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00:00:10
00:00:12>>From the Center for the Study
00:00:12and Teaching of Writing at The
00:00:14Ohio State University, this is
00:00:15I'm Doug Dangler.
00:00:15Writers Talk.
00:00:16A native Texan, Koritha
00:00:18Mitchell earned her PhD at the
00:00:19University of Maryland and is
00:00:21now an Associate Professor of
00:00:23English at The Ohio State
00:00:25University.
00:00:26She's been awarded fellowships
00:00:28from the David Driskell Center
00:00:29for the Study of the African
00:00:31Diaspora, the Ford Foundation,
00:00:32and the American Association of
00:00:34University Women.
00:00:36Her 2011 book, Living With
00:00:38Lynching: African American
00:00:39Lynching Plays, Performance,
00:00:42and Citizenship 1890-1930,
00:00:43focuses on pre-1930
00:00:46black-authored lynching drama.
00:00:47Welcome to Writers Talk.
00:00:48>>Thank you.
00:00:50>>Well, let's start with
00:00:51discussing...setting up some
00:00:52parameters.
00:00:53What are lynching plays?
00:00:57>>Ok, well in 1998, Judith
00:00:58Stephens and Kathy Perkins
00:01:00co-edited an anthology of plays
00:01:01that they called "lynching
00:01:03plays." And basically what
00:01:04they say is that a "lynching
00:01:06play" is a drama in which the
00:01:08threat or occurrence of
00:01:11lynching, past or present, has
00:01:12major impact on the dramatic
00:01:13action.
00:01:15So they argue that even though
00:01:17a lot of writers talk about
00:01:18lynching or racial violence in
00:01:21their plays, it's really when
00:01:23the lynching itself has a
00:01:24dramatic impact and kind of
00:01:27shapes the plot that they're
00:01:28interested in.
00:01:30So they collected both plays
00:01:31by black women and plays by
00:01:33white women.
00:01:33>>Ok.
00:01:35And how did you get interested
00:01:36in it?
00:01:37What led you into this field?
00:01:39You said it was 1998 was when
00:01:39this came out?
00:01:40>>In 1998 was when that
00:01:41anthology came out, and
00:01:45actually to be accurate about
00:01:47how I came to this I have to go
00:01:48back a little in time.
00:01:50Because basically what
00:01:51happened is I got really
00:01:54interested in the latter years
00:01:56of college in what black women
00:01:58writers were saying between
00:02:011870 and 1920 when black men
00:02:02received the vote.
00:02:04Because they were no longer
00:02:05slaves, their argument was,
00:02:07"Well, we're no longer slaves,
00:02:09how could you not allow us to
00:02:10have these manhood rights?"
00:02:12And so once they get those
00:02:13rights, white women start
00:02:14saying, "Well, how can you let
00:02:15that ex-slave have the vote
00:02:17before you let your mother or
00:02:19your sister or your wife?" And
00:02:22so neither group seemed to be
00:02:23really kind of calling on its
00:02:26alliance with black women to
00:02:27make their arguments.
00:02:28So I got really interested in
00:02:29what black women were saying.
00:02:32I also got interested in...was
00:02:34there a time when black and
00:02:35white women really came
00:02:37together for political change?
00:02:39And that is what led me to
00:02:40lynching because I thought
00:02:42lynching was one of those
00:02:44things in United States history
00:02:45that they truly came together
00:02:46about.
00:02:47Um, I was wrong.
00:02:49I was definitely wrong.
00:02:51Black women activists were
00:02:53basically begging white women
00:02:55to join them in the fight
00:02:56against lynching as early as
00:02:59the 1880s and certainly by the
00:03:001890s.
00:03:02It's not really until 1930
00:03:03when Jessie Daniel Ames founds
00:03:06the Association of Southern
00:03:09Women for the Prevention of
00:03:10Lynching.
00:03:12When she founds that
00:03:14organization in 1930 is really
00:03:15when white women recognize
00:03:18their role in helping to end
00:03:18this.
00:03:19So it was never an interracial
00:03:21movement in that way.
00:03:23In fact the ASWPL was
00:03:26expressly...expressly...for
00:03:27white women only.
00:03:28Because they believed that
00:03:30they could make the best
00:03:31argument against lynching by
00:03:32saying, "This isn't done in our
00:03:34name, don't claim that.
00:03:36This isn't about raping white
00:03:38women." So basically no, they
00:03:39weren't...it wasn't an
00:03:41interracial movement in the way
00:03:42that I had hoped when I started
00:03:43the journey.
