Introductions: Saul Williams
October 15, 2015
On September 24, Seattle poet, performer, teaching artist and WITS Writer-in-Residence Daemond Arrindell introduced and interviewed Saul Williams, the first presenter of SAL’s 2015/16 Season and in this year’s Hinge Series.
Saul Williams has been called many things – Renaissance man, film maker, rapper, actor, hip hop’s poet laureate. “Most of the labels that are projected onto me are seldom how I would choose to refer to myself,” he says. He also says, “It is an honor to be called a poet.” But the one label he takes on at will is Artist. As artist, he has published five books of poetry, released five music albums, played the lead in “Holler if You Hear me,” a Broadway play based off of the music of Tupac Shakur, and the list goes on and on.
My introduction to Saul Williams came in the late nineties through the movie Slam, which he starred in and co-wrote, addressing art, race, and mass incarceration – a topic at the forefront of many current conversations but at that time was barely on the register. Still, the memory that comes first for me is Saul at Brave New Voices, the International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, framed onstage by a half moon of youth poets. The youth become his choir, chanting his poem back at him, word for word.
Though he does not take on the title of activist, we need artists to address what the activist is not able to. The Civil Rights era had its reflection shined through the works of James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Hansberry…
In his current collection, Saul looks at the US from both an internal and external perspective: a black American born and raised here who lives outside of our borders for a number of years and then returns to find how much, and how little has actually changed. His ability to incorporate black history (which is American history), pop culture, spirituality, and politics, into the musings of daily life and treat them not as separate entities, but parts of a puzzle that like each of us are in fact not separate, speaks to his necessity as an artist today, to help us see the US.