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Karen Morell's Africa, New Orleans, and Trinidad Multimedia Collection

Here from a range of artists are exuberant masquerades and carnivals, quiet musings, analysis, and creative work. These archival items come from the medium of live performance, formal and informal interviews, lectures, readings, images, writings, and drawings. Some of the artists are known around the world. Most are known only within a short distance of where they live. But one affect of their work has been to inspire and to be central to the lives of many. May this collection further that end. 

Here are words, sounds, and images of many who powerfully expressed what was at their core, regardless of the circumstances of their lives. The work presented here shows artists working within their own tradition. Yet, with the occasional exception of the traditional African masquerades, they intimately know the arts, people, and problems of other traditions. Most were able in varying degrees to challenge and to use tools, processes, and ideas from both cultures. In doing so, we see often both unassuming and explosive fearlessness expressed in their lives and work.

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Chinua Achebe »

Nigerian novelist, essayist, poet, storyteller, lecturer

Kofi Awoonor »

Ghanaian poet, essayist, lecturer, storyteller, novelist

Dennis Brutus »

South African poet, lecturer

Wole Soyinka »

Nigerian dramatist, novelist, essayist, poet, lecturer

These four writers are the stars of the spring 1973 African Studies Seminar at the University of Washington, an event drawing upwards of 400 students, faculty, staff, and community visitors for each lecture. Audio and text transcriptions are available for all lectures, readings, and discussion sessions offered by Chinua Achebe, Kofi Awoonor and Wole Soyinka in the spring of 1973. The seminar was organized by Professor David Spain, Chair of the African Studies Program, and Dr. Karen Morell. Dr. Morell arranged for audio recordings and, over the next decades, the preservation of the media and related materials.

In Person: Achebe, Awoonor, and Soyinka

The “seminar” would not have possible without Dennis Brutus’ initial support. Brutus spoke and read poetry on campus the year before and provided contact information and a reference for the other three writers to participate in the 1973 events. A one hour excerpt of his 1972 event is included in the Collection, unfortunately all that survives his multiple visits to the UW campus.

Text of the audio recordings from the 1973 Seminar are contained in the 1975 book In Person: Achebe, Awoonor, and Soyinka edited by Karen L. Morell. Each writer reviewed his section and made changes he desired in the draft prior to publication. (Initial distribution of the book made possible by the African Literature Association.)

Considerable, unique material from Kofi Awoonor after his 1973 visit and until 1992 is also available, as are a few items from Chinua Achebe from 1976. Photographs of other writers taken during Karen Morell’s visit to Ghana in 1979 and other occasions have been included. They include Kwesi Brew, Ama Atta Aido, and Kofi Anyidoho.

African Encounters Video Series

The African Encounters Video Series preserved field footage from Africa for classroom and museum use. The fieldwork had been undertaken by University of Washington graduate students, faculty, and guest lecturers. Dr. Morell secured initial funding from the Graduate School for the first productions and made the series a self-sustaining project after that time. Without the storage space provided in Ethnomusicology after the 1980’s by Dr. Laurel Sercombe, the studio productions could not have been preserved.

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New Orleans

New Orleans

The people and artistry of the "Mardi Gras Indians" are the primary portion of this section. This is a special tribute to Larry E. Bannock, Big Chief of the Golden Star Hunters, an articulate, powerful master artist from Gert Town in New Orleans. The period of his work shown here is from the late 1980's and early 1990's and includes unique footage from Mardi Gras 1986. According to this Big Chief, in the late 80's few from outside the neighborhoods and their families came to watch or join this "parade." Video footage also includes two other Indian "gangs", the Black Eagles, with Big Chief Jerod Lewis, and the Wild Magnolias, with Big Chief Bo Dollis.

Michael P. Smith initiated these connections and shared his research, especially from early masking traditions in the U.S. and the Mardi Gras Indians, and continued to offer conversation and encouragement, as did New Orleans' photographer Sydney Byrd.

Separate video shorts from 1986 Mardi Gras events are included for the French Quarter and for the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, through access and support granted by President Roy Clapion.

Stills are provided for other events with the Golden Star Hunters, including the New Orleans Jazz Fest and the Baton Rouge Louisiana Folklife Festival.

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Collection work in progress...

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