Published August 24, 2022 by Bowdoin News

Toshi Reagon Named Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow

Singer, composer, musician, producer, and curator Toshi Reagon has been appointed Bowdoin College’s next Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow and will lead a yearlong inquiry into racial justice, climate justice, gender justice, and faith during the 2022–2023 academic year.
Toshi Reagon
Toshi Reagon

A versatile musician and songwriter described as having a profound ear for sonic Americana, Reagon has been an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Creative Futures Artist-in-Residence with the Carolina Performing Arts organization; other recent projects include her involvement in the Met Civic Practice Partnership and Parable Path artist residencies at the University of Michigan, University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign, Strathmore College, and Emerson College.

Reagon will bring to Bowdoin her Parable Path framework, based on Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a dystopian speculative Afrofuturistic fiction piece providing commentary on climate change and social inequality as the foundation from which she will engage participants.

“What begins as a desperate fight for survival leads to something more profound: a startling vision of human destiny that births the seeds of a new belief system,” Reagon explains.

Through a decades-long career, and most recently through national and international Parable Path collaborations, Reagon has brought people together to name precarities, expand networks, and craft solutions to create a framework for community organizing through artistic engagement. Her McKeen fellowship will focus on student engagement and community-led activities surrounding the belief systems and interrelated social issues that impact healthy living in Maine and the world.

Judith Casselberry, associate professor of Africana studies, who catalyzed Reagon’s 2022–2023 McKeen Fellowship, has been working to build statewide alliances for Parable Path Maine.

As a result, the McKeen Center will be working alongside Portland-based Indigo Arts Alliance, which supports Maine-based Black and brown artists and activists, and the Maine Humanities Council, whose focus on Afrofuturism for the next two years brings the work of Butler to libraries, correctional facilities, and community organizations across the state.

"Toshi Reagon embodies the very definition of artist activist, which sits at the core of our mission,” said Indigo Arts Alliance cofounder and executive director Márcia Minter. “Get ready, Maine, as Toshi will no doubt challenge us as a community to come together in an active exploration of Butler’s prophetic, relevant, and seminal work.”

Cover image of Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower"

Along with Abigail Killeen, professor of theater, Barry Logan, Bowdoin’s Samuel S. Butcher Professor in the Natural Sciences, and Sarah Seames, director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good, Casselberry is bringing faculty, staff, and community activists together to coordinate curricular offerings and campus-wide activities that contribute to Parable Path Maine.

“Toshi’s focus on themes arising in Octavia Butler’s prophetic text provides the Bowdoin community with a profound opportunity to address our own belief systems and systems of interaction,” Casselberry said.

“Our students move through a world of unfettered violence, climate disaster, and attacks on bodily autonomy—all symptoms of humanity’s inability to put love, health, and wholeness above all else. Toshi’s brilliance as a musician and love warrior is the perfect joyful antidote to disheartening times.”

Reagon’s McKeen Visiting Fellowship includes four community convenings. The first was a working group in June with faculty, staff, and community partners. For the subsequent convenings, Reagon will engage community partners from across Maine in conversations based on the themes present in Parable of the Sower.

“We are beyond thrilled about this collaboration,” said Samaa Abdurraqib, Maine Humanities Council executive director. “Bringing these kinds of generative and dynamic humanities-based conversations to every corner of Maine is a key part of our mission work, and we have seen firsthand the lasting impact these conversations have had in Maine communities.”

Sarah Seames, director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good, noted, “The opportunity for our students to learn from Toshi and the amazing community partners invested in social change in Maine is an incredible one. We look forward to building on the impact of Parable Path Maine far beyond this year.”

The fellowship culminates with a performance of Toshi and Bernice Reagon’s congregational opera adaptation of Parable of the Sower. This one-night-only event will be presented by Indigo Arts Alliance and Portland Ovations in association with the College, and will be performed at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, on April 14, 2023. Portland Ovations, a Maine nonprofit has been bringing live performances to Greater Portland since 1931.

Reagon has been the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts award for music composition, OutMusic’s Heritage Award, the Black Lily Music and Film Festival Award for Outstanding Performance, the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) Award Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts, and the 2021 Herb Alpert Award in Music. In 2022, she received an honorary doctorate from Emerson College.

The Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow initiative broadens the exploration of the common good by engagement with a distinguished visitor prominent in public discourse. Through a series of campus visits in the fall and spring semesters, the fellow will participate in a formal presentation, student and faculty meetings, class visits, and community events to form networks that connect the College and the wider community.

ABOUT THE PARTNERS

Indigo Arts Alliance (IAA) is a Black-led organization dedicated to the professional development and amplification of Black and brown artistic vision and practice. Founded in 2018 and formally launched in 2019, IAA is an incubator space with a mission to build global connections by bringing together Black and brown artists from diverse backgrounds to engage in creative process through an Artists in Residency program. Visit indigoartsalliance.me to learn more and support their work.

The Maine Humanities Council (MHC), a statewide nonprofit organization, uses books, poetry, and big ideas to bring people together to discuss issues of importance and create positive change in Maine communities. Their programs and grants encourage critical thinking and conversations across social, economic, and cultural boundaries. The MHC is a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and is the home of Maine’s Center for the Book through the Library of Congress. Visit mainehumanities.org to learn more about MHC’s programming and how to support their work.

Portland Ovations, a Maine nonprofit founded in 1931, is Portland’s presenter of all performance disciplines—Broadway National Tours, dance, theater, and multiple music genres. Ovations’ mission is to contribute to the cultural, social, and economic wellbeing of our communities by presenting an array of high-quality performing artists from around the world and creating diverse educational experiences that bring the enjoyment, energy, and enrichment of the arts to all. Ovations connects artists and audiences through the magic of live performance.