City of Asylum series previews Alphabet City

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Kgositsile and Lake recieve a standing ovation after the show.

On April 24, men and women of all ages milled around the basement room of Metropolitan Baptist Church on Sampsonia Way for the third event in City of Asylum’s “Reading the World 2012” series.

Snippets of conversation, sprinkled with accents both strong and subtle, filled the air as a small crowd enjoyed baked goods and refreshments before the show.

The “Reading the World” series seeks to present collaborations between writers and musicians from around the globe and will serve as a model for City of Asylum’s developing Alphabet City venue planned for Monterey Street.

City of Asylum, a nonprofit organization headquartered in the Northside, aids writers in exile from around the world with its writers residency program.

They began work in 2010 on the Alphabet City project, which seeks to create a permanent space for musical and literary events in the Central Northside.

The project was the LINC-Ford Foundation’s Space for Change award recipient in 2011.

Scheduled for completion in 2013, the final product will rehabilitate an existing lot in the Northside, and create a venue for readings and performances like the one held on April 24.

The “Reading the World” event included performances by the South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile and local jazz musician and poet Oliver Lake.

“I’ve been going to see Oliver for years,” said Merritt Wuchinia, an intern with Sampsonia Way Magazine, the literary magazine published by City of Asylum.

Lake, a saxophone player, has been an active member of the Pittsburgh jazz community, playing with the World Sax Quartet and at events like the Jazz Poetry Concert put on by City of Asylum every September.

“I’m always nervous that nobody will come,” said Henry Reese, the director of City of Asylum, about attendance to the events the organization puts on.
Despite his concern, the readings and performances have consistently been filled to capacity.

Kgositsile took the stage at 7:45 p.m., reading his poems aloud amid claps and nods of appreciation from the audience.

Lake performed shortly afterward; emitting a complicated series of squeaks and honks from his saxophone in rhythm with lines of poetry.

“I like to introduce [Oliver’s performances] as jazz poetry collaborations by a solo performer,” said Reese.

Collaboration also formed between the two artists toward the end of the show, and the performance concluded with Kgositsile reading poetry while Lake accompanied him on the saxophone.

The audience was then given opportunity to ask the performers questions, and many were directed at Kgositsile—regarding both his political experiences in South Africa and the work of his son, rapper and hip-hop artist Earl Sweatshirt, who Kgotsitsile confided was “extremely, dangerously articulate and tormented.”

After the show, Henry Reese expressed hope that the “Reading the World” series would “excite musicians and writers to think about the performative aspect” of language, and provide listeners with exposure to “other perspectives on life — not just poetry.”

“[Events] like this remind us that the things we struggle with are not unique to us, and maybe not even that great of struggles,” Reese said, citing Kgositsile’s journey from South Africa to New York—where he has lived in exile for several years—to Pittsburgh.

The next “Reading the World” event will take place on May 5 and feature three separate performances by authors and musicians in exile from Iran.

For more information, visit the City of Asylum website: cityofasylumpittsburgh.org.

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