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“Omar,” based on NC writer, wins Pulitzer Prize for music

Friday from the Archives: “Omar ibn Sayid: An Arabic Scholar/Slave in Nineteenth-Century Carolina” by Patricia Gantt from NCLR 1993

North Carolina has so many authors, so many stories. Writing about one of them just might earn you a Pulitzer Prize.

Congratulations go out to North Carolina musician Rhiannon Giddens and her writing partner Composer Michael Abels on their 2023 Pulitzer Prize for music for their opera Omar, a story based on the life of Omar ibn Sayid, a Senegalese man who was enslaved and transported to North Carolina.

Patricia Gantt wrote about Sayid in our second issue in 1993. How fitting she write, “His story of courage, endurance, and fidelity to a life of the mind invites further exploration. Further translations of his writings may reveal the answers to much of the mystery which still surrounds his life.”

Sayid was a learned and devout Muslim when brought to the Carolinas, converting to Christianity later in life. He retained his working knowledge of Arabic and what autobiographical material we have is written in that language.

Giddens, an artist-in-residence with Southern Futures at UNC CH, wrote about this work: “This is cultural work, it’s heavy work, it’s energizing work, it’s spirit work. It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of it. This is what art is for – to make emotional connections to stories other than our own, and I am grateful to have been given these words and this music to shepherd, and to have had as wonderful of a collaborator as Michael Abels.”

Read the whole essay in the 1993 issue, which you can still order for your collection.