00:03:44But by then I was hooked on
00:03:45the plays.
00:03:48So what happened actually is
00:03:49that in graduate school when I
00:03:53told my advisor what I wanted
00:03:55to do...this political union of
00:03:57black and white women and all
00:03:59of these kinds of issues...when
00:04:01she came across this anthology
00:04:02of both black and white women
00:04:04writers addressing lynching,
00:04:06that's what made her give that
00:04:07to me.
00:04:08>>Ok.
00:04:09And then from there you
00:04:11focused on thirteen plays, I
00:04:12think, for your dissertation,
00:04:13right?
00:04:14>>This is true.
00:04:18And I very quickly got to the
00:04:19point where I focused on
00:04:20black-authored plays.
00:04:22In the dissertation, you're
00:04:23right, there were thirteen
00:04:24plays that I looked at.
00:04:27I believe, ten by women and
00:04:28three by men.
00:04:30That has changed for the book,
00:04:31but yes.
00:04:32>>And it changed for the
00:04:33book because you were focusing
00:04:36on black female-authored plays
00:04:38exclusively in the book, is
00:04:39that right or is it...?
00:04:40>>No, actually I have a
00:04:41chapter in the book on
00:04:43male-authored plays and I look
00:04:44at two of them.
00:04:45>>Right, The Pimp and
00:04:47the...
00:04:47>>The Pimp and The Coward,
00:04:48oh yes.
00:04:50And so yes, I do look at men
00:04:52as well but it was really a
00:04:55decision about stopping at
00:04:561930.
00:04:58Partly because the nature of
00:05:00lynching begins to change in
00:05:02the 1930s.
00:05:05Where you have more and more
00:05:07examples of so-called "legal
00:05:09lynchings," where there's some
00:05:11kind of farce of a court
00:05:14situation and then they're
00:05:16lynched.
00:05:17So that kind of changes the
00:05:18cultural work I think that
00:05:19lynching was doing.
00:05:20And so I decided that it would
00:05:23be better to stop where the
00:05:24nature of the violence that I'm
00:05:25looking at remains relatively
00:05:27the same.
00:05:29>>Did that change the nature
00:05:30of the violence, in that era,
00:05:31did that change the natures of
00:05:32the plays then?
00:05:34Is that part of the argument
00:05:36that you're seeing there to
00:05:37create that delineated time in
00:05:42which you say, 1890-1930.
00:05:43I mean, everybody has to have
00:05:44a stopping point, you know, in
00:05:46something, so there's always
00:05:47practical reasons or you'd be
00:05:49going on...
00:05:50Because I was fascinated to
00:05:50learn that they're still being
00:05:56written.
00:05:58And we can talk about that.
00:05:58But that's what you saw...a
00:05:59transformative moment, or
00:06:00something that happens in the
00:06:011930s...and is that then
00:06:03reflected in the plays?
00:06:03>>I think so.
00:06:06And I think too part of what
00:06:07happens is more of a concern
00:06:08for addressing an interracial
00:06:11audience.
00:06:11When you start having these
00:06:15kind of courtroom situations
00:06:16come into the game, I think
00:06:20there becomes more of a concern
00:06:21to address an interracial
00:06:22audience.
00:06:24And what I found with these
00:06:25plays was a real concern with
00:06:29affirming each other.
00:06:31Writing these plays as
00:06:32one-acts, so that they can be
00:06:34in publications like Crisis,
00:06:36which is the NAACP's official
00:06:38organ, or Opportunity, which is
00:06:40the Urban League's official
00:06:43organ.
00:06:44Those kinds of publications I
00:06:45believe were really a way for
00:06:47these writers to tap into and
00:06:50target black audiences.
00:06:51Not that those periodicals
00:06:54were only read by blacks, but I
00:06:55do think it's a move to target
00:06:57black audiences and just kind
00:06:58of affirm them.
00:07:00>>Ok, and that seems to be a
00:07:02large part of the argument in
00:07:03the book is that you're saying
00:07:05these were created to affirm
00:07:06the family, to affirm the idea
00:07:11of the African American race as
00:07:12being worthy in ways they were
00:07:18not seeing anywhere else.
00:07:18And I thought that was really
00:07:23a powerful kind of interest
00:07:24that you had there.
00:07:25>>Yes, and worthy of
00:07:27citizenship specifically,
00:07:28right?
00:07:30That the nation is saying,
00:07:31"Well, there are certain ways
00:07:33that you can show that you're
00:07:35ready for full citizenship" and
00:07:36one of the ways that you can
00:07:36show that is be a responsible
00:07:38family man.
