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How an old white guy got woke

From a new piece published this month in Indianapolis Monthly:

Five years ago, a man called me and began with an apology. “I’m sure you get too many of these,” he said. “But I have to call you because I am writing a book on the Emmett Till murder trial, and you are the only one who was at the trial and is still alive.”

That has become my distinction.

The Supreme Court had outlawed school segregation in its 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that “separate but equal” education was not valid and no longer the law of the land. Everyone knew this was a major decision that would have a huge impact on American life. There was a feeling of national apprehension. What would happen? Would the South revolt? Would it be the start of another Civil War? It felt like the country was holding its breath.

Continue reading the longform piece at Indianapolis Monthly

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“Kurt’s Karass: Dan Wakefield” Premiering at Shortridge High School

Tuesday, May 21st, 7:15 pm

This event is free and open to the public. Kurt’s Karass: Dan Wakefield, a 35 minute short documentary about Kurt Vonnegut Jr, will be followed by a panel discussion featuring the star of the film segment, Indiana’s own Dan Wakefield.

In the film, Wakefield reminisces about Kurt, a 1940 graduate of Shortridge and editor of the school’s daily paper, The Echo. Wakefield, also an Echo writer, graduated a decade later. Wakefield traces his friendship with Kurt from his first meeting with Vonnegut in 1963 to the year before Vonnegut died, when Wakefield gave a talk in New York that Vonnegut attended and then warmly took his old friend out to dinner so they could catch up.

Vonnegut reviewed Wakefield’s first novel Going All The Way, in Life magazine, and wrote “Having written this novel, Dan Wakefield will never be able to go back to Indianapolis. He will have to watch the 500-mile race on television.” It took about forty years for Wakefield to move back to Indy. Going All The Way was later made as a movie starring Ben Affleck, Rachel Weiss and Rose McGowan. Wakefield’s memoir New York in the Fifties was produced as a documentary film by his friend Betsy Blankenbaker, another Indianapolis native, and is available on Netflix.

Commissioned by the Vonnegut Estate, Wakefield has edited compilations and written introductions to the books Kurt Vonnegut LettersIf This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: The Graduation Speeches, and Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories, with Jerome Klinkowitz.

Former WFYI radio personality and longtime Indianapolis resident, Travis DiNicola, returns to Indy to emcee the event. DiNicola, founder of Indy Reads Books, is thrilled to return to the stage with Dan Wakefield and host the evening’s panel discussion, “Sitting down and talking with Uncle Dan about writing, and his memories of authors he has known, is one of my favorite things, and perhaps what I miss most about living in Indy. I’m so excited to be given this opportunity to come back to Indy and share a conversation with Dan and the audience.”

After the screening the panel discussion, including Wakefield and emcee Travis DiNicola, will feature Shortridge student Shaun’Tae Swanson, Shortridge teacher Michael Gawdzik, and Max Goller, who conducts courses for teachers who want to use Vonnegut’s work in their classrooms.

The Charles Bruce Foundation, a Pennsylvania based non-profit that supports Writers, Artists and Musicians (WAM!), in conjunction with the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library has devoted the past three years to interviewing some of the Vonnegut’s dearest friends. The film team – headed by Tim Hashko of Steaming Kettle Films – has produced a series of short documentaries in hopes of preserving fond memories of this American Icon as shared first hand by his closest companions. Earlier productions featured artists Joe Petro III and the infamous Ralph Steadman.

Special thanks to the folks at Shortridge High. None of this would be possible without Shortridge educators, Mike Gadzick – who will be participating in the panel discussion – and Charles Langley who coordinated the event for the high school.

 

Panelist information:

Michael Gawdzik is a language and literature teacher at Shortridge High School. For the last two years, he has strengthened the connection between Shortridge High School and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library by incorporating Kurt Vonnegut focused curriculum at every grade level. His hope for every student at Shortridge is to read at least one book by the beloved Hoosier author.

Max Goller is the Director of Education at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Goller works with educators across the U.S. promoting classroom teaching of ideas related to Kurt Vonnegut. He retired with 20 years of service from the United States Navy in 2001 having served as an electronics technician, instructor, and recruiter. Max currently teaches 8th grade English at Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate Junior High School in Fishers, Indiana.

Shaun’tae Swanson is an African American girl that has seen the scary side of this world: the side we think is normally hidden from children. She is an artist that seeks to put her trauma to use, painting vivid imagery with her words. She is a poet, writer, but most importantly a reader. Reading is a part of who she is, and has taught her how to become the writer she dreams to be.

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Invoke The Muse!: Music and Memory at “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam”

“The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam”

Tuesday night, April 30, 6-8 pm at The Jazz Kitchen

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I could do my autobiography with music. Songs of an era bring pictures to mind.

“Don’t Fence Me In” – I’m on a streetcar going from Broad Ripple to Tabernacle Church to play basketball in the Eighth Grade, and my School #80 pal Dickie Richardson is with me. Itchy Richardson goes to Broad Ripple and becomes a basketball star; I go to Shortridge and write about basketball for The Daily Echo.

“How High The Moon:” Les Paul and Mary Ford are doing their version of the song that stands for all high school romance, we’re “parking” at Crown Hill Cemetery, or buzzing the D-Vu, or playing the jukebox inside at Spencer’s drive-in.

“Here Comes the Sun” – I’m lying on the grass in the Boston Public Garden with my hippie friends, looking up through a green panorama of leaves of the tallest tree we could find to lie under, and this weekend Janis Joplin is coming to give a concert and the following Saturday Joni Mitchell is coming this is as close as you get to heaven.

The Gypsy Kings are playing “Volare” and I’m driving my ten-year-old God Daughter to Oleta River State Park in Miami for a weekend family retreat of The Coral Gables Congregational Church; whatever The Gypsy Kings play it seems like Miami.

I have always played songs to inspire stories that become novels or memoirs, and I’ve learned that music is now being used in therapy with people who have Alzheimers, and with autistic patients. That’s what we’ll explore at the next “Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” at The Jazz Kitchen on April 30 with music by the fabulous saxophone player Sophie Faught and her band – Kenny Phelps on drums and Jesse Wittman on bass. We’ll also have Dr. Meganne Masko with her guitar, which she uses in therapy sessions. Dr. Masko teaches at IUPUI and is one of more than 200 music therapists in Indiana, working in hospice, nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, rehab centers and clinics.

My writer friend Susan Neville, Butler professor and prize-winning author of books that evoke readers’ memories, will also be with us for the new “Jam.”  I want to ask her what music she might have used to inspire her moving Indiana Winter, whose lyrical prose seems like it might very well be set to music. I will pass this idea on to my musician friend Tim Brickley, who composed a song for the movie of my novel Going All The Way. Who knows what creative projects and powers will be launched that night? The music of Sophie and her crew is bound to inspire you. It’s “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” at The Jazz Kitchen, Tuesday night, April 30, 6-8 pm. $20 admission, $10 for students (all must be over 21.) As we used to say in the days when I lay on the grass of the Boston Public Garden and

looked up at sun while The Beatles played in my head: Be there or be square!

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield