Kojo Nnamdi, "Provocateur"

The host of WAMU 88.5’s Kojo Nnamdi Show is no stranger to provoking people to talk. As the host of our Creative Dialogue series, he encourages artists to talk about the creative process.

I’m a provocateur and I find that constantly questioning my own ideas prepares me to provoke other people in questions. I don’t take myself too seriously. I know how my own ideas have changed over the years.

I host a talk show on NPR-affiliated WAMU 88.5. Unlike most Washington shows, which tend to stick to Washington issues — politics, foreign policy, domestic policy and the like — we explore technology, food, culture, the arts. We do theatre. We do movies. We do opera. We’re trying to foster a culture of community in a culturally diverse area. Our slogan is “We will bring the world to your neighborhood and take your neighborhood to the world.”

When I was about seven years old in British-Guyana, a schoolmate of mine, David Alexander, invited my sister, my brother and me to his home. When we got there the Alexander children performed a play that they had written themselves. I’d never seen a play in my life. I was absolutely awed. Blown away. I sat there with my mouth hanging open and as soon as it was over, I told my sister, “We've got to do that.” And so she and I went home and we started writing our own plays and performing them. I found it so compelling being able to create your own drama that I was hooked.

And when I say hooked, I mean for the rest of my life. High school theatre. College and community drama groups. Street theatre in New York during the Black Power era. We were in those days under the illusion that you could make revolution in the streets, with art. In a way, that’s what brought me to Washington: I came here to become head of a drama program for an organization creating a model for black education that included science and the arts.

In those days the FCC required radio stations to air a certain amount of public affairs programming. We were performing street theatre around town, writing our own plays, and we entered an agreement with WOL radio to do a weekly drama for children. We worked for free and because we did, they later asked us to do a news magazine. And that experience … well, by 1973, yours truly was looking for a job and Howard University Radio was looking for a news editor. My only radio experience was acting and working as the editor of that weekly radio news mag but it was enough. The arts are the reason I’m in radio today so I not only love the arts but feel I owe a great deal of my life to the arts.

Now I’m a talk show host. On occasion I get to discuss works of theatre and movies and visual arts but I never have the opportunity to engage in the kind of philosophical discussion that one can have with artists and creators about how the creative process works. The Clarice Smith Center allows people who are involved in the arts to share not only their work but their thoughts, their philosophies, what makes them tick — share those ideas with, and to, an audience who really appreciates them.

And that’s what the Center has given to me.

As moderator of the Creative Dialogues I have the opportunity to get into artists’ heads. I get to ask them all of the questions that I’ve had in my head since I was seven years old about how the creative process works for them. I get to be the fly on the wall and that places me back in a world that, when I was young, I had intended to live for the rest of my life.