00:07:41And it's like, oh, when you
00:07:43have black examples of that,
00:07:44those are exactly the people
00:07:46who get targeted.
00:07:47Not only because they're
00:07:49trying to be protective of
00:07:51their wives and children, but
00:07:53also maybe because they've
00:07:54accumulated a little bit of
00:07:55land that whites would rather
00:07:57take from them.
00:08:00So this idea of suggesting
00:08:02that lynching is just to
00:08:04protect society from these, you
00:08:06know, black rapists who will
00:08:08terrorize white women, from
00:08:11these black whores who can't
00:08:14keep their men under check
00:08:17because they can't make a
00:08:19decent home, the argument is
00:08:20that's why lynching has to
00:08:21happen.
00:08:21But in fact the plays are
00:08:22showing us that it's exactly
00:08:23the examples of people who fit
00:08:24the mold of what you say a
00:08:26citizen should be...those are
00:08:27the ones who were targeted.
00:08:29>>Now as you said a lot of
00:08:30these were published in
00:08:33journals, and I read a couple
00:08:35of interesting things about it
00:08:36in the book.
00:08:36One is that there is also this
00:08:38strong sense of they would like
00:08:40to be paid.
00:08:42The authors would like to be
00:08:43paid and they weren't being
00:08:45paid for the times when the
00:08:46plays were being produced, say,
00:08:49in churches or in other places
00:08:51like that and they didn't get
00:08:53the, uh, I think it was DuBois?
00:08:56>>I pronounce it DuBois, but
00:08:57yes.
00:08:58>>So he's writing and saying
00:08:59you should pay, and there's a
00:09:00really interesting comment
00:09:01between the two...between him
00:09:03and I think a playwright.
00:09:05The playwright pays him for
00:09:06using one of his plays but he
00:09:08doesn't pay back, or something
00:09:10along those lines.
00:09:11So, I mean it's really
00:09:12interesting to see how that
00:09:13developed.
00:09:15Tell me about your research
00:09:16into that.
00:09:18When it becomes an economic
00:09:20issue that people are just
00:09:21taking things and not paying
00:09:22for them.
00:09:24Which to me, funnily enough,
00:09:26mirrored music, right?
00:09:27It was this moment, "Ok, these
00:09:29are out here we can do whatever
00:09:30we want with them" in the same
00:09:31way that music has been taken
00:09:33over technologically, and, "Ok,
00:09:34we'll do whatever we want with
00:09:36it" and there are big entities
00:09:37saying,"Oh no, you won't do
00:09:38that." >>Yeah, yeah.
00:09:40It's interesting that you
00:09:41would pick up on that issue.
00:09:43I, you know, that was actually
00:09:45one of the fun moments of
00:09:46archival research for me,
00:09:49coming across that exchange.
00:09:52Because what I find
00:09:53interesting about it though
00:09:55ultimately, is that I'm saying
00:09:57that these plays are used by
00:09:58communities.
00:10:00They're part of a community
00:10:01conversation.
00:10:02And so when you publish
00:10:03something in Crisis, if it's an
00:10:04essay, you expect that it will
00:10:06incite debate.
00:10:07Whether it's in the barber
00:10:08shop or at church, or wherever
00:10:11people are using that text.
00:10:12And so I actually believe that
00:10:14DuBois's labeling this some
00:10:16kind of stealing of the text is
00:10:19actually not accurate in terms
00:10:21of how these magazines were
00:10:22used.
00:10:24He wanted Crisis magazine to
00:10:25be handed from person to person
00:10:27in a barber shop.
00:10:28But now all of a sudden you
00:10:28want a royalty.
00:10:31So I actually think that the
00:10:32community is pushing back
00:10:34against DuBois's
00:10:35characterization of that.
00:10:39But at the same time you're
00:10:40right, there are real reasons
00:10:41why Willis Richardson should
00:10:43feel...he's the playwright
00:10:44who's writing DuBois...there
00:10:46are real reason why he should
00:10:47feel that he should get a
00:10:49royalty.
00:10:49So it's a real moment of
00:10:52tension I think, but it was a
00:10:54fun archival moment because
00:10:56DuBois wrote this piece in
00:10:59Crisis saying that we need to
00:11:01pay playwrights as long as you
00:11:02give Crisis half the royalties.
00:11:03>>Right.
00:11:05They get two dollars fifty
00:11:06cents, the playwright gets two
00:11:08dollars fifty cents.
