UPDATE!: Download a podcast of the entire forum, "The Wire at Harvard," featuring Kima, Bubbles, and Omar
William Julius Wilson, the legendary Harvard sociologist and a giant in the field of African American studies, has a thing for The Wire. "Superfan" doesn't quite capture it. Last year, on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's death, Wilson welcomed The Wire creator David Simon to Harvard for a public forum bringing together cops, community activists, and academics to discuss the show's impact. Taking the podium at Harvard's JFK School of Government, Wilson described the show as the best television show ever. But that wasn't all: "I do not hesitate to say," Wilson continued, "that it has done more to enhance our understanding of the challenges urban life, and the problems of urban inequality, than any other media event or scholarly publication, including studies by social scientitsts." (You can watch video clips of Simon's appearance here.)
That line got a laugh, but Wilson meant it. He repeated it in a widely-read appreciation of The Wire in Dissent Magazine that summer. And he repeated it tonight, minutes after Evelyn Brooks Higgenbottom, chair of Harvard's Department of African and African-American Studies, announced that Wilson will teach a course next year at Harvard on The Wire.
Wilson isn't just an evangelist for The Wire; he was also an inspiration for it. When Simon told Wilson, on stage last year at Harvard, that Wilson's 1996 book When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor had informed the dockworkers' plotline in Season Two, it "made my week," Wilson said last night. The new class, said Higgenbottom, will focus on relating The Wire "to real-life experience in the
black community. And when I say real I don't mean R-E-E-L. We won't be
talking about The Wire as an artistic production, but [Wilson] will be
talking about The Wire as a lesson, as a window into understanding the
very serious problem of poverty in our country today, and the social
and cultural implications of it."
That news, however, was hardly the main event.
Last night's forum amounted to a mini-cast reunion, with Kima (Sonja Sohn), Bubbles (Andre Royo), and Omar (Michael K. Williams) trading recollections and challenges alongside Wilson and his colleague and fellow Wire fan Professor Larry Bobo. If that wasn't enough, there was an unannounced guest in the wings: Donnie Andrews, David Simon's real-life inspiration for Omar. (Andrews also appeared in The Wire,
playing one of the two inmates who helps Omar survive in prison during
a brief incarceration.) Andrews now works as a counselor to troubled youth in
Baltimore, and spoke briefly but eloquently in a strong B-more accent
that reminded us of another Wire principal -- Marlo's ruthless hit-girl Snoop.
We have no other details on Michael Williams' induction into the Harvard Lampoon, except that Mr. Omar was headed there directly after the panel. We can only hope that he took the opportunity to stick up those little punks for their drugs and pocket cash.
If you missed the panel, fear not: we'll be bringing you last night's "The Wire at Harvard" panel in its entirety, including all four cast members' reminiscing about their lives before and after the series -- not to mention how they're trying to extend The Wire's influence to save at-risk inner-city kids. Keep your browsers peeled to our podcast link tomorrow afternoon.
UPDATED: Podcast link is now live. Click here to download or stream the forum.