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Poet and teacher Sekou Sundiata is back at Lafayette this week to continue his work with students and members of the community on The America Project.

Meetings have been scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for those who previously signed up to participate. Those interested in joining the project should contact the Dean of Studies Office at x5096 or email Sundiata also will speak with students in several classes during his visit.

The America Project combines art and civic dialogue.

“It is a contemplation of America’s national identity, of its power in the world, and of its guiding mythologies,” says Sundiata, whose work includes poetry, performance, music, and theater. “It explores how America defines itself in a new era characterized by unprecedented global influence and power. It is about an adventure, a quest to find a vision of what it means to be both a citizen and an individual in a deeply complex, hyper-kinetic society.”

Students will blend creative impulses with critical and intellectual work in collaborating with Sundiata on The America Project. They will gather potential topics, interview community members, and provide other materials for the final project. Some students will also perform in the piece.

This week’s visit “is Sekou’s chance to get the students talking and thinking about the themes of the project,” says William Carpenter, assistant professor of English and faculty liaison to Sundiata. “He wants to create a ‘safe zone’ so these students can talk freely about American issues.”

Sundiata met with students and other members of the Lafayette and Easton communities in poetry circles and community sings Sept. 27 and 28, which served as public forums for conversations and inquiries about American and global citizenship, culture, democracy, memories, dreams, disappointments, desires, and other issues.

“[Sundiata] wants the students to generate language about what it means to be American,” says Carpenter. “He’ll take some of this language and work it into poems, set pieces, and images. The students … are providing data for [the show].”

Sundiata’s residency and the development of The America Project are part of the class of 2008’s year-long exploration of human security, civil society, and liberal learning. Members of the new class began their intellectual odyssey during the summer with two common reading assignments, David K. Shipler’s book The Working Poor: Invisible in America, and Elaine Scarry’s essay “The Difficulty of Imagining Other People.” Before coming to campus they exchanged questions, insights, and ideas about the readings and other topics with each other, faculty, and other members of the campus community via a special web portal.

The first-year students continued their exploration of these themes during New Student Orientation. Faculty teaching First-Year Seminars are exploring creative ways to link the themes to their seminars and incorporate activities related to Sundiata’s residency.

The residency is cosponsored by Imagining America, a consortium of colleges and universities sharing a commitment to public scholarship. It will serve as a model for similar endeavors by other consortium members.

Sundiata will return to campus again Thursday and Friday, Nov. 4-5. He will be preparing — with students, community members, and New York musicians and singers — to present the preliminary version of The America Project to the Imagining America National Conference at the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday, Nov. 6. Also at the conference, GladstoneHutchinson, dean of studies, will lead a panel discussion about Sundiata’s innovative residency at the College.

During the spring term Sundiata will deliver a major lecture, and his residency will culminate in April with the public presentations of The America Project in Lafayette’s Black Box theater at the Williams Center for the Arts. For more information on The America Project, contact Carpenter at x5227 or carpentw or his student assistant, Haunani Yap ’06, at x3150 or yaph.

Categorized in: Academic News