Tulsa, Oklahoma sits at a crossroads of American identities. In a special episode of SOTRU, we travel to the middle of Middle America to see what happens when these identities collide. We explore one of the country’s deadliest race riots, an incident that the city spent a long time trying to forget; visit a lovingly-crafted museum dedicated to spreading poetry to rural Oklahoma; and — in two special stories produced by This Land Press — visit two churches, one struggling mightily to integrate and another building a shrine for undocumented immigrants in a state with some of the harshest immigration laws in the nation.
Riba DeWilde grew up in a small Native community in Alaska. They hunted, trapped, and lived almost entirely off the land. Now, as an artist, Riba draws on those skills, but she takes them even further. She hunts for her food, then uses the bones of animals she’s killed to create jewelry and sculptures that have been featured in museums across the state and country. She’s rooted in Native Athabascan traditions. But as a woman carver, she breaks them too.
This story aired on SOTRU’s Alaska episode. Hear the whole hour here.
From 2012 to 2013, I was the lead producer of the Austin Music Map, created in collaboration with KUTX, Zeega, AIR, and Public School. The project is an interactive, audiovisual portrait of the city’s evolving music scene. Check out our website, which was nominated for a Webby Award.
Here’s a snapshot of all ten Localore projects, including the Austin Music Map. These projects unfolded across the country over the course of twelve months, and each one experimented with new methods of digital storytelling.
The United States has the world’s largest prison population. There are currently over 2 million people in American prisons or jails — and even more under some kind of “correctional supervision.” In fact, if you added up all the people in America in prison, on probation, or on parole, it’d total about 6 million — just a little smaller than the population of New York City. The system is vast, but how well is it working?
In this episode of State of the Re:Union, we explore how a group of families in Albuquerque, NM raised troubling questions about the local police department’s use of lethal force; how a legal loophole left Native women vulnerable to domestic abuse; how a program at San Quentin State Prison is encouraging men to take responsibility for their crimes; and more.
In Austin, Baldomero Frank Alvarez Cuellar of Rancho Alegre Radio, is working to bring Conjunto music back to the life of the city. Conjunto has its roots in German polka as well as Mexican folk music, and is experiencing a small but lively revival in Texas.
We organized a daylong festival to celebrate the first year of the Austin Music Map’s development. 9 venues, 8 bands, 1 day.
Haley Howle, the AMM’s community outreach and events coordinator, did it again in 2014.
Austin musicians Lindsey Verrill and Dan Grissom moved into their tumbledown duplex on Annie Street in 2006, and because Lindsey played music and Dan painted, they decided to call themselves the Annie Street Arts Collective.
Seven years later, the name fits. Their band—Some Say Leland—rehearses in their living room every Wednesday night, they host performances on a homemade stage in their backyard, and they’ve become known for the secret shows they put on in unusual outdoor locations around the city—in parks and abandoned buildings, sometimes underneath bridges. Most infamously, they invited audiences to crawl into a downtown sewer duct during SXSW a few years back. “The acoustics down there are amazing,” says Verrill.
I shot and produced these videos about the Annie Street Arts Collective for the Austin Music Map. The first gives you a glimpse at what their secret shows are like, the second introduces Dan and Lindsey and what they do.
(The staff of the Chicago Defender)
A few years ago, I was reading about Gwendolyn Brooks and stumbled across a few references to Lights and Shadows—a poetry column that ran in the Chicago Defender back in the 1920s and 30s. The column published some of Brooks’s earliest poems, written when she was a teenager living in Bronzeville. She describes that time—or I guess just a bit before that time—in her autobiography:
Dreamed a lot. As a little girl I dreamed freely, often on the top step of the back porch—morning, noon, sunset, deep twilight. I loved clouds, I loved red streaks in the sky. I loved the gold worlds I saw in the sky… I was writing all the time. My mother says I began rhyming at seven—but my notebooks date back to my eleventh year only. Careful rhymes. Lofty meditations.
I couldn’t find much information about Lights and Shadows—which made me curious, which lead me into the Defender’s archives, which lead me into a little poetic community I found totally captivating, which eventually lead me to Dewey Roscoe Jones Jr.— the son of the man who edited Lights and Shadows for most of its existence. He’s now the keeper of his father’s collected letters, papers, and writings, and he generously spoke with me and shared some of those materials.
The whole story of Lights and Shadows (at least what I could reconstruct) is up on the Poetry Foundation’s website. Check it out and please spread the word to people or communities who might know more about this history. Most—maybe all—of the poets who published in L&S have died, but I’d love to hear from any friends or relatives who have memories.
This image comes from a 1927 Defender article on Lights and Shadows, which introduced a bunch of the column’s contributing poets. The story was written by L&S editor Dewey Roscoe Jones Sr. (Click for a bigger view).
Exploring the Shel Silverstein archive in Chicago:
One of the things you learn is that “polymath” doesn’t even begin to describe Silverstein. His creativity extended in so many directions that his archivists must be versed not just in turn-of-the-century world children’s literature, but Waylon Jennings’s deep cuts; not just in reel-to-reel tape preservation, but how to keep an old restaurant napkin scribbled with lyrics from falling apart. And you also learn that Silverstein seemed to have a terrific time drawing, rhyming, and singing his way through life.