Looking back: Rodney King and The Merchant of Venice

Twenty-five years ago this month, in April 1992, the Rodney King trial was decided.  This resulted to the LA riots, although some would say they were a long time coming.

The following summer, director Peter Sellars staged a production of The Merchant of Venice in Leimert Park, just a few miles from where major violence erupted at Florence and Normandie, and just inside the curfew boundary.  He chose this play because he says it’s “Shakespeare’s play about racism.”

In 1994, the play came to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.  Here’s an excerpt, including the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech, with Paul Butler as Shylock.

 

In order to highlight the contemporary issues of the play, including antisemitism and racism, Sellars updated the production to twentieth-century Venice Beach, CA and cast the play in a unique manner, which he discusses here.

Peter Sellars talks to Studs about the importance of theater, and why we still have it around even though we can watch so much on television or at the movies.  He tells Studs, “Theater is the last place where grassroots politics can have a presence”  and goes on to explain why he chose a Shakespearean play to convey his message.

Reflecting on Los Angeles, Sellars says, “The Rodney King trial, and the aftermath of that, already established that Los Angeles was at the center of the crisis zone of this country, and the issues that are on America’s mind are in their fiercest, most painful state in that city.”  He goes on to talk about why Leimert Park was chosen as the site for the arts festival, which included the production of The Merchant of Venice.

Speaking about why he chose The Merchant of Venice specifically, Sellars highlights the word merchant in the title, saying “It’s about the economic construction of racism.  Racism wasn’t just invented because some people don’t like other people; it was invented as a specific tool of exploitation.”  Sellars applauds Shakespeare for writing a play about antisemitism at a time when Jewish people had been expelled from England, and goes on to discuss Shakespeare’s time as one in which colonial imperialism exploded.

Photo credit: By Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/55l29b, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40983097

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Thich Nhat Hanh, poet and activist

line from Thich Nhat Hanh's "Condemnation"

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, peace activist, and poet.  By 1971, when he joined Studs in the studio, he had spent years campaigning for peace in Vietnam; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh and Studs discuss the Vietnam War and two books of his poetry that had been translated into English at that time: Cry of Vietnam, and Vietnam: Lotus in A Sea of Fire.

In this clip, Studs tells Thich Nhat Hanh that he has heard about American soldiers finding poems in the pockets of the dead Vietnamese.  Thich Nhat Hanh uses this story to demonstrate how important poetry is in the Vietnamese culture.

They continue the conversation about poetry in Vietnam, and its importance even among non-literate populations.  Thich Nhat Hanh recites an example of one of the spontaneous poems of the farmers.  This leads to a conversation of the ongoing destruction of this culture: “The kinds of things imported, together with this war, has been destroying much of our way of thinking and creating.”  To show how hopeless things have become, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of Vietnamese people trying to raise earthworms in order to save the land that was destroyed through defoliation.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks with Studs about his experience of speaking and reading his poems to a group of anti-war veterans in Washington, D.C.  He tells Studs they are “very, very brave in recognizing the truth.” One of the poems he reads to the veterans is “Condemnation,” which you can read here.

Studs asks Thich Nhat Hanh about his feelings on the war.  Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the policy of “Vietnamization” as opposed to a cease-fire.  He also says that “most of the Vietnamese people feel the same way — they want the war to end at this very moment.”

Thich Nhat Hanh tells Studs about a family he knows whose home was burned six times in five years; they continually moved to escape the violence but were unable to.  “Sometime[s] we don’t know [if] what we have in our heart is hope or just illusions, because life would be impossible without some hope in the future.  That is why sometime[s] we are very ready to accept illusions as hope.”

Photo by James K. F. Dung, SFC, Photographer – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 530610. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78487

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Paul Durcan, Irish poet

In 1991, Paul Durcan joined Studs in the studio. His collection Daddy, Daddy (winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award) had recently come out and his next collection, Crazy About Women, was due out shortly in Ireland.

Studs starts off by asking Durcan about his father, the inspiration for Daddy, Daddy.  Durcan talks about his father’s love of history and remembers hearing his father’s stories as they drove through Ireland together:

Every townland, every hundred yards, it was another world, as remote and romantic as say China.  That’s how it was, and you can’t romanticize that.

Later, they talk about the spelling and meaning of the name Durcan.  Studs brings up the fact that neither he nor Paul Durcan have ever driven a car, referring to Ducan’s poem “Self Portrait, Nude with Steering Wheel.”  Hear them talk about the poem below, and then read it here.

