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Experience the Music of Rural South America

City of Asylum Banner (2019)

Tierra Adentro

In the Depths of the Land

Thursday, October 10th
7:00 pm

This fall, City of Asylum is proud to present four concerts celebrating music from around the world. Our World Music Series opens with an evening of songs from different regions of rural South America, performed by internationally acclaimed artists Raquel Winnica Young and Dieter Hennings-Yeoman.

Raquel Winnica Young and Dieter Hennings-Yeoman

This program features folk styles seldom heard in the U.S. including zambas, carnavalitos, cuecas and valses, and the chilena from Oaxaca, based on a Chilean rhythm. These songs feature poetry and lyrics by prominent 20th century South American and Mexican songwriters who were inspired by the life of the “unheard” people who live and work the fields of foreign and desolate lands.

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Oliver Lake & OGJB Quartet

Jazz Poetry Month

Oliver Lake & OGJB Quartet

September 19th & 20th
7:00 pm

Two unique concerts will feature Jazz Poetry founding artist Oliver Lake with his rarely seen supergroup OGJB (Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda, and Barry Altschul), a “leaderless” quartet of jazz innovators who find freedom in ecstatic rhythms and purely democratic improvisation. Each night celebrates radically different music and ideas with poets Alicia Ostriker and Justin Philip Reed among others.

Alicia Ostriker

Thursday, September 19th at 7:00 pm

Lake and his OGJB quartet perform a sweeping composition, “Follow the Sound” with poet, activist, and critic, Alicia Ostriker. Ostriker has received fellowships and awards from the NEA and the Guggenheim. In 2015 she was elected as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Poets Takako Arai, Easther Chigama, Efe Duyan, and City of Asylum Exiled Writer-In-Residence, Osama Alomar, will also perform.

OGJB

Friday, September 20 at 7:00 pm

Lake and the OGJB quartet return to the Alphabet City stage to perform their prescient jazz epic “Justice” alongside poet Justin Phillip Reed. Reed’s full-length collection, Indecency (Coffee House Press, 2018), was the winner of the National Book Award. Takako Arai, Easther Chigama, Efe Duyan and City of Asylum Exiled Writer-in-Residence, Tuhin Das will also perform.

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Portuguese Vocalist-Composer Leads Sextet with 3 Vocalists & Multimedia

City of Asylum (2018)

JAZZ POETRY

Sara Serpa (Portugal) & Emmanuel Iduma (Nigeria)

Saturday, September 14th
7:00 pm

This program of Jazz Poetry is among the most unique we have ever presented – an adaptation of a travelogue that sings and speaks to a longtime concern of City of Asylum: What is home? Intimate Strangers – in song, text and imagery – explores “an atlas of a borderless world.”

Jazz Poetry Performance

This concert is Sara Serpa’s Pittsburgh debut. She has performed world-wide, singing at international festivals such as Festa do Jazz, the Panama Jazz Festival, Festival de Jazz de Montevideo, Wangaratta Jazz Festival and Adelaide Festival, Sopot Jazz Festival … and venues like Bimhuis, Casa da Música, Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, The Stone, Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Kennedy Center for the Arts.

Emmanuel Iduma is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Born and raised in Nigeria, he has contributed essays and stories to journals, magazines, artists’ books, and exhibition catalogues. He is the author of The Sound of Things to Come and most recently A Stranger’s Pose. He received a 2017 Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation grant in arts writing, for his blog A Sum of Encounters. He is a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts and was associate curator of the Nigerian pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

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One of the Most Extraordinary Voices I Have Ever Heard, In Concert

City of Asylum (2018)

Mahsa Vahdat, Vocalist (Iran)
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Sholeh Wolpè, Poet (Iran)

“FREEDOM TO CREATE” CONCERT

Saturday, September 7th
3:00 pm

Each year in September we gather at Alphabet City to honor an international writer or artist who has overcome efforts to limit his or her creative freedom. This year’s honoree is Iranian singer and composer Mahsa Vahdat. And instead of a speech, she will give a concert performance.

Mahsa Vahdat

As a female soloist, Mahsa Vahdat is only permitted to perform for all-female audiences in her home country, which she has refused to do. Now resident in the United States, she has become a passionate advocate for freedom of expression for musicians and composers around the world.

Diane and I first heard Mahsa Vahdat sing in Lillehammer, Norway. Her voice is like the caress of the heart, “breathtaking, timeless, meditative” in the words of one reviewer. And her range is astonishing—from acclaimed collaborations with the experimental contemporary Kronos Quartet…to a recording with blues singer Mighty Sam McClain…and a capella settings of the poems of Rumi in a classical Persian style.

Following Vahdat’s performance, Iranian poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé will do a short reading, which will be followed by a conversation between the artists and an audience Q & A.

I hope you can join us in what will be one of the most memorable and important programs of our year.

– Henry

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Damon Young, Northside Neighbor, Reads from Esteemed Memoir

City of Asylum (2018)

Damon Young:
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker

Friday, August 30th
5:30 pm

You’re invited to gathering of friends, family, neighbors, and fans for a reading and celebration of What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, the critically acclaimed memoir by Northside neighbor Damon Young.

If you’ve been to Alphabet City, chances are you’ve seen Damon chatting with neighbors at the bar or diligently working on his laptop in the main lounge. This program is our chance to celebrate Damon’s success and his service to the Pittsburgh cultural community. The evening includes a reading, discussion, audience Q+A and general hullabaloo.

Damon Young

“Young pulls readers into his world, showing them his vulnerability, hitting them with unflinching honesty about the state of race relations in this country, and keeping them glued to the pages with his wit and humor.” — NPR

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a memoir in essays, boldly chronicling Damon’s efforts to, “exist while black.” Written with candor, self-awareness and considerable humor, Damon turns an unflinching eye on himself and an American society constructed and sustained by racism.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker looks at one man’s Pittsburgh life while simultaneously serves as an authentic, keen and touching example of the black male experience.

