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Word for Word: ‘Citizen’ by Greg Sarris - The Art Song of Black Composers: Candace Y. Johnson and Adolphus Hailstork

Playwright and novelist Greg Sarris
John Burgess/The Press Democrat
Playwright and novelist Greg Sarris

This week on Open Air, KALW’s radio magazine for the Bay Area Performing Arts in Times of Corona, host David Latulippe welcomes back to the virtual stage of our Corona Radio Theater, San Francisco performing arts company Word for Word, with the first installment of Citizen by novelist and playwright Greg Sarris, who joins us for an interview. Plus, a talk with soprano Candace Y. Johnson about her new series The Art Song of Black Composers on The Marsh’s digital platform MarshStream, featuring composer Adolphus Hailstork, who joins the conversation.

San Francisco performing arts company Word for Word's mission is to tell great stories with elegant theatricality. The first ensemble to perform on Open Air’s Corona Radio Theater during the early pandemic, Word for Word now returns to our virtual stage with their podcast production of Citizen by Bay Area novelist and playwright Greg Sarris. Open Air will broadcast this radio play in three installments, with part 2 and 3 to follow on May 27 and June 4.

Born and raised in Santa Rosa, novelist and playwright Greg Sarris is the author of six books. His best-known work, Grand Avenue, is a collection of short stories about contemporary Native American life. Grand Avenue is a real place located in Santa Rosa's South Park district and the stories are based on his own life. Sarris served as co-executive producer of the 1996 HBO miniseries adapted from Grand Avenue.

Sarris has been a professor in Writing and Native American Studies at Sonoma State University since 2005, and he is currently serving his fourteenth term as Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, his tribe, which was formerly known as the Federated Coast Miwok.

Citizen is the tale of Salvador, born in the U.S., raised in Mexico, son of an American Indian mother and a Mexican father. He has returned to California to find his mother, or rather, her grave. Working in the fields and ranches around Santa Rosa, he meets his mother's family, encountering both kindness and opportunism, as well as glimmers of hope. An American citizen, who speaks no English, Salvador procures his proof of citizenship and begins to discover his true identity, and what it means to belong.

And, we welcome back soprano and actress Dr. Candace Y. Johnson to talk about a new series of musical solo performances on The Marsh’s digital platform MarshStream, called The Art Songs of Black Composers.

Johnson kicks off the series on May 22 and 23 with Music to My Ears - Hearing Adolphus Hailstork. Joined by San Francisco Symphony pianist Marc Shapiro, she shines a light on acclaimed modern composer Hailstork’s five-part song cycle Ventriloquist Acts of God. Through song and theatrical storytelling, Johnson unpacks the songs as if in a university music class, where a professor and her students discuss how to hear the music – and each other – in a whole new way.

Open Air, with host David Latulippe, heard live on Thursday, May 20 at 1pm; to be archived at this location afterwards. Listen now or anytime…

Niels Swinkels is a freelance journalist, musicologist, sound engineer, and radio producer. Born and raised in the Netherlands, he studied English and Musicology at the University of Nijmegen. Before moving to San Francisco, he was the Arts Editor, and Senior Classical Music & Opera critic for Brabants Dagblad, a Dutch daily newspaper. In addition to producing KALW’s Open Air, a weekly radio magazine for the Bay Area Performing Arts, he is also a wine guy at Trader Joe’s Nob Hill in San Francisco...