I have never formally met Djanet Sears. I have stared at her from a distance and smiled shyly at her…but I have not yet found the courage to approach and tell her how much her writing and her work have meant to me. I have not yet had the privilege of seeing her work on stage, but I have read Harlem Duet and Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God. I have few words to explain what those plays meant to me. At the end of reading both, I felt changed – something which I always seek but rarely find in artistic experiences. I also proudly own Volume II of the anthology she edited: Testifyin’: Contemporary African Canadian Drama, a collection which I searched for in vain at local bookstores and online (it was no longer in print) until coming across it one day when looking around a UofT bookstore under a Drama/English course that had it assigned (I have found so many out-of-print gems this way! Yes, yes I am a book nerd that spends hours searching shelves of bookstores looking for gems). Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day grinning to myself and feeling so excited to have this incredible collection in my possession. I still haven’t had much luck with Volume I, but I am sure it will come in due time…
These excerpts come from an introduction she did at the start of her published edition of Harlem Duet. Re-reading the play today, I was reminded of the sometimes irrational urge I feel to stifle my desire to write…why? I don’t know. Reading and writing are the only forms of therapy that I have ever remained committed to….the process of reading and writing affirms my sanity within this (in)sane world. It casts out the linear boxes that push me to the edge of cliffs and reminds me of circles and connectivity to deeper parts of self and soul. It grounds me past concrete to earth, root and spirit. In this introduction Ms. Sears’ reminds me of the urgency to follow this calling…
Excerpts from “nOTES oF a cOLOURED gIRL: 32 sHORT rEASONS wHY i wRITE fOR tHE tHEATRE” by Djanet Sears
7 She (djanet’s niece) must have access to a choir of African voices, chanting a multiplicity of African experiences. One voice does not a chorus make. And I will not wait. 8 I harbour deep within me tales that I’ve never seen told. 9 I too must become an organ and add my perspective, my lens, my stories, to the ever growing body of work by and about people of African descent.
12 An old West African proverb states that, as a people, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. 13 Lorraine Hansberrry is my mother – in theatre – and she accompanies me wherever I go. 14 I have been known to drop her a few lines, now and then. 15 Yes, she responds. 16 As a woman of African descent, and a writer for the stage, I stand on her shoulders. They are a firm and formidable foundation on which to rest my large and awkward feet.
17 Acting is a craft that I have been called to by my nature. Writing is a craft that I have chosen to nurture. 18 As a young actor, I soon realized that a majority of the roles that I would be offered did not portray me in the way I saw myself, my family, or my friends, in life. I became consumed by my own complaining. 19 Complaining, imploring, and protesting only served to disperse my energy.
23 I have a dream. A dream that one day in the city where I live, at any given time of the year, I will be able to find at least one play that is filled with people who look like me, telling stories about me, my family, my friends, my community. For most people of European descent, this is a privilege they take for granted.
26 My good friend Clarissa Chandler, a business consultant, educator and motivational speaker, shared with me a process for using my nagging mind and raging heart, as a way to get back in touch with my innermost knowing and creative desires. She identified three steps of transformation that I could use like footprints leading me back home.
27 First: identify the place of complaint (This can sometimes be evident in the complaining we do in hiding, in conversation with friends and/or in the privacy of our own minds.) Second: Say it out loud. Create a mantra out of it. (Give it room in the world). Third: locate a creative point of expression for this mantra. 28 Paint it, dance it, sculpt it, or write about it. Why limit yourself?
30 For the many like me, black and female, it is imperative that our writing begin to recreate our histories and our myths, as well as integrate the most painful of experiences…Writing for me is a labour of love, probably not unlike the experience of giving birth. In a very deep way, I feel that I am in the process of giving birth to myself. Writing for the stage allows me a process to dream myself into existence.
31 In a recent clinical study at Duke University researchers found that racist comments can not only lead directly to an overworked heart, but the internal stress caused by racism was found to tear the lining of blood vessels. I must write to save my own life.
32 There are a great many times when I forget. I forget why I’m doing this. Days when the blues move from a deep cerulean to icy cold pale. So I have the following words by Langston Hughes from “Note on Commercial Theatre,” on my wall, just above my desk, for those times when I most need reminding:
STAND UP AND TALK ABOUT ME,
AND WRITE ABOUT ME –
BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL
AND SING ABOUT ME,
AND PUT ON PLAYS ABOUT ME!
I RECKON IT’LL BE
YES, IT’LL BE ME.