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Sekou Sundiata: 1948-2007.

OTHER PEOPLE SIGN their e-mails "Sincerely," "Regards," "Best," "Cheers." Sekou Sundiata's e-mails to me closed with, "All of a sudden ... Sekou."


An apt closing: distinctive, evocative, playful, alliterative, impossible to ignore. Suited to the man.

But all too apt a closing. All of a sudden on July 18, Sekou, always so vital, was gone.

Sekou Sundiata was an artist, thinker, doer, poet, performer, musician, storyteller, agitator, provocateur, citizen, teacher. He was an expansive soul, a generous talent, elegant, incisive, fun. He didn't just blur boundaries, he obliterated them; his poems were inseparable from his music, his music was theatre, his theatre was political action, his politics were poetry.

I first met Sekou from the audience. Like so many, I saw blessing the boats, written after his kidney transplant, and signed up on the spot as a kidney donor.

At the 2005 TCG Conference, I met Sekou the thinker. His spoke incisively of imagination and democracy, of exploring America through poetry, singing circles and discussions with nationals and immigrants, students, senior citizens and everyone in between. Like so many, I heard his message and was inspired.

At the New School, I met Sekou the teacher, as a colleague. His classes were legend, and rightly so. Students engaged in art and ideas in real time, thrashing thorny issues and putting the struggle on the page and the stage. They debated, created and ended elated and ready to be heard in the world. Like so many, I saw Sekou teach students their own power.

His work, unflinchingly, told how drugs, high blood pressure, kidney failure and a car accident tried to do him in. But he conquered them. Lithe and strong, Sekou seemed anything but frail. Even felled by a heart attack at 58, Sekou remains indomitable.

Sekou Sundiata's expansive legacy includes his works such as Are & Be, The Mystery of Love, The Circle Unbroken Is a Hard Bop, Longstoryshort, Udu and The 51st (dream) state, as well as the ethnic studies classes he helped battle into being as a City College student, the attention to race he insisted on, and the countless students he enriched.

Sekou wrote in "Shout Out":

Here's to what you forgot and who you forgot.

Here's to the unforgettable.

To the was you been to the is you am

To what's deep in deep to what's down in down

To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.

Here's to the unforgettable was Sekou was, to the is that is his legacy.

Victoria Abrash is a dramaturg, a teacher at New York University and the New School, and program director for the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention.

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Title Annotation:IN MEMORIAM
Author:Abrash, Victoria
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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