Playwright Christina Ham loves little known stories inspired by history. But after she digs in the archives, Ham sets aside the research and lets her imagination take over. Local audiences can’t get enough of Ham’s imaginary worlds. Her play about the singer Nina Simone set box office records and had grown men crying on her shoulder. I reported this story for KFAI in Minneapolis. (Photo by Rick Fleischman)
On the day that Prince’s death was announced in April, I got a call from Ken Barcus, who is NPR’s Midwest Bureau Chief. He wanted to know if I could go to Prince’s Paisley Park estate and interview mourners. I got in my car and headed south to Chanhassen, Minnesota, which is about 30 minutes outside of Minneapolis. When I arrived in the late afternoon, the scene was somber and expectant. Helicopters were flying overhead. Fans trickled in with cards and flowers. The international news media was there, waiting for something to happen. Over the next few days, the fence around Paisley Park would explode into a memorial thick with poems, flowers, artwork, and many purple balloons. But on that first day, the fence was sparsely decorated. Fans at the scene seemed shell shocked. One of the people I interviewed that day was Suzanne O’Keefe (pictured below), who told me she had broken down crying when she learned about Prince’s death while sitting in a bank parking lot.
I filed several newscast spots for NPR in those first days following Prince’s death. Here’s a sampler of that coverage.
In 2014, when news broke that the police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri would not be indicted, Minneapolis singer-songwriter Jayanthi Kyle transformed her grief and frustration into art. She teamed up with fellow musician Wes Burdine to co-write a protest song that would go on to become a fixture at racial justice protest rallies in the Twin Cities. I interviewed Kyle for the BBC’s Cultural Frontline about the genesis and impact of the song, which is titled “Hand in Hand,” and how it became an unofficial anthem for the local Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo credit: Tony Webster)
Editor’s note: Another version of this story aired on KFAI as part of the station’s Minneculture series on Minnesota arts, culture, history, and the environment.
Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in North America. Each July, thousands of people from around the world come to the Twin Cities to celebrate Somali Independence Day. In 2016, that event got a whole lot bigger. I reported this story for KFAI in Minneapolis. (Photo by Nancy Rosenbaum)
The Virginia-based public radio program With Good Reason assigned me to produce an audio postcard about a Native American spiritual ceremony called the Ghost Dance. Cedric Red Feather (pictured above) is a Mandan Turtle Priest based in Minnesota who organized this Ghost Dance ceremony I observed in May 2016. The segment I produced was part of a larger feature on historian Elizabeth Fenn whose book about the Mandan, Encounters at the End of the World, won a Pulitzer Prize for History in 2015. While researching the book, Fenn and Red Feather became friends. Fenn credits Red Feather with helping her to appreciate the significance of Mandan spiritual life.
In the interview with host Sarah McConnell, Fenn, who describes herself as being “spiritually challenged” says: “I recognized that it would be sheer hubris to write about a people without acknowledging the way they experience the world, even if I can’t appreciate it fully…just a respect requires me to engage with their spiritual lives and Cedric was instrumental in helping me do that.”
You can listen to the full interview with Fenn here.
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