00:11:08>>Exactly.
00:11:10So when Willis Richardson
00:11:12challenges him on that he says,
00:11:13"Well, the playwright should
00:11:14get money whether Crisis gets
00:11:16money or not." But I just
00:11:18thought it was a wonderful
00:11:20moment to find him writing that
00:11:21in Crisis, and then find this
00:11:24backstory where there's
00:11:25actually an argument between
00:11:27him an a playwright on this
00:11:28issue.
00:11:29>>Now, with a PhD in
00:11:30English, right?
00:11:32You go into this then having
00:11:34to become sort of a
00:11:36historian...well, not sort of,
00:11:37but obviously a historian...but
00:11:39a lot of times that's a
00:11:41training that you don't
00:11:42necessarily get.
00:11:44Tell me about walking into
00:11:46that or where the help, or the
00:11:47education that you got to start
00:11:50going into the archives and
00:11:51saying this is how I'm going to
00:11:53do it, this is how a historian
00:11:54does it.
00:11:57Because those are some
00:11:57interesting boundaries between
00:11:58disciplines.
00:11:59Because historians will say,
00:12:01"Well, it should be done this
00:12:02way" and the English department
00:12:03people say it should be done a
00:12:04different way.
00:12:05How was that experience for
00:12:06you?
00:12:07>>That's such a great
00:12:08question.
00:12:10I certainly don't claim to be
00:12:11a historian.
00:12:12I would claim the label
00:12:15literary historian, however,
00:12:17but I will say that you're
00:12:17right.
00:12:18There is a certain feeling
00:12:20that you get.
00:12:22For me it was a feeling of
00:12:24"wow, I really respect what
00:12:26historians do even more"
00:12:27because when I came across
00:12:29certain letters I felt
00:12:31particularly invasive.
00:12:33Like I felt like I was really
00:12:35invading someone's privacy.
00:12:36And I thought well there's so
00:12:38many powerful biographies...
00:12:39>>Well, that's what
00:12:40historians love to do!
00:12:41"Let's go invade!"
00:12:42>>Exactly!
00:12:42There are so many powerful
00:12:43biographies we wouldn't have if
00:12:44someone had the reaction and
00:12:46couldn't get over it that I
00:12:47had.
00:12:48So it just kind of made me
00:12:50respect historians even more
00:12:50I'd say.
00:12:53>>What really surprised you?
00:12:54You mentioned that's a nice
00:12:55moment that you have with
00:12:56DuBois.
00:12:58What are some of the other
00:12:59moments that really surprised
00:13:01you as you were doing research
00:13:02for this book?
00:13:02You mentioned another one at
00:13:04the beginning when you said I
00:13:04thought I would see this as an
00:13:05integrated movement but it
00:13:06wasn't.
00:13:08So what are some other things
00:13:09that...
00:13:10>>Yes, actually the most
00:13:13striking surprise for me that
00:13:16has completely changed my whole
00:13:18view of this and has guided the
00:13:20argument of the book was to
00:13:24discover an 1892 diary entry in
00:13:26which Ida B.
00:13:28Wells, who became the foremost
00:13:31anti-lynching crusader in our
00:13:33nation's history, a diary entry
00:13:35in which she basically said
00:13:37that she thought lynching might
00:13:39be justified.
00:13:40And so when...that changed
00:13:42everything for me.
00:13:43Because basically what she
00:13:44said is up until this point I
00:13:46thought it might be justified
00:13:47but now that my close friends
00:13:49have been lynched, I see what
00:13:50lynching really is.
00:13:52And that was a powerful moment
00:13:54that has really shaped my
00:13:55understanding of lynching and
00:13:58these plays.
00:14:00>>Has that been reported
00:14:00previously or was this
00:14:01something that you sort of
00:14:02found?
00:14:03>>It was definitely
00:14:04something that...I don't think
00:14:06that it was something that was
00:14:07hidden.
00:14:08I mean, I think that the, you
00:14:09know, some of the other
00:14:11biographies and histories I was
00:14:13relying on had also tapped into
00:14:14that.
00:14:16Her diaries were published and
00:14:18had been for a while.
00:14:19So yeah it wasn't a hidden
00:14:20thing, but for me it was
00:14:23definitely a revelation.
00:14:25>>Well it sounds like a
00:14:27surprising moment, because she
00:14:28was so well know for that after
00:14:30that.
00:14:31I was also surprised to read
00:14:33that lynching plays are still
00:14:34being written.
00:14:35Tell me about that.
00:14:37Where are they being written?
