Too cool not to include: August Wilson’s Poem for my grandfather

And the transcription (HT to Jeannie McClem)

This is a poem I wrote for my grandfather.
Since I never knew my grandfather, I am speaking
in a generational sense, a generational grandfather.
This is your grandfather, my grandfather,
all of us’s grandfather.

Poem for my grandfather

His chest stripped open
to reveal a raven,
huge with sharp talons,
a song stuck in his throat
and beneath the feathers,
beneath the shudder and rage,
the pages of a book closed
and the raven took flight.

Bynum Cutler.
Savage, mule trainer, singer,
shaper of wood and iron.

Bynum Cutler,
who spread his seed
over the nine counties
in North Carolina,
seed carried in the wind,
by the wind in the sails of ships
and planted among the cane break,
among Georgia pine,
among boles of cotton
planted in the fertile fields of women
who snapped open like fresh berries,
like cities in full season
welcoming its architects
and ennobling them
with gifts of blood.

Some takeaway notes from “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”

Week 4 – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (notes)

  • Largest cast of any Wilson play so far. 12 counting the ever-present Joe Turner, 15 with appearance of Miss Mabel, plus the unseen Eugene, plus Jack Carper.
  • Said to be Wilson’s favorite play in the cycle. Based on Romare Bearden painting, Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket.
  • Herald Loomis is the Wilson Warrior, but Bynum and Bertha play significant supporting roles.

Themes that recur:

  • Blood as a means of cleansing, baptism, lifting the veil
  • Finding one’s song is finding one’s voice, discovering a sense and practice of agency
  • The relationship between Bynum’s Shiny Man, called One Who Goes before and Shows the Way, a sort of First Man, and Loomis’s first name, Herald, i.e., a messenger, a sign that something is about to happen. A play on words.
  • Selig, the white “trader.” Buys and sells pots (sustenance, basic necessity) and finds lost people (only because he carried them away in the first place). WD Fard. (Martha started at the Holly house and was carried away by Selig. That is why Loomis said he could smell her there and knew she wasn’t dead)
  • Bynum’s (Bind them) spirituality helps people, but still doesn’t give him his song completely, until he witnesses the return of the Shiny Man who self-baptizes, self-realizes, self-actualizes, and self-transcends (to use Maslow’s framework).

5. Play Structure

  • Exposition: Scene 1: the boardinghouse; Bynum’s spirituality; Seth’s superiority complex; Selig, the trader
  • Rising action: Arrival of Herald Loomis, Seth’s distrust.
  • Climax #1: End of Scene 1. The Juba dance scene, Loomis’s disapproval and the performance of his own “act” within and via the old slave and minstrel celebration, aided by Bynum.
  • Falling action: Seth’s growing distrust and decision to evict Loomis; the Mollie/Mattie/Jeremy love triangle.
  • Resolution: Loomis fails to romance Mattie; future prospects for Reuben and Zonia; Loomis departs the House (but we feel him watching from a distance)
  • Climax #2/Denouement: Martha Loomis returns to the House and reunites with Zonia; Loomis self-baptizes and self delivers; Bynum sees Shiny Man (in Loomis) and finds his agency at last.

TheatreWorks video on the play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIcxgAearDc

 

6. Explaining the end of the play.

It can be argued that the end of the play is a bit whacked, poorly constructed, or just plain flawed. I propose that taking such a position would be both inaccurate and incorrect. Of course, we would love to see Martha and Herald reunited and marching off into the sunset with their darling little girl, Zonia. But I contend that the play was never intended to be about Martha and Herald, but about Herald (the Wilson Warrior) and his development and, take a deep breath, about Bynum and his final fulfillment.  Let me set the scene.

In Act 1 scene 1, Bynum told Selig, the trader and People Finder, about a man he was looking for, a Shiny Man he met on a road who once shared with him the Secret of Life. Bynum said the man asked for his hands, then rubbed Bynum’s hands between his own hands that had blood on them and said the blood was a way of cleaning himself. Soon the road changed, the surroundings changed and “everything look[ed] like it was twice as big as it was.” The cleaning with blood was clearly also a type of enlightenment, a baptism of sorts, preparing Bynum for a future task.  During the same experience, Bynum saw his father, who told him he would show him how to “find my song,”  and explained that the Shiny Man Bynum had earlier seen was “the One Who Goes Before and Shows the Way and that

“Said there was lots of shiny men and if I ever saw one again before I died then I would know that my song had been accepted and worked its full power and I could lay down and die a happy man. A man who done left his mark on life.”

