CCNY's Harlem storytelling symposium celebrates the interdependence of arts with Compagnia de' Colombari's "Whitman on Walls!"

The City College of New York’s Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing culminates its symposium “Archives as Muse: A Harlem Storytelling Project” with a panel, a viewing of “Whitman on Walls!” by theater troupe Compagnia de' Colombari, and a poetry reading on Tuesday, April 25 from 6-8 p.m.

The multimedia event will take place on the first floor of the North Academic Center (NAC) located at West 138th Street and Convent Avenue. The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP.

The panel will be moderated by Michelle Valladares, director of the MFA program, and includes Compagnia de’ Colombari Founder Karin Coonrod and actors Juliana Francis Kelly and Dietrice Bolden in a discussion about the theater company’s projects, such as “Merchant of Venice” and “Whitman on Walls!” (“WoW!”). An international theater company based in New York City, it is founded on the twin principles that the magic of great theater can happen anywhere and be made accessible to everyone.

Both “Archives as Muse” and “WoW!” celebrate the renaissance of the arts in confluence – poetry, music, film, and the immediate reaction to archival work by contemporary poets. “WoW!” is a work that creates waves whenever it is performed and signifies the symposium: archives as muse put into practice.

Created during the pandemic, “WoW!’s” short videos feature musicians performing original compositions while Compagnia de’ Colombari’s actors recite poetry, sing, voices often overlapping, in a montage edited to heighten the senses and bring layered meaning to poet Walt Whitman’s words.

After each video, poets from the MFA program and alumni will read their work in response. In late 2024, the poems will be anthologized with those from other performances of “WoW!” from 2023-34. An anthology of poems performed in 2022 is currently available.

Coonrod has drawn from Whitman’s 1855 poem "Song of Myself," with its 52 sections and over 1,300 lines. “We specifically use this first edition because it is radical and fresh,” said Coonrod. “Focusing on Whitman's intimacy with his reader, we grabbed the opportunity to be intimate with our audience and go into their living rooms with his words. Whitman is like a provocative lover to his reader. I was interested in catching his provocation towards interdependence and bringing it right to an audience: redefining what it is to be an American. A declaration of interdependence.”

Filmed across the globe, the performers include Kelly, Bolden, and Broadway-actress Linda Powell, chair of the Board of Visitors at The City College’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership and daughter of the late Gen. Colin Powell, opera singer Sarah Heltzel (New York City Opera’s “The Garden of Finzi-Continis”), David Patrick Kelly (“The Crow,” “48 Hours”), Michael Potts (“Show Me a Hero,” “True Detective”) and many others.

“Archives as Muse: a Harlem Storytelling Project” is funded by the LUCE Foundation.

About the City College of New York

Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided a high-quality and affordable education to generations of New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. CCNY embraces its position at the forefront of social change. It is ranked #1 by the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights out of 369 selective public colleges in the United States on the overall mobility index. This measure reflects both access and outcomes, representing the likelihood that a student at CCNY can move up two or more income quintiles. Education research organization Degree Choices ranks CCNY #1 nationally among universities for economic return on investment. In addition, the Center for World University Rankings places CCNY in the top 1.8% of universities worldwide in terms of academic excellence. Labor analytics firm Emsi puts at $1.9 billion CCNY’s annual economic impact on the regional economy (5 boroughs and 5 adjacent counties) and quantifies the “for dollar” return on investment to students, taxpayers and society. At City College, more than 15,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in eight schools and divisions, driven by significant funded research, creativity and scholarship. This year, CCNY launched its most expansive fundraising campaign, ever. The campaign, titled “Doing Remarkable Things Together” seeks to bring the College’s Foundation to more than $1 billion in total assets in support of the College mission. CCNY is as diverse, dynamic and visionary as New York City itself. View CCNY Media Kit.




Thea Klapwald