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Voices from the Inside: Prison-Writing Award Winners

City of Asylum (2018)

Breaking Out: Voices from the Inside

Tuesday, August 27th
7:00 pm

How do incarcerated voices resonate beyond walls, beyond bars?

Breaking Out: Voices from the Inside is a presentation of Words Without Walls, a program of the Chatham University’s MFA in Creative Writing. The program illuminates experiences of the criminal justice system through a night of readings and performances celebrating PEN America Prison Writing Award winners. Prominent local authors will perform the award-winning pieces of poetry, fiction, memoir & theater written by incarcerated writers.

Voices from the Inside

Performers include a cross-section of activists, artists, journalists, politicians & policymakers. Performances and writings explore common ground in incarcerated and free experiences and reveals the power of sharing ones story.

Breaking Out: Voices from the Inside is presented in partnership with PEN America Center & Chatham University.

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Indie Iranian Film Examines Friendship, Belief and Tradition

City of Asylum (2018)

ReelQ Presents

Facing Mirrors

Wednesday, August 21st
7:00 pm

A low budget film set in contemporary Iran, Facing Mirrors explores an unlikely and daring friendship that develops despite social norms and religious beliefs. It is the first narrative film from Iran to feature a transgender main character.

Facing Mirrors

Although Rana is a traditional wife and mother, she is forced to drive a cab to pay off the debt that keeps her husband in prison. By chance she picks up the wealthy and rebellious Edi, who is desperately awaiting a passport to leave the country. At first Rana attempts to help, but when she realizes that Edi is transgender, a dangerous series of conflicts arises.

Rana is forced to comprehend a different reality—a task that requires reexamining all that she believes in and the traditions she values.

The film’s director, Negar Azarbayjani, won the 2012 Grand Prix at the Paris LGBTQ film festival for her work.

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First Featured on This American Life — Now at Alphabet City

City of Asylum (2018)

Abdi Nor Iftin

Tuesday, August 13th
7:00 pm

Abdi Nor Iftin was a Somali refugee who fled to Kenya in fear of the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab. In 2006, while living in a Kenyan refugee camp, Abdi got “the luckiest break of his life:” winning the lottery for a spot on the short list for a U.S. visa. This was his ticket out. But before he could get what was promise, the police start raiding his neighborhood, targeting refugees. Abdi had to fight and struggle, enduring years of difficulty in his quest to move to America.

Abdi visits Alphabet City to recount his story, first told as a radio-documentary on the BBC World Service and This American Life, and now in his urgent and timely memoir Call Me American.

Call Me American

“Riveting… [Abdi Nor Iftin] had to endure famine, war, a precarious life as a refugee, and a visa-rejecting bureaucracy before a green-card lottery win enabled him to emigrate. His narrative is both panoramic and particular, full of irreverent asides, and suffused with appreciation for the humanity of others.” — The New Yorker

Abdi’s voice reads like an old a friend and readers can’t help but cringe at his struggles and cheer for his triumphs. Abdi’s fighting spirit and eternal optimism exude from the work and we think readers will be moved to his story in person.

Abdi Nor Iftin currently lives in Maine. He is studying political science at the University of Southern Maine, and he plays soccer every Saturday in a melting-pot league of Americans and immigrants from around the world.

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Feature Film Centering Somali Refugees – Followed by Panel Discussion

City of Asylum (2018)

A Stray

Monday, August 5th
7:00 pm

A Stray tells the story of one young man’s journey for belonging.

Adan, the protagonist of A Stray, is the quintessential guy who can’t catch a break. His common refrain, introduced in the first scene: “I’m a Somali and a Muslim, no one’s gonna hire me.” The film follows Adan through the vibrant, and difficult, world of Somali refugees in Minneapolis. This city, and the people in it, are rarely seen in contemporary American films.

A Stray

The film, hailed by the New York Times as “visually striking,” shines a light on what it means for some of the most marginalized Americans to find their place in this country.

A Stray was a critical darling at both the SXSW and BAMcinemas film festivals, and received laudatory reviews in the New York Times. It stars Barkhad Abdi, a Somali-American actor famous for his starring role, alongside Tom Hanks, in Captain Phillips.

This screening is presented in partnership with the Muslim Women’s Association of Pittsburgh, and will feature a moderated panel discussion with Hamza Perez, Youth Director at The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, Haji Muya, Somali refugee and freelance filmmaker, Suad Yusuf of Global Minds Initiative, and graduate student Ilham Abdi, born to Somali refugees.

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Mary Norris Shares Her Passionate Greek Travelogue

City of Asylum (2018)

Mary Norris

Tuesday, July 16th
7:00 pm

A passion for punctuation meets a love for all things Greek.

Mary Norris’ new memoir Greek to Me, traces a decades-long obsession with Greece: its language, literature, mythologies, people, places, food, and monuments. It’s a captivating and satisfying account of a great passion, and is sure to move anyone who’s ever fallen in love with a place.

Mary Norris

Norris is the famous New Yorker copy editor who’s New York Times bestseller, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, delighted readers with her irreverent tales of punctuation in the celebrated copy department. Norris visits City of Asylum to read from Greek to Me, another witty record of her equally passionate fascination with Greece.

A combination of memoir, travelogue, and funny ode to the art of self-expressio, Greek to Me will illuminate for audiences the music of a language that so deeply influences our own.

Mary Norris worked for the New Yorker as a copy editor and query proofreader for more than thirty years. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Norris now lives in New York and Rockaway.

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