LifestyleJeffrey Wright discusses career at Kennedy Center event

Jeffrey Wright discusses career at Kennedy Center event

Audiences flocked to the Kennedy Center,  to witness Oscar-nominated actor and producer Jeffrey Wright discuss his career and Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) receive one of the nation’s highest awards in the arts community

The evening was presented by Americans for the Arts for the 35th Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy. 

A Conversation with Jeffery Wright 

Though Wright’s appearance was promoted as a lecture, it was a dialog to know the award-winning actor’s career path better. 

It has been an exciting year for Wright as he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his role in the acclaimed film “American Fiction.” Wright grew up in D.C.’s Southeast Ward 7 community of Hillcrest. 

“In Washington, D.C., Jeffrey is family. Long before we knew Jeffrey was in the running for an Oscar, in my book, he won as soon as he was nominated,” said long-time childhood friend Tanya Lombard, vice president of Global Public Affairs at AT&T. “Jeffrey’s talent is uniquely his own, captivating audiences around the globe and leaving an indelible mark on the landscape and the fabric of culture in America.”

Co-host for MSNBC’s “The Weekend” Symone Sanders-Townsend led an upbeat conversation with Wright, starting with a dive into his career start in D.C. His first acting role was at Arena Stage in Southwest in a production called “Les Blancs.” It was the final work of African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry. 

He then shared D.C. experiences that influenced his creative thinking.

“When I grew up here in the ’70s and ’80s, it was and still is a culturally rich city,” Wright said. 

“There was also an emerging punk music scene. D.C. is one of the global homes of punk rock,” the actor continued. 

He pivoted to another gem of the local music scene. “What I love about go-go is that it is its own thing. I call it an Afro-Potomac thing.”

Wright was humble about the enthusiastic acceptance of the film American Fiction. The film has won many honors during this awards season, including an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Cord Jefferson, the director. The premise explores what a Black film is from different perspectives.

“What interests me are stories relevant to the day, whether socially or politically relevant,” said the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actor. “Artists have a role if they are informed to comment on the time.” 

Clyburn Embraces the Arts 

The Americans for the Arts event honored Clyburn with the “Public Leadership in the Arts Award.”

 He was introduced by House Democratic Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Since 1997, this award has recognized a member of the United States Senate or House of Representatives who has consistently advocated for expanding federal support for the arts and culture and/or arts education.

Americans for the Arts held its 35th Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy on March 12 at the Kennedy Center. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) was honored with the Public Leadership in the Arts Award. In the green room before the event were (from left) Clyburn, Americans for the Arts President and CEO Nolan V. Bivens and Edgar L. Smith, chairman of the Board of Directors for American for the Arts. (Jacques Benovil/The Washington Informer)
Americans for the Arts President and CEO Nolan V. Bivens shared the significant public policy work and historical work accomplished by Clyburn, his fellow South Carolinian and South Carolina State University alumni. 

“We both grew up in rural South Carolina,” Bivens said about Clyburn. “He credits his public speaking skills to his experience as a member of the South Carolina State University theater program Henderson Davis Players.”

Before coming to the stage, Bivens also praised Clyburn as a thoughtful historian who recently wrote “The First Eight,” which documents the first eight Black congressmen who represented South Carolina following the Civil War. 

Clyburn’s congressional leadership is credited with directing significant funding to help many historically Black colleges and universities restore buildings on their campuses. 

Clyburn shared how his parents made him believe in the arts. It was the foundation for his involvement and joy in the arts. In elementary school, Clyburn started playing the clarinet and then the sax. Then, there was an unexpected opportunity for Clyburn to act in his senior class play.

“I never knew why. I was in the play and was smitten,” said Clyburn, a Democratic House leader. “While at South Carolina State, I played football and baseball for a while, but I was into the arts. I was a stage manager, starred in large productions, and did one-act plays. Now, I can act!”

Learn more about Americans for the Arts on their website https://www.americansforthearts.org. A video from the 35th Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy is on the event website https://35thnancyhankslecture.com.

Source: Washington Informer

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