806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Pittsburgh’s Top Songwriting Talent

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Songwriters in the Round

Sunday, January 26th
6:00 pm

Have you ever wondered what it takes to write a new song? Ever been curious about the stories that inspire musicians to pluck a new chord or pen a new lyric?

In this acoustic concert, four songwriters take turns showcasing original songs and sharing the stories behind how they were written. This is an evening to support local musicians and experience the process of composing and workshopping new songs. It’s open to budding songwriters and music enthusiasts alike.

Presented in cooperation with the Pittsburgh chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.

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The Consequences of Corporate Corruption

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Kickback: Exposing the Global Bribery Network

Tuesday, January 14th
7:00 pm

The World Bank estimates that rich multinational corporations pay hundreds of billions of dollars in bribes every year to officials overseas. The perpetrators are not a handful of rogue companies, but many members of the Fortune 500.

Kickback is a searing exploration of this global system of corruption and inequality, and how these backdoor transactions undermine global democracy. From Nigeria to Bangladesh, Greece to China, journalist David Montero tracks how corporate payments line the pockets of some of the most authoritarian and repressive regimes in the world and ultimately exact a devastating toll on human rights, political stability and the overall health of many of the world’s poorest nations.

David Montero

Formerly a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor and a regular producer for PBS’s flagship investigative series, FRONTLINE, David Montero has twice been nominated for an Emmy Award and has won the South Asian Journalist Association’s Daniel Pearl Award. Montero has also written for Longreads, The New York Times, The Nation, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harvard Business Review and many others

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Clear and Present Stranger: Words from Incarcerated Writers

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Wednesday, December 4th
7:00 pm

How do incarcerated voices resonate beyond walls, beyond bars?

Clear and Present Stranger is a presentation of the University of Pittsburgh’s Prison Education Project (PPEP). PPEP is a collaboration between Pitt’s English Department and incarcerated and non-incarcerated students, offering both Inside-Out and inside-only courses.

Clear and Present Stranger

This program illuminates experiences of the criminal justice system through a night of readings and performances, written by incarcerated writers and performed by their undergraduate colleagues. Performances and writings explore common ground in incarcerated and free experiences and reveals the power of sharing ones story.

Formed in 2016, the Pitt Prison Education Project (PPEP) has been teaching courses at the State Correctional Institute at Fayette (SCI Fayette) modeled on the nationally known Inside Out (I-O) prison exchange program, which has a 20-year track record of success at over 100 educational institutions and 100 correctional facilities. Taught at the prison, these courses are composed of both incarcerated (inside) students and traditional (outside) undergraduates. They have been transformational for all involved.

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The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Returns to Alphabet City

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The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Presents

New & Old

Thursday, December 5th
7:00 pm

Join musicians from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and guest soloist Augustin Hadelich for “New and Old,” the premier event in the new PSO @ COA collaborative season.

Pittsburgh Symphony + City of Asylum

Resident Conductor Andrés Franco and PSO guest soloist Augustin Hadelich lead an evening exploring connections between new and old works of art. Praised for his interpretations of modern composers and his “flair for bringing older music into present tense,” (The New Yorker) violinist Augustin Hadelich is one of today’s star violinists, known for performing wide-ranging repertoire that connects modern and traditional works. He is a guest musician not to be missed!

Pittsburgh writers Bonita Lee Penn and Wendy Scott will also read their work.

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From Undocumented Teenager to Southern Mom

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City of Asylum Memoir Series Presents

Sunday, November 10th
6:00 pm

In MALAYA: Essays On Freedom, author Cinelle Barnes opens a window into her past as an undocumented, Filipino teenager determined to build a future amidst the hustle of New York City. Prevented from getting a driver’s license or filing taxes, Cinelle worked odd jobs — constantly looking over her shoulder, hoping not to get caught. Cinelle also shares essays of her present, as a young mother navigating the stubborn landscape of the American South.

Lyrical and emotionally driven, MALAYA is the stirring follow-up to Cinelle’s acclaimed memoir on her childhood, Monsoon Mansion.

This is an intensely personal, yet universal, exploration of race, class and identity that redefines what it means to be a woman—and an American—in a divided country.
Cinelle Barnes

“Luminescent and shattering, Barnes’s book is a triumph: a conquering of the past through the power of the written word.” — Booklist (starred review)

Cinelle Barnes is a memoirist, essayist, and educator from Manila, Philippines. She is the author of Monsoon Mansion: A Memoir, which was listed as a Best Nonfiction Book of 2018 by Bustle and nominated for the 2018 Reading Women Nonfiction Award. She is also the editor of a forthcoming anthology of essays about the American South by writers of color. Cinelle was the 2018–19 writer-in-residence at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, South Carolina, where she and her family live.

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Shirley Chisholm for President

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Sembène Film Festival Presents


Sunday, October 27th
6:00 pm

CHISHOLM ’72: Unbought & Unbossed is the definitive documentary of Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm — the first black woman elected to congress — and her long shot campaign to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. Traveling the “Chisholm Trail” from the announcement of her candidacy to the Democratic National Convention six months later, this story is like Shirley — fabulous and fierce.

Chisholm '72

“An essential historical record of Chisholm’s campaign and its significance to American culture and politics told in Chisholm’s voice…Crucial example of civic engagement and one person who made a difference.” — Variety

Congresswoman Chisholm ran up hard against the political realities, institutional sexism, and racism of the era. Shunned by the political establishment, she asked people of color, feminists and young voters for their support to reshape society and take control of their destiny. To the surprise of many, voters responded.

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Introducing the Latinx & Proud! Reading Series

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Latinx & Proud! Reading Series Presents

Denice Frohman

Tuesday, October 19th
7:00 pm

Denice Frohman’s poetry focuses on celebrating the parts of ourselves that are deemed unworthy. Known for her “electrifying” performance style, Denice has been featured on Buzzfeed and EPSNW – garnering over 10 million online views. She has performed on many international stages including The Apollo, Pen World Voices Festival, and at The White House.

Latinx & Proud!

Denice seeks to inspire all people to discover the power of their voices and to know their stories are worth telling. We’re moved by Denice’s work and passion, and can’t wait to kick off the Latinx & Proud! Reading Series with force.

Denice is joined by powerhouse poets M. Soledad Caballero, Tanya Shirazi, & Zeca Gonzalez.

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Latinx & Proud! Advisory Board

Adriana E. Ramírez, Eloisa Amezcua, Malcolm Friend & Karla Lamb

The mission of the Latinx & Proud! Reading Series is to incite conversation, empower & amplify the Latinx community in Pittsburgh, PA & beyond.

Experience the Music of Rural South America

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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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Portuguese Vocalist-Composer Leads Sextet with 3 Vocalists & Multimedia

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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

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


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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