00:14:39How are they being performed?
00:14:40>>Well, ok.
00:14:42Again, if we're using the
00:14:44definition that Judith Stephens
00:14:45and Kathy Perkins give us,
00:14:47right, that basically a
00:14:48lynching whether its past or
00:14:49present has major impact on the
00:14:50dramatic action, then there are
00:14:52lots of plays that fall under
00:14:54that category.
00:14:55I would say that some of the
00:14:57authors who very much see
00:14:59themselves writing in the
00:15:01tradition would be this woman
00:15:04named Michon Boston, I
00:15:06believe...she published a play
00:15:08in that anthology Strange Fruit
00:15:12in 1998, and I actually believe
00:15:14that I saw it staged when I was
00:15:15a graduate student but I can't
00:15:18exactly remember if I saw it
00:15:20staged or if I just thought I
00:15:22saw it staged after I read
00:15:23it...
00:15:24>>It was pre-internet, you
00:15:25know, you can't...
00:15:26>>Something!
00:15:27I'm almost sure that I saw it
00:15:27staged.
00:15:29And actually an even more
00:15:31recent one I went to see at the
00:15:35Indianapolis...no, the Indiana
00:15:36Repertory Theater.
00:15:39I believe I went to see it in
00:15:40March, and it was called The
00:15:45Gospel According to James.
00:15:45And it was telling us the
00:15:46story again about James
00:15:48Cameron, who survived a
00:15:50lynching and then later went on
00:15:51to found the Black Holocaust
00:15:54Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
00:15:56So that play is really
00:15:57powerful because it tries to go
00:16:00back and give you not only
00:16:03James Cameron's view of what
00:16:04happened that day that he
00:16:04survived, but also Mary
00:16:06Ball...who is the white woman,
00:16:07the only white woman who was
00:16:09around that night that
00:16:10everything happened.
00:16:14So that's a wonderful play
00:16:15that really has us think about
00:16:16what does history tell us?
00:16:19What are the facts?
00:16:21What is interpretation?
00:16:24Is everything interpretation?
00:16:25And that play really makes you
00:16:26struggle with that.
00:16:27The playwright in that case is
00:16:28Charles Smith.
00:16:31>>You describe yourself as
00:16:32"equally interested in
00:16:34examining the impact that
00:16:35racial violence has had on
00:16:37artists who work in forms other
00:16:39than drama." So we've been
00:16:40talking about drama and this
00:16:40book is about that.
00:16:42Tell me about some of those
00:16:43other artistic forms.
00:16:44What are you also interested
00:16:45in?
00:16:46>>Well you know again I
00:16:47really believe that mob
00:16:50violence and lynching have had
00:16:51a profound impact on the
00:16:52American imagination.
00:16:54And so you're going to find
00:16:55renditions of it in any kind of
00:16:57art form.
00:16:58One of the texts that really
00:17:02has touched me is a book called
00:17:03Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by
00:17:05Bebe Moore Campbell, who is
00:17:07actually a really popular
00:17:09author.
00:17:10She's someone who a lot of
00:17:12book clubs, especially black
00:17:14book clubs, read.
00:17:15And she has a lot of what some
00:17:18people call "sister-girl
00:17:19fiction," um, where it's
00:17:20romance and it's this-and-that.
00:17:21It's one of her books that
00:17:23really tries to take up a
00:17:25historical topic in a more
00:17:27deliberate way.
00:17:31And I find it really striking
00:17:31because what she basically does
00:17:33is re-imagine the life of Mamie
00:17:35Bradley.
00:17:37Mamie Till Bradley, the mother
00:17:40of Emmett Till, who was killed
00:17:41in 1955 for supposedly flirting
00:17:45with a white woman.
00:17:46And so she imagines what this
00:17:47mother's life would have been
00:17:48after this happened and she
00:17:52imagines a whole life for her
00:17:53that includes a sex life.
00:17:56Something that you're not used
00:17:57to thinking about in relation
00:17:59to Mamie Bradley.
00:18:03>>That seems like that might
00:18:05cause controversy.
00:18:05That that might cause
00:18:06problems, because especially as
00:18:07you said trying to create a
00:18:09fictionalized version of that.
00:18:11Was it controversial when it
00:18:12came out?
00:18:15>>Um, I don't really know.
00:18:17And I guess I'm less
00:18:18interested in whether some
00:18:18people were bothered by it
00:18:21because what I find so profound
00:18:23and humanizing about it is the
00:18:24fact that she did that.
