CPCC’s Sensoria celebrates the written word – and more

Chris Abani
Chris Abani

Central Piedmont Community College English instructor Amy Bagwell finds it tough to choose one or two “can’t-miss” events from the extensive lineup at Sensoria, CPCC’s nine-day celebration of the visual, performing and culinary arts.

And Bagwell, a member of Sensoria’s literary events committee, can’t pick a favorite. She will say that Noah Hutton, the 28-year-old son of actors Deborah Winger and Timothy Hutton, is something special.

The younger Hutton, a documentary filmmaker, is working on an ambitious, 15-year project that demonstrates how important art and science are to each other.

His film in progress, “Bluebrain,” chronicles neuroscientist Henry Markram’s attempt to build an entire brain, neuron by neuron, in a massive virtual simulation. Hutton is documenting the entire laborious effort.

He’ll speak about “Bluebrain” on April 14 as part of the Digital Film People panel on emerging, low-budget technologies available to student and indie filmmakers. Both events are free.

In fact, most Sensoria programs are free.

Hutton has a completed film – the three-minute “Brain City” – that shows how the brain operates like a metropolis.

It was shown on continuous loop in Times Square last New Year’s Eve and will be shown at the pocket park at Sixth and Tryon streets from 6 to 10 p.m. April 11. The screening coincides with the Novant Invitational Criterium bike race (which, not coincidentally, raises money for brain tumor research) that night.

But Sensoria began as a literary festival, and the written word is still at its heart.

Each year, the Irene Blair Honeycutt Distinguished Lecturer is a nationally recognized author. This year, it is novelist and poet Chris Abani, who will give two readings and book signings on April 15.

“He’s compassionate and genuinely brilliant,” Bagwell says of the Nigerian-born, London-raised author. “He’s got such incredible wisdom and a message that makes you feel like the world will be OK.

“I don’t want to overstate it,” Bagwell says, “but if people wonder, ‘What’s the one thing I could go to that would really change my life?’ Chris Abani is it.”

Abani, a former political prisoner in Nigeria, is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the PEN/Hemingway Award, among others. In his TED Talk on humanity, Abani said, “The world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft – almost invisible – acts of compassion.”

Bagwell says Delene Beeland of Asheville, an expert on red-wolf conservation and author of “The Secret World of Red Wolves,” is another must-see.

“Anyone who’s drawn to nature will want to hear Delene’s talk,” she says.

She also considers Molly Guptill Manning’s discussion of her book, “When Books Went to War,” to be imperative.

“The book tells the story of when the U.S. government got into the publishing business,” Bagwell says. “They printed books – grammar books, poetry, the classics – and sent them overseas to our soldiers fighting World War II. Those books were lifelines for our troops.” And the sharing of books flew in the face of the Nazis’ book burning.

Bagwell says there’s even more that can’t be missed. Local poets and professors Alan Michael Parker of Davidson College and Morri Creech of Queens University of Charlotte will read from and discuss their works on April 16.

“They remind us of the incredible talent we have right here,” Bagwell says. Creech was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize.

And we haven’t even gotten to the artisan bread-baking class or the lunchtime concert featuring songs from 1930s Cuba. Or the play, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” by August Wilson, the jewelry-making class or the Verdi vs. Wagner opera concert.

There’s even a bit of magic in the mix this year. For the first time in Sensoria’s 22-year-history, prestidigitation is among the art forms being celebrated.

Hannibal, a veteran of street magic and comedy clubs, will perform his act – recommended for ages 16 and up – on April 18.

Bagwell says, “If anyone ever implies we lack culture in Charlotte, I say: ‘The nerve!’”

Sensoria is proof.

Want to go?

Sensoria, a celebration of the arts, runs April 10-18 on CPCC’s Elizabeth Avenue campus, and most events are free. Originally conceived as a literary festival by retired CPCC professor and writer/poet Irene Blair Honeycutt, it has been held each year since 1993 and draws about 15,000 people annually. Sensoria includes more than 80 events celebrating literature, film, food, visual and performing arts and – new this year – magic. See the full schedule at sensoria.cpcc.edu.