OK. Hold on to that thought . . .

Skipping forward to the end of Act 1 scene 4, the House folks have come together on a Sunday evening after dinner to do a Juba, a minstrel/African cultural celebration that involves dancing, singing, and invoking the Holy Spirit. Everybody is there and participating except Herald. When Herald arrives, he goes off the deep edge, questioning the existence of God and the Holy Ghost. He goes off into a bit of a other worldly experience, “dancing and speaking in tongues.” he then says,

“You all don’t know nothing about me. You don’t know what I done seen. Herald Loomis done seen some things he ain’t got words to tell you.”

       Bynum comes to his aid, walks him through his exposition of the vision he has seen, learns about his vision, and walks him back from the edge, so to speak, and back to this world and sanity. We won’t go into the details of that vision here, but suffice it to say that elements of the vision are significant, the bones rising and walking on the water, the bones sinking all together all at once and forming a tidal wave that washes the bones, now clothed with flesh, black flesh, ashore, but still inanimate. Then a wind enters the bodies and brings them to life, and Herald Loomis is one of those bodies come to life, except at that point, unlike all the others, Loomis cannot stand up, or as he says it “My legs won’t stand up.” At that point, I think Bynum knew spiritually and at some level that he had found, at least potentially, his shiny man. But that more development would be required.

OK, moving forward to the end of Act 2 scene 5 (the stuff in the middle is not insignificant, but we can come back to it later if we have to), Martha returns to the House, Loomis returns, and Martha thanks Bynum for reuniting her with her daughter Zonia.  Loomis takes offense at that and accuses Bynum of “binding” him to the road, to a life of wandering around and dissatisfaction. Bynum denies it, and at this point, Loomis draws his knife, followed by a type of call and response that tells us with finality there is not going to be a future with Martha and Loomis together. Their apartness has developed them into different people than they were before when they were together. AS Herald says, “Joe Turner’s come and gone.”

Then at the height of the exchange, Loomis draws the knife across his chest, drawing blood, then rubs that blood over his face, replicating, in some ways, the same blood cleaning and self-baptism that Bynum experienced in Act 1 with the original shiny man. Similarly, Loomis comes to a new awareness as a result of the blood baptism. Finally, he is standing and he proclaims “I am standing! My legs stood up! I’m standing now.”

This is the completion that Loomis sought. He bids Martha farewell, and Mattie rushes out to be at his side. The stage directions Wilson inserts here are pure poetry:

Having found his song,
the song of self-sufficiency,
fully resurrected, cleansed and given breath,
free from any encumbrance
other than the workings of his own heart
and the bonds of the flesh,

having accepted the responsibility
for his presence in the world,
he is free to soar above the environs
that weighed and pushed his spirit
into terrifying contractions.

       At this point, Bynum realizes fully that Loomis is his shiny man, that his song has been accepted, and that he has lived a life of meaning.

So, Loomis is complete. He has Mattie at his side for his next journey. And Bynum can peacefully rest. Q.E.D.

postscript.

Yes. I think Bynum is a central character, although Loomis is definitely and definitively the Wilson warrior in this play. We relate personally to whichever character we will and that is one of the human functions of all the dramatic arts, to engage the audience, one by one. But we also have to keep in mind the suggestion made in class, i.e., putting it mildly, that creative people are less focused on their audience and more focused on externalizing their creative impulse. I wrote a poem once, a sonnet, that I thought was exclusively focused on a somewhat complicated rhyming scheme, yet at the end, the whole poem had meaning for me (and perhaps, for any one else who read it), the rhyming scheme notwithstanding.

A friend the other day called my attention to a painting, The Choice of Hercules. The painting (could be a play or a poem) has four human characters, and people who gaze on the masterpiece are subliminally left to choose one to relate to (though forcing that choice may not have been the artistic intent of the painter, Carracci). It’s a bit of a tangent, but it is true, we can’t all be Hercules.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 7.59.04 PM

The Choice of Hercules (https://www.wga.hu/html_m/c/carracci/annibale/1/heracles.html)

Wilson is using his plays to build a history of a century, but he is also creating a mythology, and a philosophy. That is why these plays will last and last. And yes, he is developing a psychology, a code for human behavior, perhaps a universal code. It will be fascinating to see how it all unwinds in the remaining six plays.