00:18:25So to me it's very humanizing
00:18:31that this woman had a very
00:18:32public life, she never again
00:18:34could just be a woman.
00:18:37She was forever the mother of
00:18:39this murdered child who meant
00:18:41so much to so many people,
00:18:43whose death represented so much
00:18:46to the world about American
00:18:47history.
00:18:49And so to think about her as a
00:18:50human being with a life
00:18:52including a sex life I thought
00:18:53was really humanizing.
00:18:55So yeah.
00:18:56So I'm less interested in
00:18:58whether some people were
00:18:59bothered.
00:19:00>>Yeah I mean...I guess what
00:19:01I'm mentioning there is it
00:19:02seems like you've got somebody
00:19:03who's I think really
00:19:05well-respected in the community
00:19:06and she did things like, um,
00:19:08Emmett Till was shown in his
00:19:10casket because she wanted to
00:19:11show the wounds.
00:19:13And so that becomes a very
00:19:15powerful moment and a powerful
00:19:16moment attached to a person
00:19:18often puts them sort of on a
00:19:21pedestal and so to humanize
00:19:22them runs the risk of creating
00:19:24problems.
00:19:24It reminds me of the play, I
00:19:26think it's Samuel L.
00:19:28Jackson and, is it Angela
00:19:29Bassett right now?
00:19:30On Broadway.
00:19:32They reimagine the last
00:19:35days...the last night...of
00:19:36Martin Luther King.
00:19:38And so, you know, that's also
00:19:39something like you're taking
00:19:41this figure and saying we're
00:19:42going to humanize it.
00:19:43And then, I guess...I don't
00:19:44know...I haven't heard the
00:19:45ending of the play but it goes,
00:19:47I guess, into magical realism
00:19:49or something.
00:19:50>>Oh ok.
00:19:50>>I'm not really sure what
00:19:51happens.
00:19:52>>I haven't heard a lot
00:19:52about it yet.
00:19:53>>Yeah I'm not sure what
00:19:54happens and I don't have the
00:19:55money to go to New York to see
00:19:55it at the moment.
00:19:57So tell me about where you did
00:19:59the research.
00:20:00Where do you go to...you've
00:20:03got the anthology in 1998, but
00:20:04did you have to go to some
00:20:05archives, you said?
00:20:06Where are the archives?
00:20:09>>The most important
00:20:10repositories for me would
00:20:12certainly be number one...the
00:20:15Schomburg Center for Research
00:20:16and Black Culture which is part
00:20:18of the New York Public Library
00:20:18system.
00:20:20That actually is where I found
00:20:22that exchange between Willis
00:20:23Richardson and DuBois.
00:20:27So that was a really important
00:20:28repository and actually there
00:20:30were lots of items that I found
00:20:31there related to black theater
00:20:33more generally that didn't make
00:20:34it into the book that hopefully
00:20:36will spawn other projects.
00:20:37>>Second, third book...
00:20:38The sequels...
00:20:39>>Exactly!
00:20:41But the other repository that
00:20:42was really important would be
00:20:44the Moorland-Spingarn Research
00:20:45Center at Howard University.
00:20:47Howard University in
00:20:48Washington, D.C.
00:20:50is actually the site of the
00:20:52first black drama department in
00:20:53the United States.
00:20:55It was founded by Alain Locke
00:20:56and Montgomery Gregory while
00:20:58they were professors there.
00:20:59And as you probably also
00:21:02notice from the study,
00:21:04Washington, D.C.
00:21:04is really pivotal.
00:21:05Most of these playwrights live
00:21:07in or near Washington D.C.
00:21:08when they write about lynching.
00:21:10So Howard University ends up
00:21:13being really important for that
00:21:14reason, and their
00:21:15Moorland-Spingarn Research
00:21:16Center is as well.
00:21:19Another place that's been
00:21:20important for the work is the
00:21:22MARBL Center at Emory
00:21:24University, which stands for, I
00:21:25believe, Manuscripts and Rare
00:21:27Books Library at the Woodruff
00:21:31Library at Emory.
00:21:33And so that's another place
00:21:34that was important for,
00:21:36actually, a play that I didn't
00:21:37write about in the book, but
00:21:39elsewhere.
00:21:40>>Ok, let's go to your
00:21:43writing since we've been
00:21:44talking about this book.
00:21:44I read online at
00:21:45SisterMentors.org that you
00:21:47experienced writers block with
00:21:49your dissertation.
00:21:50Six months of slow down.
00:21:50Tell me about overcoming this.
