No-No Boy Brings Hidden Histories to Chatham Hall

This year’s Writer in Residence, musician, historian, teacher, and songwriter Dr. Julian Saporiti of No-No Boy had a full schedule during his Sept. 20 & 21 residency.
Conducting a songwriting workshop, visiting classes, enjoying meals with students, and giving an evening performance were all part of his itinerary while on campus.

As described on Saporiti’s website, the No-No Boy project is “an immersive multimedia work blending original folk songs, storytelling, and projected archival images all in service of illuminating hidden American histories.” The work grew from Saporiti’s research into untold Asian American histories, which led him to earn a master's degree in American studies from the University of Wyoming in Laramie and a doctoral degree from Brown University where his research focused on race, refugees, music, memory and immigration.

"Having Julian Saporiti be our Writer in Residence was really important because of how interdisciplinary his work is,” said Dr. Francis Yun, director of music. “He tells stories of everyday people, marginalized communities, and presents history that is lesser known in a medium that we all can understand: songs. He showed us how important our individual stories are and gave students the agency to explore their own creativity. Anyone can be creative."

In addition to offering a songwriting workshop with Yun, Saporiti also spoke with multiple English classes and the Advanced U.S. History class. He had lunch with Theatre Department director Cameron Ayres and two students to discuss documentary film-making, and dinner with Deborah Glymph, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as Chatham Hall’s DEI Ambassadors. No-No Boy’s artistic director Emilia Halvorsen also worked with English III students to prepare for an embroidery project connected to their study of The Scarlet Letter.

“My experience was extremely fun as well as eye-opening. The sheer amount of detail that goes into every single one of Julian Saporiti's songs is amazing. There is a history lesson hidden within every lyric,” said Meaghan Kress ‘24, who attended the songwriting workshop. 

“I learned not only to practice being present and aware of the ambience around me as I move through life, but to be actively engaged in my own history, to seek out my origin and develop my own understanding of my family's past. I truly enjoyed the privilege of meeting Julian Saporiti. The perspective I gained from listening to him talk about his curiosity of the past and of his heritage is invaluable.”

The evening performance included five No-No Boy songs, each accompanied by images and video projected behind Saporiti and Halvorsen. The duo received a standing ovation after performing The Imperial Twist, Two Candles in the Dark, Khmerica, Boat People, and Gimme Chills, during which Yun performed with them on the piano. They sang You Are Love as an encore.

“It’s been awesome to be here,” Saporiti told the students and faculty. “Doing a little teaching the last few days has made me wish we could stay the whole week . . . You guys have asked some incredible questions, and you’re able to take some incredible classes. Shout out to the murder mysteries class! That is a dream come true. I know you’re boarders, but don’t sleep on how beautiful the grass is, and the trees, and the buildings . . . this is an incredible place to learn. We want to thank you and return your enthusiasm for having us.”

During the performance, Saporiti spoke directly to the students. He described his work as “a school project run amuck.”

“This is something I started as a homework assignment,” he said. “You could do the same thing if you choose to travel the world . . . Make sure that you find research projects that really excite you. If you turn your research into art, into a documentary film, into a chapter in a novel, if you turn your research into that then you can share it with your friends.”

See more pictures of this year's Writer in Residence visit on the School's SmugMug.

Chatham Hall's Writer in Residence program is partially funded by the School's endowment. When fully funded, the Writer in Residence Fund will be named in tribute to Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Poet Laureate Claudia Emerson '75. Contributions are welcome. To make a donation, please contact the Advancement Office, Attn: Claudia Emerson Writer in Residence Fund, 800 Chatham Hall Circle, Chatham, VA 24531. You may also contact Chief Advancement Officer Christine Knight at 434.432.5549.
800 Chatham Hall Circle  •  Chatham, VA 24531
+1 434.432.2941  •
Day and boarding school for girls grades 9 -12 in the Episcopal tradition.

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