Studs asks Durcan about poetry in Ireland saying, “I suppose the word ‘Irish poet’ almost sounds redundant since the language itself is so lyrical generally.”  Durcan responds by saying

All over the world poetry is born of speech; we’re still all talking to each other, making sounds.  I feel it’s a form of music.  Some people say that modern media therefore is likely to spell the end, but I see that as a misunderstanding, a contradiction.  It seems to me to fundamentally involve the opening out of the oral tradition – radio, television – it gives the possibility of expanding it.

They continue talking about the relationship between music and poetry, and then Durcan remembers a teacher who helped him learn about lyrical writing.  The clip ends with an introduction to his poem “The Virgin and Child” (click on the preview to open the entire poem).

Paul Durcan is still writing.  His latest collection was published in 2012, Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being.

 

Photo credit: Grace Radkins, “County Kerry, 2005”

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Anais Nin on Compassion and Creativity

Anais NinIn 1972, Studs had Anais Nin into his studio to talk about the fourth installment of her diary and her book of short stories, Under the Glass Bell.  Ms. Nin was born in France in 1903; by the time she sat down with Studs at nearly seventy years old, she had been publishing books for forty years and had lived in Spain, the United States, and France.  She is best known today for her diaries and erotica.

 

 

In this first clip, she talks about how dreams and legends influence her writing, and the importance of her diary during her own growing up years.

Later, she speaks about her passion and openness, essential characteristics for a woman who shares her diaries with the world.  She also talks about the joy she finds in her own work

And here, she talks about the connections she sees between creativity and compassion: “compassion takes empathy and empathy takes imagination.”

 

Her work continues to influence filmmakers, performers, and other writers.

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Meet Angela Pieroni, Chicago’s own environmental crusader

This post was written by one our production interns, Adam Miller.

In the late 1960s, Angela Pieroni was fed up with slow government action on air pollution. She became a Democratic precinct captain, made countless calls to city officials, and went door-to-door to rally support in her Southwest side community. What she found was apathy from her government and a problem that was not soon to go away. Studs Terkel welcomed Pieroni on his show in 1970 along with Dr. Bertram Carnow to discuss these issues.

Dr. Carnow spent over 30 years studying the effects air pollution has on the body. He brings this insight to the conversation as Pieroni, a passionate activist, tells her story of attempting change from the ground up.

Forty-seven years later, their concerns sound familiar. President Trump has begun the process of rolling back environmental regulations including those concerning clean air and water. As Carnow describes, “A lot of people in politics now have gotten on this thing. Some of them I think are sincere in what they’re trying to do. Others I think are just muddying the waters.”

This political battle has slowed federal change in environmental regulations as Republicans and Democrats in government pass the baton to erase their predecessors’ efforts. But strides to combat climate threats persist. “I think if we start now we have a chance,” says Carnow. “I think if we don’t start now we have no chance.”

Adam Miller is a senior Radio major at Columbia College Chicago, and a production intern for the Studs Terkel Archives at WFMT. He held prior production internships with The Feed Podcast and at WUWM – Milwaukee Public Radio, where he interviewed popular names in indie rock like Angel Olsen and Julien Baker. His passion for music brought him into radio, but a deeper care for quality creative content and news have kept him active in the field.
Photo credit: By Paul Sequeira [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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“We’re all sisters together”: Remembering the 1970 Women’s Strike

This post was written by one of our interns, Rachel Newlin.

On March 8th 2017, women across the world are planning to strike in an effort to create an International Day of Action in honor of International Women’s Day.

High schools and college campuses are closing in anticipation of the strike, unable to continue business without their female employees. This international strike is seen as ‘the beginning of a new international feminist movement’ and has been garnering great media attention across the United States. Women across the country are striking from paid jobs, childcare, housework, among other truths of female existence – and it all feels very familiar. That is because this will be the second Women’s Strike where thousands of women rise up and demand equal treatment and change under the law.

On August 26th 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, thousands of women marched across the country for many of the same things.

Second-wave feminist Betty Friedan led the strike, organized by NOW, the National Organization for Women. Friedan was met with a lot of resistance when she first brought up the idea of a strike – older women were scared that the strike wouldn’t turn out and the media would mock, them while younger generations of women were sure that the move wasn’t radical enough. Still, Friedan moved forward with the idea, and across the country, the idea caught on. Studs met with a few of these women in March of 1970, where he parsed complex ideas of oppression and the female experience with them in a fascinating two-part interview.

