by John Kearns
Photos by Cat Dwyer
On Friday, April 4, 2014, Irish American Writers and Artists (IAW&A) held its first “road Salon” in Washington, DC at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and the evening turned out to be one of true artistic, cultural, and personal connection. Because UDC is considered a “historically black college,” the event was billed, “Cultural Bridges: DC Salon.” The Salon was organized by Dr. Cherie Ann Turpin of the English department at UDC and myself, the Salon Producer for the IAW&A. Travel and hotel expenses for the New York artists were generously provided for the New York artists by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Ireland.
Arriving at Union Station (left to right): Sheila Walsh, Sarah Fearon, John Kearns, Brendan Costello
Dr. Helene Krauthamer
English Professor Helene Krauthamer started off the proceedings by welcoming everyone to the Salon. Then I was asked to say a few words about the IAW&A and its mission as a secular, progressive, arts organization focusing on the Irish American experience.
Since it was the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, I addressed the theme of “Cultural Bridges” by telling a story about the night when Barack Obama won his first presidential election. I went out on 125th Street in Harlem, where I live, and took part in the revelry that seemed more like a celebration of a sports teams’ winning a championship than anything to do with politics. Drivers were beeping car horns. Strangers were high-fiving one another.
As I stood on the corner watching all of the commotion, an older African-American woman stopped next to me said, “This is what Dr. King died for.”
She paused and then added, “It’s time for all of us to stop being afraid of each other.”
So it was time to dispense with any fears and share our artistic work with one another and have fun. I acted as MC for the New York artists and Dr. Turpin introduced the DC artists.
New Yorker Sean Carlson kicked off the DC salon with two readings that provided a glimpse into his first book — a nonfictional narrative of love and loss through a family story from Ireland to the United Kingdom and the United States. Sharing details about the research process and his travels while writing, Sean read the opening pages of his manuscript and skipped ahead to a particularly memorable scene from London’s Kilburn neighborhood in the 1960s. Learn more and join his email list for updates here: www.seancarlson.net
Francies Stephenson explained how she comes from a multicultural family background and that she has readily identified with the African-American and Caribbean parts of her identity. She read about getting to know her other relatives in Barbados and Guyana and the difficulty of leaving both places in her short story, “Board Time 0920”: http://calligraphypen.tumblr.com/post/74207199024/board-time-0920.
Brendan Costello, Alexander Turro, and Sheila Walsh
Sheila Walsh presented her short play, “Looking for Brando.” New Yorker Brendan Costello shared the stage with student Alexander Turro who played the part of Jack Kerouac very well. The play went over quite well despite the spontaneous casting and minimal rehearsal.
UDC Senior, research assistant to Dr. Cherie Ann Turpin, and lifelong Washingtonian Toinnette Marshall presented a poem entitled, “The Dream.” It was inspired by a crazy dream she had that would not leave her mind; so she decided to write about the dream or as much of it that she could remember. She will be graduating in May with a BA in English.
I followed Toinnette’s poem with “Transmigration of Soul,” a poem excerpted from my novel-in-progress, Worlds, and published in the North American Review in 2012. The poem examines how African music brought to America on slave ships and Irish music brought to America on coffin ships blended together to create the free and lively music of rock ‘n’ roll.
An aspiring translator and enthusiast for the world of languages, Camila Fraiz shared “Come, My Mulatta”, a Brazilian Samba translated into English by American poet Elizabeth Bishop during her time living in Rio de Janeiro. “Come, My Mulatta” celebrates women of color.
With guitarist Brian Gaffney, Marie Reilly, a Leitrim-style fiddler who comes from eight generations of fiddle players, performed a couple of tunes from her CD, The Anvil, dedicated to the memory of her father.
After the music, we took a break and enjoyed snacks and soft drinks provided by the UDC English department.
Comedian Sarah Fearon started the second half with a five-minute set of material that had the whole audience – young and old, faculty, students, and visitors laughing.
Keisha Brown then took a seat on the stage and read us some of her poetry.
Brendan Costello, a creative writing instructor at The City College of New York, presented the middle section of his story “Circus Brunch at Zapruder’s,” in which the chickens come home to roost for the narrator, who works at a restaurant with a theatrical experience built around the Kennedy assassination.
Dr. Wilmer Johnson
Dr. Wilmer Johnson, Professor, Health Education Program at UDC and President of the UDC Faculty Association gave an impassioned reading of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. A few of the English majors in the audience mouthed the words to the poem as Dr. Johnson read.
Dr. Cherie Ann Turpin
IAW&A member Cherie Ann Turpin Associate Professor, shared an excerpt from her essay “Kissing Soul, Tasting Love,” published in Corset Magazine, Issue #3 in 2012, and her poem “Inamorata” from her essay “Left Behind” in Corset Magazine #2 in 2012 (http://www.corsetmagazine.com/). She writes about Afrofuturism, Gender and Sexualities, African and Irish Diasporas, and Popular Culture (http://about.me/cherieannturpin). Her current projects include a chapter on Black Feminism and Afrofuturism for a Black Studies anthology, as well as a book-length work on the actor/activist Gabriel Byrne. She will present her essay “Reimagining Gabriel Byrne: Heteronormativity, Irish Diaspora, and Celebrity Culture” at the PCA/ACA National Conference in Chicago on April 17, 2014.
Marie Reilly was kind enough to let me play a tune with her
To conclude the IAW&A DC Salon, Marie Reilly returned to the stage and I took out my guitar. We played the traditional Irish tune, “The Kesh Jig” and some of the students told me they were tempted to get up and dance.
After the Salon, almost all of the presenters and some of the audience members headed over to Murphy’s Pub, where guitarist Brian Gaffney was playing, to celebrate the unqualified success of our first DC Salon.
(l to r) Marie Reilly, Sarah Fearon, Francies Stephenson, Brendan Costello, Toinnette Marshall, Sean Carlson, Dr. Wilmer Johnson, John Kearns, Sheila Walsh, Dr. Cherie Ann Turpin, and Keisha Brown
At Murphy’s Pub
The gang WITH Cat Dwyer (but WITHOUT her photographic skills) at Union Station
Two-page spread on the event in the Irish World