00:21:55What sort of suggestions do
00:21:56you have?
00:21:57How did you do it?
00:21:59I think part of it was working
00:21:59with the Sister Mentors group.
00:22:00>>Absolutely.
00:22:01I'm a big believer in
00:22:03community and I also believe
00:22:07that you have to pull into you
00:22:09the resources that you need.
00:22:11So understanding that you need
00:22:12community means that you take
00:22:14the initiative to get that
00:22:15community in your life.
00:22:17And so yes, that was crucial
00:22:19for me, finding them.
00:22:20But since then I would say
00:22:22that experience of working with
00:22:25them, and the six years that
00:22:27I've been a professor, I would
00:22:29say the biggest thing I've
00:22:30learned is the importance of
00:22:32writing every day.
00:22:34I don't think there's much
00:22:35that can beat that.
00:22:38Because if you write every day
00:22:39no matter if you end up with
00:22:40something that you're really
00:22:42pleased with or something that
00:22:46you're not so pleased with,
00:22:46you've kept a certain kind of
00:22:47momentum.
00:22:48But I've also learned the
00:22:49importance of counting reading
00:22:51as writing.
00:22:52Especially when I take the
00:22:55time to write notes in response
00:22:57to what I'm reading and try to
00:22:59think about how it's connected
00:23:00to the writing project that I
00:23:02want to be making progress on.
00:23:05So those have been crucial.
00:23:07>>Ok, so does that mean that
00:23:08you're sort of a regimented
00:23:09writer?
00:23:10You say, "I'm going to get up
00:23:11in the morning and do my
00:23:14calisthenics, my intellectual
00:23:15calisthenics." What is that
00:23:16for you?
00:23:17Or is it you just have to some
00:23:18point during the day get half
00:23:21an hour away to go write?
00:23:23What is your plan for that?
00:23:25>>In all honesty, it has to
00:23:26change.
00:23:28In other words, my ideal is
00:23:31writing first thing in the
00:23:32morning, two-hour blocks.
00:23:36Period.
00:23:37Like that is my ideal
00:23:38situation.
00:23:41But I've found that
00:23:44sometimes...I always talk about
00:23:45the importance of balance in
00:23:47one's life, and this ends up
00:23:48being important for me even in
00:23:50terms of actual calisthenics,
00:23:52actual exercise.
00:23:54And so I have certain ideals
00:23:56in my head about having a life
00:23:57that includes not only reading
00:23:58and writing but also some
00:24:00serious exercise.
00:24:02That to me would be balance as
00:24:03well as having fun and
00:24:06family-time and all those kinds
00:24:06of things.
00:24:08And what I've now learned is
00:24:09that sometimes balance
00:24:11means...ok, within this
00:24:14six-month period I had balance.
00:24:15It was a little more leaning
00:24:16toward the reading and writing
00:24:17and this three-month period, it
00:24:18was a little more toward the
00:24:19physical and the social here,
00:24:22but as a six-month period it
00:24:24represents balance.
00:24:25I've gotten to be a lot more
00:24:27flexible with myself about what
00:24:29balance is.
00:24:31So the ideal is two-hours at
00:24:33the beginning of my day, but if
00:24:36I have to change that in some
00:24:37kind of way I do that.
00:24:39But as you said, as much as I
00:24:40can make it a daily habit, I
00:24:42do.
00:24:44>>You've got a blog called
00:24:46"Kori's Commentary," and you
00:24:47take on topics from "Tyler
00:24:49Perry's ?For Colored Girl': Not
00:24:51the Disaster Predicted" to "Why
00:24:54I love Awkward Black Girl" to
00:24:56"The American Way: Mediocrity,
00:24:58When White, Looks Like Merit."
00:24:59Tell me about writing for your
00:25:01blog versus writing sort of
00:25:03academic things.
00:25:04Obviously the topics are
00:25:05different.
00:25:07Although I think at the top
00:25:08you say this is not about
00:25:09current events, there's plenty
00:25:11of that elsewhere.
00:25:17So how is the blog a different
00:25:18kind of writing for you, and
00:25:19does it fall into those two
00:25:19hours?
00:25:20>>No.
00:25:21The blog has been important
00:25:23because it actually is a big
00:25:24part of my claiming the label
00:25:27"writer" for myself.
00:25:29To claim that title is
00:25:30actually a really big deal for
00:25:32me because I feel like I
00:25:34struggle with writing.
00:25:36It takes a lot of work.
00:25:38And so doing the blog,
00:25:41deciding to commit to doing the
00:25:43blog, was about being able to
00:25:45embrace that title for myself.