1970 Women's Liberation March, Washington, D.C.

1970 Women’s Liberation March, Washington, D.C.

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Cultural Connections with James Baldwin and Merce Cunningham

I Am Not Your Negro has opened to major critical acclaim.

It features the writings of James Baldwin, and is an exploration of a book on Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X that Baldwin never completed.  The film’s website describes it as “a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.”

In 1985, James Baldwin returned to Studs’ studio after a twenty-three year break, but their connection had not waned.  Studs starts off the hour by playing an excerpt of their 1961 conversation, which included a Bessie Smith song, and then asks Baldwin what has changed since that day.  He responds with very thoughtful observations on race, language and identity.

Closer to home, catch “Merce Cunningham: Common Time” at the MCA.

The Museum of Contemporary Art’s retrospective focuses on Cunningham’s many collaborations with his artistic contemporaries, including John Cage.  In 1971, Merce Cunningham and John Cage joined Studs in the studio to talk about their work together.  In the featured clip, they talk about chaos and experimentation in art, and what it means to “accept the mess.”  Merce Cunningham talks about what this means practically, while John Cage speaks more conceptually about Thoreau, forests, and thunderstorms.  This brief conversation makes it easy to see why they were such a synergistic pair.

Baldwin photo credit: By Allan warren – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22305867
EyeSpace photo credit: By Daniel Arsham – Daniel Arsham, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42645611

Happy Birthday Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte

Two lights of the entertainment and civil rights worlds are turning 90 this year, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier.  Both men used their artistry and their fame to bring awareness to the plight of African-Americans in our country, as well to shine a spotlight on the amazing contributions African-Americans have made to our nation.

In 1959, Sidney Poitier visited Studs in the studio to talk about his new film The Defiant Ones.

In this clip, he tells Studs how he first became interested in acting.  It leads Studs to ask him, “Has the thought of playing a role, a person who is not necessarily Negro, just an actor; he is neither Negro nor white, just a certain character?  Has this thought occurred to you or come into your ken?”

“Oh of course it has,” replies Poitier.  In his response, he describes his hopes for a future we still have not attained.

In one of the earliest interviews we have in the archive, Studs sits down to talk with Harry Belafonte about music.

In this clip, Belafonte talks to Studs about how he perceives his responsibility as an artist: “I am intellectually conscious of the time when it first became evident to me that I had a responsibility as an artist, but my responsibility in relationship to my people, and in relationship to the culture of my people far surpassing anything else.  It was the recognition of this responsibility that I gave my artistic life a direction.”

Later on in the same interview, Studs and Belafonte talk about the role of the church in the African-American community.  Belafonte goes on to talk about Mahalia Jackson, how he believes that she embodies the role of a leader in the community and admires the way she connects spirituals and popular music.  He gives the example of her version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and after talking about the history of the song, Belafonte asks to hear it.  You can hear it below.

We’re proud to have these men’s voices as part of our archive, and wish them both very happy 90th birthdays!

 

Poitier photo credit:  U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. (ca. 1953 – ca. 1978) – NARA – ARC Identifier:542075 (use http://arcweb.archives.gov/arc/basic_search.jsp and search Actor and Vocalist Harry Belafonte), Avalik omand, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=146400
By United States Department of the Interior National Park Service – http://www.nps.gov/features/malu/feat0002/wof/Sidney_Poitier.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28814756

“If Emmett Till lived, he’d have been your age”

In 1975, when Studs interviewed Muhammad Ali about his book The Greatest, Studs said to him, “If Emmett Till  lived, he’d have been you’re age, wouldn’t he?”  Hear Ali’s response here:

It’s likely you’re familiar with what happened to Emmett Till.  Twenty years before Studs interviewed Muhammad Ali, 14-year-old Till was visiting Mississippi from Chicago when he was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman.  His murderers were acquitted and then confessed publicly.

Earlier this month, Vanity Fair ran a story about author Timothy Tyson‘s new book, The Blood of Emmett Till. In that article, Tyson revealed that the woman who was the alleged whistle-target (Carolyn Bryant Donham) has reneged what she said at the trial for Till’s murder.  The murder, and subsequent trial and acquittal, is credited by many as being the first spark – or last straw – that ignited the Civil Rights movement.

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