October 31, 2016

Writing as Liberation

by Ana Sekler (MA 2016)

Playwright, poet, essayist, rapper, and professor Idris Goodwin (MFA 2004) composes and transforms words for a variety of written and spoken forms. From notable plays, like How We Got On and This is Modern Art to a children’s rhyme on Sesame Street and a performance on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, Goodwin’s words translate across a range of platforms. He recently returned to SAIC for a special performance where he talked about freedom, writing, and pursuing a colorful life.

Goodwin, who studied in the Department of Writing at SAIC, says he was “interested in a myriad of written styles and forms and knew that the program would allow me to try my hand widely.” He describes his time at SAIC as being one of the most important chapters in his life, a challenging and encouraging experience that exposed him to much contemporary art across a variety of media.

“Meeting Writing Professor Beau O’Reilly was definitely an integral step on my career and creative journey. I believe in ‘the invitation.’ Sometimes creatives need to be invited into the forum by someone. Beau invited my words onto the stage, and I have remained ever since,” says Goodwin.

In October, the Department of Writing invited Goodwin back to SAIC for a performance titled Poetic Politics: Genre as Resistance in Citizen based on Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. Citizen is a groundbreaking text in an important tradition of African American art. It unapologetically forces the reader/viewer to confront a complicated culturally specific reality. It is honest and raw and rooted in a dialectic of reporting the human experience. This is what great art should do. In this moment, books like Citizen are crucial to healing this racially traumatized nation/world,” says Goodwin.

His performance at SAIC, like his writing, took various forms from reading poetic lyrics, “I write windows and doorways; art allows us the opportunity to enter rooms we would not otherwise in an effort to make us better humans,” to recounting meaningful experiences in classes he has taught at Colorado College. Regardless of the forms they inhabited, Goodwin’s words contained a clarity and flow that evoke the hip-hop music that he grew up with.

Like one of his most significant influences, the African-American playwright, August Wilson, who fused his own love of blues music into his plays, Goodwin combines his love for hip-hop music in his playwriting.

For Goodwin, “reading a play is like reading the lyrics of your favorite band.” So it seems only natural that the latest iteration of his play, How We Got On, being performed in Chicago at the Den Theatre, contains a narrator who is also a DJ. Drawing on his personal relationship growing up writing, spouting, and recording rap music, Goodwin’s play is a coming of age story set in the 1980s that tells the story of three teenagers and the hip-hop music that defined them. The characters come together and develop through their shared love for the music.

 “I write to liberate myself; I work and teach to create spaces for liberation,” relates Goodwin. Whether teaching, rhyming, writing, or performing, Goodwin’s work creates windows through which society can look out and see within.