Bringing Two Vital Voices to the Stage

February 16, 2024

Rain Wilson directing "The Meeting" rehearsal
Artist-in-residence Rain Wilson provides feedback during a rehearsal of "The Meeting."

Artist-in-Residence Rain Wilson is directing a play featuring Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in dialogue. She hopes it will galvanize its audience.

As Aurora University’s first artist-in-residence, Wilson has been working to bring a theme to the forefront: voice. So it’s fitting that the work she’s bringing to AU’s Celebrating Arts and Ideas series features two of the most iconic voices of all time: Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are known to have met only once, momentarily, on March 26, 1964, after a hearing on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (The Library of Congress.)

“The Meeting,” a 1989 one-act play by Jeff Stetson, is inspired by a photo taken after the U.S. Senate debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The two leaders were both in attendance, and for just a few minutes, they came together and shared a brief, much-photographed exchange. They would never meet again, both assassinated before the opportunity arose. But many, including Stetson, have wondered since: If another meeting had come, what would they have said to each other?

Wilson, a playwright, poet, activist, and educator, has directed the play before. She found that after witnessing the fictionalized conversation the two men have in “The Meeting,” many audience members were encouraged to challenge their misconceptions about the two men—particularly about Malcolm X—and to dig deeper into their ideologies than the history books tend to go.

While the conversation is set in 1965, Wilson emphasizes that the questions asked by King and X are just as relevant today as they ever were.

“Oppression constantly reinvents herself,” she said. “We have it today in the education system, the prison-industrial complex, in pay, and the workforce. Until oppression stops, we have a fight on our hands, and this play can be a catalyst for what that fight should look like.”

AU President Susana Rivera-Mills named Wilson the first artist-in-residence and interdisciplinary catalyst last summer as part of a new presidential initiative to build community and elevate the arts. Wilson’s artistic and educational work involves creating art for social justice and prompting dialogue for change. Her goal at AU is to develop projects that allow disciplines to intersect with art at the core, to support students and faculty, and to engage the local community.

The university has long been known for supporting the arts through the Celebrating Arts and Ideas series, founded in 2006, which brings renowned authors, singers, historians, journalists, musicians, and dancers to campus. “The Meeting” is the second event of the 2023–2024 season, following a lecture and conversation with broadcast journalist John Quiñones last fall.

“We know that the arts are powerful in building community, reflecting societal issues, and providing a vehicle through which diverse voices can be heard,” said Rivera-Mills. “I look forward to the conversations that plays such as 'The Meeting' can foster, and to continue to explore ways of elevating the arts in our community.”

A performance of "The Meeting" will take place on AU's main campus on Thursday, February 22, at 7 p.m. in Crimi Auditorium in the Institute for Collaboration, located at 1347 Prairie St. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at