More on the title. “Joe Turner” comes from an old blues song about a system of incarceration for emancipated blacks in Tennessee, generally on weak or flippant charges forcing them to work in plantations for a limited time. Joe Turner was the brother of Peter Turney, Tennessee Governor at the end of the 19th cenury. See more here:  http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/2010/11/28/they-tell-me-joe-turners-come-and-gone-music-prison-the-convict-lease-system/

Character guide (Wikipedia, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone)

Seth Holly– In his early fifties, Seth is owner of the boardinghouse and works as a craftsman.

Bertha Holly– Seth’s wife of 25 years and five years his junior, Bertha runs the boardinghouse. She does all the cooking and cleaning, later with the aid of Zonia.

Bynum Walker– A “conjure” man staying with the Holly’s at the boardinghouse, Bynum is in his sixties and is a freed slave from the south.

Rutherford Selig– The only white character in the play, Selig is a peddler who sells Seth’s goods. Known as the “People Finder”, Selig is from a family that first brought Africans across the Atlantic to become slaves. But now he unites people by recording the names and places of all the people he peddles to.

Jeremy Furlow– Another resident of the boardinghouse, Jeremy is a guitar-playing 25-year-old. He came to the North looking for a job and a way in life. He works construction, putting in the new road outside of town.

Herald Loomis– An odd man who dons an overcoat and hat in mid-August, Loomis is 32 and a displaced slave searching for his wife. He was forced to work for Joe Turner for seven years, which separated him from his wife and daughter. He works as a deacon for the Abundant Life Church and at times was possessed by spiritual beings.

Zonia Loomis– Herald’s daughter, Zonia is described as a tall and skinny 11-year-old.

Mattie Campbell– Mattie is a 25-year-old girl who is disappointed with her position in life and is looking for love.

Rueben Mercer– Rueben is the Holly’s next door neighbor and about Zonia’s age.

Molly Cunningham– Molly is a good looking young woman of 26 who is strong and independent.

Martha Pentecost– Loomis’ wife, Martha is about 28 and very religious and a member of the Evangelical church. She left the South and her daughter behind.

Joe Turner– While Turner does not make an actual appearance in the play, he is often referred to with the expectation that the audience is aware of who he is. Joe Turner, the brother of the governor of Tennessee, would kidnap black men and force them into labor on his chain gang for seven years.

postscript. Early 19 “teens”

https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1910-1919-45426

“Like the previous decade, African-Americans continued to fight against racial injustice. Using various methods of protest–writing editorials, publishing news, literary and scholarly journals as well as organizing peaceful protests–African-Americans began to expose the ills of segregation not only to the United States, but the world.
1910

According to U.S. Census data, African-Americans make up ten percent of the United States’ population.
The National Urban League (NUL) is established in New York City. The purpose of the Urban League was to help African-Americans find jobs and housing resources.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) established the first issue of Crisis. W.E.B. Du Bois becomes the monthly magazine’s first editor in chief.
Throughout the United States, local ordinances are established to segregate neighborhoods. Towns such as Baltimore, Dallas, Louisville, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Roanoke and St. Louis establish such ordinances separating African-American and white neighborhoods.

1911

Kappa Alpha Psi, an African-American fraternity is established at Indiana University.
Omega Psi Phi is established at Howard University.

1912

An estimated sixty-one African-Americans are lynched.
W.C. Handy publishes “Memphis Blues” in Memphis.
Claude McKay publishes two collections of poetry, Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads.

1913

The 50th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is celebrated.
Delta Sigma Theta, an African-American sorority, is established at Howard University.
Woodrow Wilson’s administration establishes federal segregation. Across the United States, federal work environments, lunch areas, and restrooms are segregated.
African-American newspapers such as the California Eagle began campaigns to protest the portrayal of African-Americans in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. As a result of editorials and articles published in African-American newspapers, the film was banned in many communities throughout the United States.
The Apollo Theater is founded in New York City.

1915

The Great Migration picks up steam as African-Americans leave the South for Northern cities.
The Oklahoma Grandfather Clause is overturned in Guinn v. the United States.
Carter G. Woodson establishes the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). That same year, Woodson also publishes The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861.
The NAACP proclaims that Lift Every Voice and Sing is the African-American national anthem. The song was written and composed by two brothers, James Weldon and Rosamond Johnson.
Booker T. Washington dies.

Some takeaway notes from “Fences”

There is a lot to unpack in all these plays and Fences is no exception.

Late with this week’s blog post. I guess it took some time to process the play, the text I read twice, and the film adaptation we watched on TV. I want to begin by highlighting an August Wilson quote from Samuel Freedman’s foreword to my edition of Fences that I call “found poetry”:

"I found myself trying to figure out 
the intent of these lives around me.
Trying to uncover the nobility
and the dignity I might not have seen.
Part of the reason I wrote Fences
was to illuminate that generation,
which shielded its children from all 
the indignities they went through.

