Artist-in-Residence – Toshi Reagon

17-18 Toshi Reagon_DisTIL Header

Singer. Composer. Guitarist. Producer. Curator. Mom. These are some of the words that Toshi Reagon uses to describe herself, but there are so many more that can be added to that list to reflect the astonishing scale of her creativity and influence: innovator, visionary, activist, and more.

Reagon is bringing her multi-faceted approach to social consciousness and community engagement to her role as Carolina Performing Arts’ first Mellon DisTIL Fellow. She will begin her work within the frame of her opera adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower. The work developed by Reagon and her mother–scholar, singer, activist and Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Johnson Reagon–will have its US premiere in Chapel Hill this November.

The novel explores the struggles related to race, gender, and resource inequality in a dystopian vision of America wrecked by environmental disaster and political mismanagement. “The book encompasses so many systemic issues in society and communities that I thought it would be a rich foundation on which to launch this residency and fellowship,” says Reagon.

“There are lots of faculty members on the UNC campus dealing with issues in Parable that I can be in relationship with,” she says. Reagon will partner with the Department of City and Regional Planning, among others. “We’re having wide-ranging conversations with faculty, students, and community members and surfacing lots of ideas. I’m excited to help take these conversations and turn them into tangible events across multiple artistic platforms throughout the time I’m in residency.”

Reagon is particularly excited about the deep relationships she will be able to develop because of the length of the fellowship. “Usually when I’m asked to do a residency, I show up for a few days and then leave,” she says. “But this is such a unique and wonderful opportunity where I get to interact at such a deep level. People are communicating with people who they don’t usually work with. And to have funding to develop something that can be used after I leave and that can have a big impact is just incredible.”

She says that it’s an honor to be asked to be in the realm of academia. “I’m particularly happy to be at UNC and in the Triangle,” says the Brooklyn-based artist. “This is a wonderful, deeply caring community that really knows who they are, what they are, what they should be, what should be held, and what should be released. To have the opportunity to be in dialogue with such an incredible group of people with diverse and clear voices warms my heart and makes me want to be a brilliant contributor.

“I’m going to learn a lot while I’m here because the people teaching are brilliant. My mind has been blown from the conversations I’m having and the connections being made across departments.”

Reagon points out, “I didn’t go to college because I started my musical career at 17 and hit the road. But there is more than one way to learn and to go to college. It’s so amazing and beautiful that I’m in residence here and I am thrilled about it. I feel like I am making my ancestors proud.”

BY Michele Lynn



The Alchemy of Change: Short Film Series

Wednesday, February 20, 2019 at 5 PM
UNC’s Gerrard Hall, Chapel Hill, NC
Free and open to the public
(RSVP required)

Join us for the premiere of a short film series by Toshi Reagon, CPA Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellow, and acclaimed filmmaker Katina Parker. Through intimate conversations with her UNC student and faculty collaborators, Reagon unveils the day-to-day work of these professionals from fields including public health and urban planning. The result is a showcase of necessary truths and the determination of these people to foster a better world, accompanied by Reagon’s original music. Reagon will also be joined by Parker and those featured in the films for a short discussion.

Part of Toshi Reagon’s work as a CPA Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellow, this series reveals the important, everyday work of people to foster a better world. Spanning fields from nursing to public health, urban planning, and more, the films feature UNC’s Linda Beeber, Courtney Woods, Danielle Purifoy, Danielle Spurlock, Todd BenDor, Sarah Long, and Mashallah Salaam.

Toshi Reagon is a versatile singer, composer, musician, curator and producer with a profound ear for sonic Americana—from folk to funk, and blues to rock. She is the founder of WORD*ROCK*&SWORD, an annual community festival in New York City. With her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon, she has created three operas: The Temptation of St. Anthony; Zinnias, The Life of Clementine Hunter; and Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which had its US premiere at CPA in November 2017. Toshi is the recipient of numerous honors, including being named a National Women’s History Month honoree and a 2015 Art of Change Fellow by the Ford Foundation. She is the inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellow for 2017-2019 at Carolina Performing Arts, and in 2018 was named one of four artists-in-residence under CPA’s newest Mellon-funded initiative, Creative Futures.

Katina Parker is a filmmaker, photographer, journalist, and writer in Durham, North Carolina, who creates films and shoots photographs for Samsung, Al Jazeera, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, Fusion, and Huffington Post. Parker is a 2016–17 recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship and a former instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies.


Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely

Saturday, April 13, 2019 at 8 PM
UNC’s Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC

Learn more and get tickets here.

The Alchemy of Change: A Parable Becoming

Sunday, April 14, 2019
CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, Chapel Hill, NC

Toshi Reagon hosts a gathering led by the faculty, students, artists, and Triangle community members with whom she has collaborated throughout her transformative tenure as a Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellow. In this day-long multimedia convening, participants will consider local common issues in the context of Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower, which is set in the near-future and can inform us as we begin to map our own conditions and solutions in the present day. Join us for workshops, conversations, performances, and more, through the lens of Butler’s Parable of the Sower journey.

Past Events

Harm Free Zone Book Study
Free event!

Launch Events
Durham, NC: 
Tuesday, September 12 from 6:30-8:00pm
Chapel Hill, NC: Saturday, September 16 from 3:00-4:30pm

Join Spirit House, Inc. for its 5th Harm Free Zone Book Study of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. This book study will imagine what preparedness looks like in an ever-changing world.

For details and location, click here. If you have any questions, email us at

Register Here

Artist and Activist- The Transformative Process
Performances and Community Conversation

presented by Word*Rock*Sword: A Festival Exploration of Women’s Lives and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice
New York, NY
Detail here

Featured Artist: SpiritHouse, NC
Performing excerpts from Collective Sun Reshape the morning
SpiritHouse is a Black women-led cultural organizing tribe with a rich legacy of using art, culture, and media to support the empowerment and transformation of communities most impacted by racism, poverty, gender inequity, criminalization and incarceration. We are Black, cash poor, disabled, queer, and formerly incarcerated, grassroots organizers, artists, alchemists, strategists and healers. We are multi-generational, valuing the genius of Black youth and the lived experience and wisdom of our elders. We prioritize the leadership of the people at the center of the issue who are most impacted by systemic racism and oppression.


Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower

Thursday, November 16 at 7:30pm
Friday, November 17 at 8:00pm
Memorial Hall

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Toshi Reagon is a celebration of all that’s progressive and uplifting in American music. Written by Toshi in collaboration with her mother—iconic singer, scholar and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon—this powerful theatrical concert brings together 200 years of African American song traditions to give life to Octavia E. Butler’s acclaimed science fiction novel, with revealing insights on gender, race and the future of human civilization.

Tickets & Details


“Science Fiction and Black Music meet in Toshi Reagon’s Opera in Progress” Boston Globe, March 21, 2017

“On wings of song, hope rises from rubble in Toshi Reagon’s Parable of the Sower” The Berkshire Eagle, November 3, 2016

“Concert review: Drama and delight in Toshi Reagon’s Abu Dhabi debut” TimeOut Abu Dhabi, September 3, 2015

“Toshi Reagon brings Adaptation of Parable of the Sower to NYU Abu Dhabi” The National, UAE, August 27, 2015

“Everything and Earthseed” Culturebot, January 27, 2015

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