Sekou Sundiata


Sekou Sundiata (1948-2007), born Robert Franklin Feaster, was a well known poet and writer. When he developed a love of poetry as a teenager, he changed his name, drawing influence from Sekou Toure, Ghana’s most famous president, and Sundiata from Sundiata Keita, king of Mali-Baraka. Many of Sundiata’s works were influenced by his upbringing in the ethnically diverse population of Harlem and his African roots. He attended City College, graduating with his BA in 1974, and received his masters in creative writing in 1976. During his time in college, Sundiata became acquainted with Leroy Hodge, who helped him create the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community there. He also met Louis Reyes Rivera, a long-time friend, who helped co-found the first Black student newspaper which continued for over forty years.

After graduating from City College, Sundiata worked with poets, musicians, and dancers to create a collaborative project that would honor 100 years of Black struggle for freedom and human rights: “The Sounds of the Memory of Many Living People 1863-1876-1963-1976.” The project was staged in Harlem over two days, which ultimately inspired Sundiata’s performance poetry that combined hip hop culture and spoken word art. From 1977-83, he established the Calabash Poets Workshop that regularly produced events that included cross-genre art. Sundiata also produced his first vinyl record in the 1980s entitled “Are&Be,” often collaborating and performing with City College’s Aaron Davis Performing Arts Center.

Sundiata began teaching at New School in 1987, first as a writer in residence for Eugene Lang College. He became an ongoing faculty member at Lang during the 1989-90 school year. He taught many courses including a freshman course entitled “The Heart and Brain and Writing Poetry,” which explored the uses of personal and extra-personal sources as thematic sources for writing poems such as current events, mariages, funerals, and children at play. He also taught two more advanced courses. “The Shape and Nature of Things to Come” focused on exploring poems with the assumption that the combination of shapes and nature brings more consciousness and clarity to the work. The course “Little to X to Chavez: A Hero for Daily Living” concentrated on Malcolm X’s legacy with urban youth and African Americans, and the impact that he had on various artistic mediums such as poems, songs, and plays.

Also during his time at the New School, Sundiata was involved in the Matsunaga Affair in 1989. He expressed dissent about a racist image in the exhibition of Japanese designer Shin Matsunaga, which led to campus debate about racism, censorship, and free expression that has been ongoing since then. The debate extended beyond the campus during the “culture wars” that consumed the National Endowment for the Arts. Sundiata, along with many others, wanted the NEA to ban works that depicted negative stereotypes about race, religion, and sexuality.

In the aftermath of 9/11/2001, Sundiata created the America Project, which was comprised of public engagement activities of multi genre art to better connect communities with their nearby colleges. The project held poetry readings,  interviews, panel discussions across the country, culminating in a performance entitled the 51st (dream) state in 2006.  Sundiata continued teaching and performing until his death in 2007.


New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y. : 1919-1997); Eugene Lang College. Lang Catalog 1988 -1989 Vol. 46 No. 2. September 2 1988. New School course catalog collection; Eugene Lang College. New School Archives and Special Collections Digital Archive. Web. 02 Jun 2019.…