I have to confess that until our group discussion laid it out on the table with multiple inputs, I hadn’t really plumbed the depths of the use of the play’s title “Fences” as a metaphor. That is what I’d like to address in this week’s post. But first, let’s recapitulate the pre-class notes:

  1. Market forces that influenced the play: advisors recommended a play with a nuclear family, something “more accessible” than the previous plays.
  2. Wilson’s insistence that the film adaptation have a black director was not well received by the entertainment industry.
  3. Who is the central protagonist in Fences? Is it Troy Maxsom, a “big man” who “fills all the empty spaces” in the lives of everybody around him?  Or is it Rose, the constant, steadying influence, the glue that holds everything together and nudges the men around her into true manhood? Or maybe Cory, the future, the promise, the unflawed character?
  4. The name of the play is Fences, but there are only occasional mentions of fences, or even of a single fence. Is the fence something central or merely incidental to the play? A metaphor?
  5. What about Bono? He gets better as the play progresses, better at dominoes, better at being a husband to Lucille, better at being a friend to Troy and Rose. He progresses through the timeline of the play. His character develops.
  6. This week we introduce Freytag’s Pyramid. A useful way to unpack and track the development of the play’s plot.
  7. What is the play’s introduction? Does the Troy-Bono dialogue (with Rose entering part way through the conversation) at the beginning of Act 1 effectively set the scene for the entire play?
  8. Rising action: Cory’s football hopes counterposed with Troy’s laments about his failed baseball career. Troy’s efforts to get a promotion to driver at work. Troy talks about past successful struggles with Death.
  9. Climax: Troy’s announcement that Alberta is pregnant, followed by a heated discussion with Rose and Cory’s entrance and defense of Rose in what he perceives to be his father’s physical attack. Strike 2.
  10. The Falling Action: Gabe gets arrested and institutionalized. Alberta dies in childbirth. We never see Alberta, but she is always lurking behind the scenes. Troy comes to grips with his new responsibility.
  11. Resolution: Rose adopts Alberta’s daughter, Raynell. Cory leaves home and joins the Marines. Troy dies. Lyons goes to jail but returns for the funeral. Cory also returns home for Troy’s funeral. Bono organizes the pall bearers.

But back to the Fences metaphor. Bono says early in Act 2, “Some people build fences to keep people out . . . and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you.” There is only one fence being built in the play, but the play has many fences, hence the plurality of the title. Troy and Bono met in prison, where they were “fenced” in, so to speak, in a hyper-controlled environment with rigid boundaries. That controlled space is also the place that gave Troy the discipline to learn the game of baseball, a sport with an infield for base running and an outfield generally enclosed and contained by a fence. Batting the ball “over the fence” is considered a score, a home run.

Troy considers his own marriage a type of prison to which he has been sentenced, a prison bounded by a fence, but at the end of an 18-year sentence, he wants freedom from “the same place’ where he has been standing still. He says towards the end of Act 2 Scent 1, “Then I saw that girl . . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried . . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand, after eighteen years I wanted to steal second. [. . . .] I  stood on first base for eighteen years and I thought. . . well, goddamn it . . . go on for it.

On the other hand, and extending the metaphor, “fencing” is the crime of buying and reselling stolen merchandise. The person who knowingly buys stolen goods in order to resell them is known as a “fence.” Troy, using baseball imagery, refers in a conversation with Rose to his adultery with Alberta as “stealing second base.” Troy himself, in this sense, is the “fence” who purchased stolen property (Alberta’s affection and attention) and resells it as his own image of himself.

We can debate about whether Troy was a sympathetic or a despicable character. Professor Shannon points out in her book, The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson, that Troy “reverses a stereotype found in portrayals of the black family: the conspicuously absent father,” but that he is also an “amalgam of blues personalities,” i.e., a railroad man in his infidelity, a bluesman who is depressed and finally, “womanless,” and a trickster (you pick the poison). You gotta read Professor Shannon’s book.

Last but not least, Riley Temple, in his book, Queen Ester’s Children Redeemed, included Troy Maxson in a reference to the Wilson Warriors, characters who “take a journey – a pilgrimage of redemption to find and to reconstitute who they might have been, and what they have become. . . . These men and women are warriors in fact, and not merely in spirit (but certainly in that as well), and have that Warrior courage. They make mistakes. Bad mistakes. They pay the price for them. Yet, they are not victims. They are fighters.”  Temple includes in that list of warriors, from plays we have already completed, Boomer from Jitney and Levee from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Another book you gotta read!

