Saturday, July 13, 2024

Poet educates community

By Laraib Asim

As the night grew colder, the community’s excitement grew as well, for Dr. Randall Horton’s recent memoir “Dead Weight” and his first performance with the new band “Radical Reversal” Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Alumni Conference room at the Angell College Center. The event was arranged by Dr. Anna Battigelli, the professor and chair of the English department.

 “I first found out about Dr. Horton [when] listening to interviews on the radio, and I started to read his work, and so I emailed his agent and before long he responded,” Battigelli said. “We started talking, [after a while] we got him invited, and I got more and more interested in his work and I have just been enthralled.”

Horton is an award winning memoirist, poet and an associate professor at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. His recent book, “Dead Weight: A Memoir in Essays,” is about his personal life story from a drug dealer with seven felony convictions to a tenured professor. 

“When Anna came forward with an opportunity, I was up for it.  At first it was not supposed to have the Radical band play, I was just going to read,” Horton said. “Anna graciously combined what we wanted to do, to make it all work, it was a definite effort.”

During the first half of the event, the audience listened to Horton recite a memoir from his book. Time slowed down as the audience quieted, contently absorbing every word that Horton passionately read. When the band played, people in the audience were tapping their feet in sync with the music and nodding along with the beat of the music as Horton stood at the middle of the platform in a dazzling, metallic red and black blazer, dancing along as he sang, his hips and feet moving in rhythm with the band.

“He finds the beauty in everything and it’s almost mystical how he’s able to do that and [how] he brings you into his world and allows you to see it. That’s what great writers do,” Battigelli said. “He creates beauty out of chaos.”

For the second half of the event, the band, which won the 2022 Creative Capital Award, consisted of Horton, Devin Brahja Waldman, Melanie Dyer and Tchester Holmes, played wonderfully. 

“It’s the debut of a project we worked together on back and forth during the pandemic lockdown. Randall Horton’s work is very important,” Melanie Dyer, an experienced violinist playing for almost 52 years said about the band. “His ability to understand the social constructs that we deal with in day to day life and articulate those in ways that many of us don’t have the words for [is amazing].”

Mrudangi Trivedi, a SUNY Plattsburgh freshman business major, said she was expecting something simple, but was pleasantly surprised. She even got a selfie with Horton and said he was “down to Earth.”

“As the event went ahead, it took on a positive hype, and I really enjoyed the way the band played, especially the drums,” Trivedi said. 

About 100 people attended the event in person and more tuned in via Zoom from across the country. Battigelli said people were commenting that they had attended school with Horton. 

While Horton said going to large cities like Chicago is beneficial, he said it’s “important for us to go to communities that are not easily accessible,” like Plattsburgh. Not only did students and faculty have the opportunity to learn about his experiences, but families and community members attended as well.  

“It was a great opportunity to come here and do something different. This was the first time we performed this project [the band], because she (Anna) was so gracious and sincere about the work in terms of social justice and the scope of what she wanted to do [to make this possible],” Horton said.

Horton expressed gratitude towards the success of the event as it was better than expected. He hoped that the audience took the time to understand the message he conveyed in his readings. 

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