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Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic

Art, Activism, Academia, and the Austin Project

Edited by Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, Lisa L. Moore, and Sharon Bridgforth

Publication Year: 2010

In Austin, Texas, in 2002, a group of artists, activists, and academics led by performance studies scholar Omi Osun Joni L. Jones formed the Austin Project (tAP), which meets annually in order to provide a space for women of color and their allies to build relationships based on trust, creativity, and commitment to social justice by working together to write and perform work in the jazz aesthetic. Inspired by this experience, this book is both an anthology of new writing and a sourcebook for those who would like to use creative writing and performance to energize their artistic, scholarly, and activist practices. Theoretical and historical essays by Omi Osun Joni L. Jones describe and define the African American tradition of art-making known as the jazz aesthetic, and explain how her own work in this tradition inspired her to start tAP. Key artists in the tradition, from Bessie Award–winning choreographer Laurie Carlos and writer/performer Robbie McCauley to playwrights Daniel Alexander Jones and Carl Hancock Rux, worked with the women of tAP as mentors and teachers. This book brings together never-before-published, must-read materials by these nationally known artists and the transformative writing of tAP participants. A handbook for workshop leaders by Lambda Literary Award–winning writer Sharon Bridgforth, tAP’s inaugural anchor artist, offers readers the tools for starting similar projects in their own communities. A full-length script of the 2005 tAP performance is an original documentation of the collaborative, breath-based, body work of the jazz aesthetic in theatre, and provides both a script for use by theatre artists and an invaluable documentation of a major transformative movement in contemporary performance .

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Louann Atkins Temple Women & Culture Series


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pp. vii-ix

In Austin, Texas, in 2002, a group of artists, activists, and academics formed the Austin Project (tAP), which provides a space for women of color and their allies to write and perform in a jazz aesthetic as a strategy for social change. This volume assembles the work of many of these individuals. In addition to the pleasure...

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pp. xi-xiii

I thank the joyous healing power of the river for sustaining me, for opening me to the idea of the Austin Project....


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Chapter One. Making Space: Producing the Austin Project

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pp. 3-11

When I first conceived the idea of the Austin Project in the fall of 2002, I didn’t know that I was trying to save my life. Perhaps each attempt at art or scholarship or activism is a way to ward off the annihilation of the self. Even as the idea began to acquire clear contours, I just thought it would be a good thing to do—bring together...

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Chapter Two. Finding Voice: Anchoring the Austin Project's Artistic Process

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pp. 12-25

In this chapter, Sharon Bridgforth, the Austin Project’s inaugural Anchor Artist, describes the genesis and technique of her Finding Voice method of workshop facilitation. She offers a handbook for those who wish to use this approach in their own teaching...


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Chapter Three. Polyphony: Writings by Ensemble Members

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pp. 29-153

At the heart of the Austin Project is the personal work—whether it be creative, political, or spiritual—of each participant. This chapter includes writing produced in the workshop by most of the women who participated in the first five years of the Austin Project (2002–2006). An anthology of poetry, prose, memoir, playwriting, and spiritual reflection, this chapter...

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Chapter Four. Call and Response: Performance Pieces by Austin Project Guest Artists

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pp. 154-258

The Austin Project invited nationally recognized artists, all of them important in the jazz aesthetic tradition, to mentor participants and to workshop new work of their own. Here, for the first time, we publish the work that the five Guest Artists—Laurie Carlos (Marion’s Terrible Time of Joy), Daniel Alexander Jones (The Book of Daniel)...

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Chapter Five. Affirming Connection: Pre-Show Artists' Performance Texts

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pp. 259-272

A central goal of the Austin Project is to connect national, regional, and emerging artistic voices in the jazz aesthetic tradition. In this chapter, Austin-area artists who presented work as “opening acts” for the Austin Project Showcase in 2002 and 2003 publish those pieces for the first time. Brief biographies of each are included. The artists are Martha Perez (dancer and choreographer), Darla Johnson (dancer and...

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Chapter Six. Spoken-Word Orchestra: A Full Script from the Austin Project Jam Session, December 2005

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pp. 273-319

This full-length script is an attempt to do the impossible: to document the ephemeral, improvised, imperfectly remembered, in-the-moment experience of one evening of performance by the Austin Project. In 2005, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones changed the format of the performances at the end of a session of the Austin Project. Instead of a showcase of local guest artists and individual readings by participants, Jones asked Laurie...


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Chapter Seven. Transforming Practice: Artists, Activists, and Academics Working across Boundaries

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pp. 323-342

A key strategy of the Austin Project is to empower women through ensemble writing and performance in the jazz aesthetic, giving them methods and insights they can take back to their own creative, intellectual, political, and spiritual work. In this chapter, an artist...

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Chapter Eight. Work of the Spirit: A Conversation with an Austin Project Elder

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pp. 343-349

This chapter emphasizes the spiritual aspect of the work of the Austin Project. A partial transcript of a group conversation with a spiritual elder, the chapter offers an opportunity, through raúlrsalinas’s insights, to consider the interactions of art, activism, and spiritual practice...

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Chapter Nine. Narrating the Austin Project: The First Five Years

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pp. 350-367

In this final chapter, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones maps out the first five years of organizing the Austin Project in a personal narrative. Interweaving autobiography, advice, and documentation, this chapter is designed to be a springboard for organizing in your community...


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pp. 369-372


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pp. 373-376

E-ISBN-13: 9780292792968
E-ISBN-10: 0292792964
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292722040
Print-ISBN-10: 0292722044

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 1 b&w photo, 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Louann Atkins Temple Women & Culture Series
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 649479083
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic

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Subject Headings

  • Art and social action -- United States.
  • Performance art -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Music and literature -- United States.
  • Performance art -- Texts.
  • African American aesthetics.
  • Austin Project.
  • Performance poetry -- Authorship -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • American poetry -- Women authors.
  • Performance poetry.
  • Creative writing -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
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