Well, I’ll stop here because time is passing, the weekend is approaching, and play #4, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, awaits my discover.

postscript. The 1950’s.

In 1954, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws segregating public schools for African-American and white children was unconstitutional. The case, known as Brown v. Board of Education overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which was handed down 58 years earlier.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling was a landmark case that cemented the inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement.

The case was fought through the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which had been fighting civil rights battles since the 1930s.

https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1950-1959-45442

1957

Congress establishes the Civil Rights Act of 1957. This is the first legislative act protecting the rights of African-Americans since the Reconstruction period by establishing the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors are now able to get court injunctions against those who interfere with the right to vote. Under this act, the Federal Civil Rights Commission is also established.
Dorothy Irene Height is elected president of the National Council of Negro Women. Height holds this position for 41 years.
Federal troops are sent to Little Rock, Ark by Dwight Eisenhower to enforce the desegregation of Central High School. The troops are also instructed to protect nine African-American students who are enrolled in the school and remain for the entire academic year.
The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) was established in Birmingham.
Perry H. Young becomes the first African-American pilot of a commercial passenger airline.

Week One of the August Wilson Century Series – Jitney

First, here is a link to the episode of Theater Talk that featured the Tony-award winning cast of Jitney in 2017:

This one is also good:

Here is a review from Memphis production last year.

It was interesting the way we focused our discussion on relationships, the peripheral relationship between Turnbo and Rena, the complex and layered relationship between Becker and Booster, and the evolving, dynamic, almost dance-like relationship between Rena and Youngblood. Relationships are such an essential, human thing, always transforming, always reflecting the environment that surrounds them, for good or ill.

We could have easily spent the whole class period on Becker and Booster’s father-son relationship, Becker’s deep disappointment in the mistakes that his son made and the consequences of those mistakes, the hopes that Becker placed in Boomer, and the energy he attempted to transfer to the future where Boomer might have more and better opportunities than he had. But I also think that at some level, Boomer’s “acting up” and the decisions he took that incarcerated him were a rejection of the pressure he felt from his father, and a not so subtle decision that he was going to live his own life, not the one Becker tried to transfer over to him. At the play’s end, Boomer starts toward the door to leave the jitney office, but the phone rings, and after a negligible hesitation, Boomer goes over and answers the phone, “Car service” as the light fades to black. I think that motion and action symbolize that there is hope for Boomer and there is hope for the jitney operation.

There is of course a lot to be said about Youngblood and Rena. One thing we didn’t discuss today was the tenderness of emotion Becker displayed in his conversation with Rena and Youngblood. Becker says towards the end of Act 2 Scene 1,

When you look around you’ll see that all you got is each other. There ain’t much more. Even when it look like there is…you come one day to find out there ain’t much more worth having.

Here we see that despite the gruff Becker displayed towards his own son, he never stopped developing as a father, never gave up on his own emotional development, and we are left wondering if one day he might have overcome his great disappointment and been able to show a similar level of affection for Boomer that he clearly has for Youngblood.  Alas, Becker’s potential for development is arrested on the factory floor so we will never know. As Vonnegut would say, “so it goes.”

We will see more of this relationship dynamic in Ma Rainey next week.

Characters

Jim Becker, the well-respected manager of the jitney station. In his 60s.
Doub, a driver, cautious and slow going, a Korean War veteran. One of few August Wilson characters who is a military veteran.
Fielding, a driver, an alcoholic, formerly a tailor who clothed Billy Eckstine and Count Basie.
Turnbo, a driver, notorious for being a gossip.
YoungBlood (Darnell Williams), a driver. Recently returned from Vietnam, working several jobs to provide for his family. In his late 20s. Another rare veteran.
Rena, YoungBlood’s girlfriend and the mother of his young son, Jesse.
Shealy, a flamboyent bookie who uses the jitney station as the basis of his numbers running operations.
Philmore, a local Hotel doorman and a frequent jitney passenger.
Booster (Clarence Becker), Becker’s son, who has just completed a 20-year prison sentence for murder. In his early 40s.

