse speak to both the very tangible realities of life as we currently know it and the necessity for even more honest and creative ways to continue that conversation. In regard to both, Willis lauds Ndegeocello for reimagining her work to meet the needs of the moment.
“I think that’s another beautiful thing about this in rethinking it. She really—it wasn’t like, ‘How do we adapt this for the digital space?’ It was actually like, ‘How do we create a feeling among people who are not necessarily going to be in a room together or even on a Zoom call together for this?’” Willis explains. “It’s really about knowing that other people are reading, listening and watching the same material as you on their own time, within their own schedules and the hecticness of what’s happening right now. And that it can feel like a galvanizing, energizing force to watch and read and experience these materials, you know? So I think the most beautiful part about how she really reenvisioned it with her collaborators was to shift from an event focus to thinking of it as a gift for the audience.”
The first three monthly installments of Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin have already been published, along with video and audio materials. The last installment will go live on December 15. To access the toolkits:
Read: A monthly broadsheet, featuring Baldwin’s words and calls to action, is available via PDFs available on the website.
Call: Dial a toll-free telephone number and discover songs, meditations, and chants to ease your mind any time, day or night, when you need it most.
Watch: Experience visual testimonies by Staceyann Chin, Suné Woods, Nicholas Galanin, and Charlotte Brathwaite, with original music created by Ndegeocello.
Before you binge on Baldwin with Chapter & Verse, beginning Friday night you can dig into a marathon of Morrison read by some of your favorite authors with A Tribute to Toni Morrison: Marathon Reading of Song of Solomon, presented by Literacy Partners as part of their Literary and Social Justice Series. Taking place on November 27, from 8 pm to 11 pm, November 28 from 2 pm - 6 pm, and November 29 from 2 pm to 6:30 pm ET, tickets are available for as low as a $5 suggested donation—though donations of $50 and up come with books!
From Literary Hub:
Literacy Partners is proud to present a weekend-long marathon reading of Toni Morrison’s classic, Song of Solomon. With introductions by Kevin Young (African-American Poetry), Andrea Davis Pinkney (Loretta Little Looks Back), Lisa Lucas, and readings by authors Brit Bennett (The Vanishing Half), Edwidge Danticat (Everything Inside), Hilton Als (White Girls), Jacqueline Woodson (Red at the Bone), Jason Reynolds (Long Way Down), Jesmyn Ward (Sing, Unburied, Sing), Louise Erdrich (The Night Watchman), Ocean Vuong (On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous), Robin Coste Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus), and more. Suggested donations begin at $5 and can be purchased here. Donations $100 and above will include a free book bundle.
Is theater more your scene? Head over to Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre for What Is Left Burns, one of several plays now available on Steppenwolf NOW, the theater’s new virtual programming stream. Written by James Ijames, What Is Left Burns is a short play directed by Obie Award-winning director Whitney White and stars Tony-nominated actors Jon Michael Hill and K. Todd Freeman.
A synopsis, per the Steppenwolf:
Two poets separated by age and distance engage in a video call rendezvous after 15 years. Keith, a distinguished poet and professor of literature is moving towards retirement after a recent divorce from his wife. Ronnie, his younger former lover and mentee, has a New York Times bestselling book and a burgeoning career ahead of him. The two men wade through the connection they once had as they struggle with the desires that still bind them.
What Is Left Burns is one of six virtual productions on Steppenwolf NOW; all of which are available with the purchase of a virtual membership (currently discounted 50%; see below). Discounts are available for essential workers, artists, students and teachers; more information is available at steppenwolf.org/now.
The Goodman Theatre, another acclaimed Chicago institution, is also currently featuring an incredible Black playwright. Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood, which we featured in its onstage run at the theater in 2018, made its broadcast premiere in the Goodman’s virtual theater this month. A one-woman show exploring the response of the community of Ferguson, Mo. following the extrajudicial killing of Michael Brown, Orlandersmith’s performance is gripping, gut-wrenching and proven more relevant than ever as it is now made available to audiences worldwide...for FREE (though a donation to the theater is both welcome and suggested).
In New York, the theaters may be quieter than usual, but the Public Theater, long known for being the initial launching pad for world-renowned productions like For Colored Girls and Hamilton, is now centering different names, donating its facade as a blank canvas for Say Their Names, an artist installation honoring Black lives lost to police violence.
SAY THEIR NAMES will honor, remember, and include over 2,100 names and accompanying sentences of Black lives murdered at the hands of the police. Curated by Garlia Cornelia Jones and designed by Lucy Mackinnon, this installation will cover the entire front of the landmark building and feature work by six visual artists from varying mediums including From Ferguson to Baltimore by Dáreece Walker and Pietà by Tylonn J. Sawyer, responding to one single prompt:
For centuries, the murders of Black Americans have been overlooked, covered up, and disregarded.We invite you to remember. We invite you to honor. We invite you to Say Their Names.
The 24-hour live-stream of Say Their Names is available nightly from 5 pm ET to midnight ET through December 5.
Lastly, during a year many of us aren’t able to share the holidays with our families, the New York Times is offering a particularly poignant meditation on family and legacy with the short film Concerto Is a Conversation, now available to watch as part of the Times’ Op-Docs series.
Per the Times, “Virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer Kris Bowers tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. “
No, it’s not the same as being with our grandparents this holiday, but this beautifully shot short film will no doubt give you the warm and fuzzies...and other than leftovers, isn’t that all we really want this weekend?
Updated: Saturday, 11/28/20 at 1:05 p.m., ET: Through December 4, Steppenwolf Theatre is offering 50% off virtual memberships with the code VIRTUALHOLIDAY. The article has been slightly amended to reflect this sale.