Stalwart Originality: New Traditions in Black Performance

Stalwart Originality: New Traditions in Black Performance is an annual event that provides a forum for both our campus and the wider community to discuss a broad range of topics, such as tradition, identity, culture, spirituality, history, change, politics, and the creative process.

Initially conceived to contextualize student interest in art forms rooted in African traditions, Stalwart also provides an opportunity to explore new forms of music, media, dance, theater, literature, and art while providing students, faculty, and the community direct contact with working artists.

The name Stalwart Originality derived from a quote by W.E.B. DuBois addressing the American Negro Academy in 1897. There, he stated that African American people were “a nation stored with wonderful possibilities of culture” that could be realized not by imitating Europeans but by pursuing and preserving their own “stalwart originality.”

Although there is no set format for Stalwart—it changes every year depending on research, scope of the project, and student, departmental, and community support— there are four main components. Residencies bring visiting artists and scholars to Williams; public performances and presentations by these artists alongside students allow for an exchange of ideas and shared creativity; panel discussions after performances allow community engagement with artists, scholars, and students; and workshops provide intense interactive experiences for students and faculty.

Kenyan poet, playwright, theater artist, and political activist Shailja Patel is this year’s Stalwart visiting artist. Patel is in residency at Williams from February 22 to March 3. While she is here, she will lead a workshop for area high school students, visit Williams professor Katarzyna Pieprzak’s class called Displaying, Collecting and Preserving the Other: Museums and French Imperialism, and perform Bwagamoyo: The Father (Part II of Migritude). Her work charts a voyage from colonial Zanzibar to Kenya by way of the male body, drawing on her father’s history and her own involvement in Kenya’s post-election crisis. Through this story, Patel explores how the stories of our bodies are intimately mirrored in the larger Body Politic, and in our national histories. For tickets, visit the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.

Started in 2001 by dance professor Sandra Burton and former Williams faculty member Annemarie Bean, participants have included Ronald K. Brown, choreographer of the new production of Porgy and Bess, and the rising Zimbabwean star Nora Chipaumire; poet/musicians Carl Hancock Rux, Sekou Sundiata, and DJ Spooky; and actors such as Oni Faida Lampley and Roger Guenveur Smith.

Stalwart has been supported since 2000 by partners both on and off campus—from Williams groups such as WBSU, the Multicultural Center, and the Africana Studies Department to community institutions such as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Front image: Shailja Patel, this year’s Stalwart Originality Artist-in-Residence. (c)All rights reserved by Books LIVE.