Postscript. 1977. The seventies were considered by many the post-Civil Rights era. The seventies witnessed a local push back against urban renewal and opposition to 50’s and 60’s redevelopment projects in America’s urban areas.

https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-history-timeline-1970-1979-45445

p.s. There are the issues, peripheral and center stage, of urban renewal and prison reform, that bear discussion. Finally, the video of the revival Broadway production actors above discuss the idea that Wilson began writing Jitney, put it down to write Seven Guitars, then returned to Jitney later. Some characters and lines overlap…

Specifically in 1977:

Patricia Roberts Harris is the first African-American woman to hold a cabinet position when Jimmy Carter appoints her to oversee Housing and Urban Development.
Andrew Young is the first African-American to become a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
For eight consecutive nights, the miniseries Roots is aired on national television. Not only is the miniseries the first to show viewers the impact of enslavement on American society, but it also achieved the highest ratings for a television program.

1st week links from Google Group.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/august-wilson-the-ground-on-which-i-stand-scenes-and-synposes-of-august-wilsons-10-play-cycle/3701/

http://old.seattletimes.com/html/obituaries/2002536239_august03.html

Bill Moyers interview on You Tube:

A You Tube playlist of excerpts from all the plays:

The Light in August Wilson – Suzi-Lori Parks interview

https://www.americantheatre.org/2005/11/01/the-light-in-august-wilson-a-career-a-century-a-lifetime/

This first link provides a speech August Wilson gave upon his return to Minnesota in 1991. The speech is not specific to any particular Wilson play, but provides rich background to character and plot development for all his plays.

–.-

1st meeting of August Wilson Century Series study group

March 5, 2018

1. Introduction
A. Who are we?
B. Why are we here?
1. Had seen several Wilson plays on stage over the years
2. Heard Denzel Washington plan to direct plays for screen

2. Class
A. Methodology
1. Collaborative close read
2. Learning subjectives vice objectives
3. The community is the curriculum
4. Required reading
5. Start thinking about recurrent themes across the plays
B. Study Group representative:
C. Feedback
1. Google Group (demonstration if time permits)
2. Blog page
3. Comments and suggestions

3. Intro comments on Jitney
A. 1st play. Series not yet contemplated, mixed reviews
B. Last of plays to make it to Broadway
C. 2017 Tony for best revival play

4. Begin the readings

5. Next week:
A. Post comments on Jitney
B. Read Ma Rainey for discussion

postscript.

Week 1 of the August Wilson study group is behind us! I thought 8-10 people would be an optimal size, but 18 signed up!  We started off with an introduction to the methodology, focusing on the collaborative close read, and two concepts I borrowed from #Rhizo15, learning subjectives (vs objectives) coupled to the idea that “the community is the curriculum.” Three quarters of the group members are retirees, one quarter are housewives and house husbands.

Here is what I posted to the Facebook ModPo Alumni Study Group (seen by 33 but liked by none):

Week 1 of my collaborative close read study group on August Wilson’s Century Series. The first play was “Jitney.”

1. First class went well. But we jammed together introductions and close read discussions in this first meeting and we ran out of time. I had hoped for 8 group members but we ended up with 18. 25% of the members are retired attorneys who know all about unpacking language!

2. Implementing “The Community is the Curriculum” from #rhizo15 was/is a big hit. There are two high school english teachers in the group who have taught Wilson’s plays. There is a college professor who actually knew and was acquainted with August Wilson.

3. Not everybody was able to access the Google Group where I had stashed a lot of background material. We hope to remedy that by 1) getting everybody a gmail account so they can access the group and 2} mirroring the group on a publicly accessible blog site here:

https://wordpress.com/view/raymonddmaxwell.com.

4. Versioning presented a slight hiccup. Members had three versions of the play, so page # references didn’t align and we lost a minute or two in each presentation trying to get everybody on the same page (literally!).

5. It was interesting the way the group immediately seized on drawing general principles from specific instances in the play through the close reading process. (The play is about a small black community in 1970’s Pittsburgh but the group decided that the principles were/are universally applicable).

6. Next week is “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Will be posting notes here weekly and thinking about ways to move the course to a bigger virtual audience.

A big part of being a study group leader is conversation traffic direction!  That’s a good problem to have because so far everybody is enthusiastic about contributing to the conversation .

In preparing the coursework and background material, I find a big role to be curation, looking for the best, most impactful “stuff” online to share with the group. Still ironing out technology wrinkles, i.e., some couldn’t access the Google Group (that I am trying to use in place of forums in the Coursera platform) and some are not in the habit of checking their email.  

Week 2 is going to be fun! 

August Wilson considered himself a poet before he became a successful playwright and that comes through as we unpack the various sections of text (lines?, lyrics?).

Too much fun AND they reimburse us for parking!  

OK. More later.