Notes Of A Coloured Girl
32 Short Reasons Why I Write For The Theatre
by Djanet Sears
in another age
in the mother tongue
made drums talk
now in another tongue
make words to walk in rhythm
‘cross the printed page
carved from that same tree
in another age
Talking Drums #1 (Khephra 125)
2 I was having lunch with Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. We were mostly talking about a play of his that I'd directed called A Branch of the Blue Nile. Towards the end of the conversation I said to him, "Can I ask you a stupid question? His eyebrows crawled up to his hairline. But he didn’t say no. Not that I gave him much of a chance. I quickly kicked all hesitation out of my mind, and asked, "Why do you write? What compels you to put pen to paper; finger to key?" Derek Walcott retreated to the back of his seat, allowed his eyebrows to return to their original position, and looked at me. Silence. He seemed to be staring at me; almost looking right through me. Realizing that I'd probably insulted him, I quietly set about plotting my escape. Then all of a sudden a torrent of words spilled out of his mouth.
“I don’t know why I write.” That's what he told me.
He said that for him writing wasn’t a choice. From as far back as he could recall, he had written. He described it as a kind of organic desire. He didn’t know why he wrote, but when he experienced that urge, he felt compelled to act on it, whether he was on a plane, whether it was first thing in the morning, or last thing at night. He had to write.
I was eighteen and in New York City...
3 I don't believe in miracles. My life has taught me not to. But then I witnessed the birth of my sister’s first child. I’d seen birth films. I studied human reproduction as an undergraduate. Still, this child came out of my sister – already alive. I mean, not yet fully born, her head alone protruding from between her mother’s thighs, she wailed. Full of voice, she slipped out of the velvety darkness that was her mother’s womb, into the light. I was overcome. I watched as Qwyn, this tiny, golden-umber coloured soul, caught by a man in a white coat, was separated from the placenta and bundled into blanched cloth. I stood there for a moment and wondered how she would come to know herself, blinded by the glare of snow? What would this fair world tell her? And I was sad for her – or maybe it was for myself.
13 Lorraine Hansberry is my mother – in the theatre – and she accompanies me wherever I go. 14 I have been known to drop her a few lines, now and then. 15 And yes, she responds. 16 As a Black woman, and a writer for the stage, I stand on her shoulders. They have been a firm and formidable foundation on which to rest my large and awkward feet.
27 First: identify the place of complaint. (This can most easily be recognized in the complaining we do in secret, in conversations with friends, or in the privacy of our own minds.) Second: Say it out loud. Create a mantra out of the complaint. (Give it room in the world). Third: locate a creative point of expression for this mantra. 28 Paint it, dance it, sculpt it, sing or write about it. Do not limit yourself.
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.
Note on Commercial Theatre (Hughes 190)
King, Woodie & Ron Milner. “Evolution of a People’s Theatre”. Black Drama
Anthology. (New York: Signet, 1971).
Harlem Duet is at the Segal Centre October 20-November 11