Gifted Poet Sekou Sundiata
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.
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.
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.
Craig Harris and Sekou Sundiata