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Louisiana filmmaker joins MIT, to speak Nov. 2

Author, educator and filmmaker Kalamu Ya Salaam of New Orleans will begin an artist's residency at MIT tomorrow.
Author, educator and filmmaker Kalamu Ya Salaam of New Orleans will begin an artist's residency at MIT tomorrow.
Photo courtesy / Kalamu Ya Salaam

The creator of an online project to document the lives of residents of New Orleans, who was himself displaced by Hurricane Katrina, will begin a weeklong artist's residency at MIT on Oct. 27.

Kalamu Ya Salaam -- author, educator, filmmaker and creator of the narrative archive, "Listen to the People: The Neo-Griot New Orleans Project" -- was forced to move to Tennessee following the hurricane and subsequent flooding.

A producer and disc jockey for WWOZ, 90.7FM in New Orleans before the hurricane, Salaam, 58, whose name means "Pen of Peace," will focus his activities at MIT on discussions of the social, political and cultural impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

"New Orleans has been divided into wet and dry areas. The dry areas are predominantly white and wealthy. The question of 'rebuilding' New Orleans is a question of how many 'wet' citizens will be brought back into the city," Salaam said.

Salaam will also share his experience with how digital technologies can support and enhance community development and intercommunity relations.

Ayida S. Mthembu, associate dean for student support services, organized Salaam's visit to MIT.

"With his visit to MIT, we will have someone on campus who will make sure we as a community can talk about the whole effect of Katrina. He will raise awareness of the deeper issues," Mthembu said.

Salaam will continue work on his project, "Listen to the People," while residing at MIT, Mthembu said. Working with a videographer, Salaam intends to interview anyone at the Institute or in the Cambridge/Boston area who was affected by Hurricane Katrina.

"By continuing his work, he will show how artists and scholars rise to the occasion, when so much has been taken away. His presence gives students a chance to see that art is relevant to this particular situation and how an artist can respond by asking, 'How can I be helpful, using my skills?''' Mthembu said.

Salaam will participate in other events during the week.

On Friday, Oct. 28, in Room 4-231 at 7 p.m., Salaam will join Mthembu's film-series seminar, "Topics in Pan-African Studies," speaking on issues of race and class in relation to Katrina, and showing video clips from "Listen to the People."

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, in Room 4-163 at 7 p.m., Salaam will read from his own poetry and prose about New Orleans culture and the impact of displacement.

Salaam is a co-founder (with Kysha Brown) of Runagate Multimedia, a publishing company, and he is the moderator of e-drum, a listserv of more than 1,600 black writers. His latest movies include "On His Way," a documentary about jazz funerals.

The recipient of a 1999 Senior Literature Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Salaam has published the anthology "From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets" (Runagate Press, 1998).

To participate in Salaam's "Listen to the People" project, please contact Mthembu at

Salaam's residency at MIT is sponsored in part by the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 26, 2005 (download PDF).

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