00:25:47And therefore embrace the fact
00:25:49that I can write in different
00:25:50kinds of ways.
00:25:52So the blog for me is about
00:25:53challenging myself to be brief.
00:25:56In a way that I didn't have to
00:25:56be in the book.
00:25:57In a way I don't have to be
00:25:59for some of my scholarly
00:26:00journal articles.
00:26:05This makes me brief.
00:26:06>>So it's...but it's genre
00:26:07exploration as well.
00:26:08I mean, not just brief, but
00:26:10you're writing for I would
00:26:12think a different audience for
00:26:13here.
00:26:14And you can do different
00:26:15things.
00:26:17Is that part of it as well?
00:26:18Because going online your
00:26:19potential audience is...no
00:26:22offense to academic
00:26:26books...potentially much larger
00:26:28than you might get out of a
00:26:29monograph.
00:26:31So is that something that
00:26:32enters into the writing when
00:26:34you do it or is...because who's
00:26:35your audience when you're doing
00:26:36online?
00:26:37>>Well, the fact that you're
00:26:38posing this question to me
00:26:40makes me realize one of the, I
00:26:42guess, stakes I have in
00:26:44starting the blog was that I
00:26:45wanted to remind myself that
00:26:47people do care about the kinds
00:26:49of things that I care about.
00:26:50So what I think unifies
00:26:53everything that I've done on
00:26:54the blog and in my professional
00:26:55work it's really this belief
00:26:56that reading critically is
00:27:00important and that we sometimes
00:27:02need to model critical thinking
00:27:05and critical reading for other
00:27:06people.
00:27:07And so it's my attempt to
00:27:09model that.
00:27:11And so especially as a
00:27:12performance studies scholar
00:27:16there is plenty to be read that
00:27:17isn't in a book.
00:27:18There's movie text.
00:27:20There's one's performance
00:27:22right here between me and
00:27:24you...what kind of message am I
00:27:26sending with certain kinds of
00:27:27gestures, facial expressions,
00:27:29tones of voice?
00:27:30And so those things can be
00:27:31read critically as well.
00:27:33And so I guess I see the blog
00:27:34as an extension of my
00:27:35professional work in that I'm
00:27:38trying to model that kind of
00:27:40critical reading practice.
00:27:42>>One of the other things
00:27:46that I thought was interesting
00:27:46is when you talk about Awkward
00:27:47Black Girl...that's like a
00:27:50series of Youtube videos...that
00:27:52the, that you're critiquing and
00:27:53saying "why I like it, here's
00:27:54the things that I think are
00:27:55powerful about it." And
00:27:56there's also...so it's being
00:27:58funded through donations I
00:27:59think.
00:28:00Forty-four thousand is the
00:28:01number that you...
00:28:03>>At that point yes.
00:28:04Now they've made a lot more.
00:28:08>>Ok, because I was sort of
00:28:10struck by...would you be able
00:28:11to do something like that in an
00:28:13academic setting?
00:28:14You know, there are certain
00:28:15places you can, but can you get
00:28:17away with that in the English
00:28:18Department?
00:28:18Or do you have to go to, like
00:28:19you said, performance studies
00:28:20or somewhere else where they
00:28:23say, "Look, blogs are
00:28:23legitimate; YouTube is
00:28:25legitimate?" That kind of
00:28:26stuff really seems to be an
00:28:28interesting comment on
00:28:30academics, the state of
00:28:32academics, and being located,
00:28:33as we said earlier, within
00:28:35particular disciplines.
00:28:36You know there are things like
00:28:37history.
00:28:38YouTube is going to have to be
00:28:40around for another twenty years
00:28:42before history is going to say
00:28:43anything about it, I think.
00:28:45I'll go out on a limb and say
00:28:46that I doubt anything's been
00:28:47published on that yet.
00:28:49But at any rate, I thank you
00:28:51very much Koritha Mitchell for
00:28:52being here on Writers Talk.
00:28:53>>Thank you, it's been a
00:28:54pleasure.
00:28:55>>Great.
00:28:56And again, the book is Living
00:28:56With Lynching, and I think it
00:28:57is out already and available...
00:28:58>>Yes.
00:29:00>>So everybody can get that.
00:29:03And from the Center for the
00:29:03Study and Teaching of Writing
00:29:04at The Ohio State University,
00:29:05this is Doug Dangler for
00:29:06Writers Talk.
00:29:08Keep writing.
Note : Transcripts are compiled from uncorrected captions