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Memory and Slavery in African-American Drama


Valérie Bada

From its very beginning, African American drama has borne witness to the creative power of the slaves to maintain their human dignity as well as to fashion a complex culture of survival. If the memory of slavery has always been at the heart of the African American theatrical tradition, it is the way in which it is processed and inscribed that has developed and is still changing. Through the close reading and socio-historical analysis of eight plays from 1939 to 1996, the author seeks to unravel the fluctuating patterns in the shaping of the theatrical memory of slavery long after its abolition. To do so, she defines the concept and practice of mnemopoetics as the making of memory through imagination as well as the critical approaches that decipher and interpret cultural productions of memory. As a constellation of processes akin to the fluidity of memory, mnemopoetics blends creative representation and critical exploration to suggest that the cultural creation of memory necessarily entails a self-reflexive involvement with its own interpretation. If slavery embodies the deep, foundational memory of America, African American drama represents the open, communal space where it becomes possible to convert the irretrievable nature of a vicarious past into the redeeming function of a collective memory.
Contents: Ambivalent Mnemopoetics. Choral Drama, Epic and Pageantry in Owen Dodson’s Amistad (1939) – Spiritual Mnemopoetics. Music as Articulation in Langston Hughes’s The Sun Do Move (1942) – Place, Time and Action. Fundamental Disunities in Shirley Graham’s It’s Mornin’ (1940) – Ambivalent Tragedy. Cross-Cultural Poetics in Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth (1994-1996) – Phonomnesia. LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s Slave Ship (1967) – Ontological Journey from Darkness to Blk-ness. Val Ferdinand/Kalamu ya Salaam’s Blk Love Song #1 (1969) – Apocalyptic «Eclipsed Presences». Daniel W. Owens’s The Box (1989) – «Ripping the Veil». Robbie McCauley’s Sally’s Rape (1989).