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An Acclaimed Bard Finds A New Voice

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Words have always been important to the professional and personal life of Rachel Hadas, poet, author and professor. She writes books of poetry and essays, and she writes about poetry and literature, including Greek literature – with a passion.  Since 1981 Hadas also has taught undergraduate and graduate classes at Rutgers University-Newark, with equal passion. 

Now this Rutgers Board of Governors Professor of English has found a new passion: digital filmmaking with husband Shalom Gorewitz, professor of video art and new media at Ramapo College.  Some of their collaborations fuse poetry and digital filmmaking -- Hadas’s words with Gorewitz’s electronic images -- to create innovative videos.  The collaboration has taken Hadas to new places, both figuratively, in expanding her creative processes, and literally, with trips to Haiti in 2013 and 2015 and to Venice in June 2016. 

The Haiti trip evolved from a project with her husband, an expert on Haitian art.  She and Gorewitz, along with one of his Ramapo College colleagues, Edouard Eloi, twice traveled to Haiti to work together on a film about the life of Stivenson Magloire, a prominent Haitian artist who was brutally murdered at the age of 31.  Magloire’s vibrant paintings incorporate people, animals, and Voudou and Christian imagery. Gorewitz, who had met Magloire shortly before the artist’s 1994 murder, had long admired the artist’s “unique style with a rich vocabulary of visual images.” The team’s homage to Magloire will explore the painter’s work, life, and “the circumstances of his still mysterious death,” according to the couple. “We want to increase awareness of his work and preserve his legacy,” says Hadas.  “To the large Haitian population in this area, this film will have special meaning.”

Hadas, who is conversant in French, acts as translator for the interviews and helps with script-writing, while Gorewitz shoots the video.  “My words, his images,” Hadas observes. They hope to finish the film by late 2016, with screenings in the New York metropolitan area, including here at RU-N.

The first trip to Haiti, in April 2013, laid the groundwork, with the trio meeting with artists, gallery owners, and relatives and friends of Magloire. They returned in January 2015 to begin a series of detailed interviews with key figures in the artist’s life, and were allowed to photograph 20 of his paintings, while also exploring the neighborhoods where Magloire painted and lived. A third trip is planned late this year or in early 2016, with the team conducting New York-area interviews and other photography in the interim.

Hadas took on an added role – RU-N goodwill ambassador – on the trips, with some support from the Rutgers Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA).  Hadas visited a local school to speak about Rutgers to prospective students and school officials, distributing informational materials provided by GAIA.  She also met with an official from Haiti’s Ministry of Education.  She was so encouraged by the positive response that she plans to include additional meetings and school visits on her next Haitian visit.

The Magloire homage is only one of the couple’s joint projects; Hadas and Gorewitz have created several films that blend her poetry and his images. For instance, in one film Hadas is shown browsing through books in bookstore as they listen to a voiceover of her reading one of her poems about books; in another the viewer hears Hadas reading her poetry while watching as she writes on a sheet of paper, reads it and repeats the process.  

The couple also have created “The Rachel and Shalom Show,” performed at bookstores, arts centers and libraries, which alternates readings by Hadas with films and commentary by Gorewitz and audience questions. 

The working trip to Venice next year will be to research another film, this one on expatriate poet Alan Ansen, “a friend of mine in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” explains Hadas.

Although writing is basically a solitary task, Hadas notes that her life is now an interesting assortment of partnerships: with her husband, with Ramapo College, with the Haitian art community and Haitian school officials, with Rutgers, and with varied art forms.

Don’t think, though, that Hadas has turned her back on writing for print. Her newest book, Talking to the Dead, a collection of prose essays, has just been released by Spuyten Duyvil Press, and Hadas returns to her first love, poetry, in Questions in the Vestibule, set for release in March 2016 by Northwestern University Press.

Above: Rachel Hadas, Edouard Eloi (center) and Shalom Gorewitz (standing) edit video footage.