Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Getting started with August Wilson

 It speaks to the nature of my workload right now that as I sat down this morning on the middle day of our one-week spring break, I decided to write the module page for the next couple weeks rather than doing any of the many other tasks that are perhaps more pressing!  As noted previously, I am going to keep this up once I'm teaching in-person again, but oh yes it does increase workload....

(Had to delete links due to formatting issues, but yes it's nice to be able to put them in blog-style!)


We will treat August Wilson's great play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone over the two weeks following the break. 

Reminder: no seminar meeting on the Monday immediately following spring break.

I've asked you to read act one for lecture on March 10 and act two for March 17.

I would like everyone to experience this play in its entirety, and I am lucky to be able to give you a really great way into it: this high-quality full audio recording of a "staged reading" of the play. 

(Recording courtesy of the personal archive of Wilson scholar [redacted] - I did pursue it via legal channels but came up short, and a mutual friend put us in touch.  A staged reading, by the way, is much cheaper to put on than a full production of a play; it doesn't have the same oomph, perhaps, but you get something pretty amazing for a fraction of the resources.  Here's a funny and helpful blog post that gives good advice for anyone who is wanting to put on a staged reading themselves, including an explanation of the distinction between a staged reading and a read-through or "table read".) 

Hre's a short video clip of the reading we have in audio, though I think that the audio recording on it own brings the world of the play incredibly vividly to life - I'm looking forward to hearing what you think.  I rode in the back seat of a Carmel car service round-trip to Philadelphia yesterday to have a (FREEZINGLY COLD!) ninety-minute outdoor visit with my mother in her back yard, and I listened to it with my eyes closed and felt transported to another world - the only thing that would have been better would have been if I were actually lying down in a fully horizontal position...

So at a minimum, you could listen to the full play (it's a little over two hours) and leave it at that.  Ideally, though, you listen to it this week while you have a bit more spare time, perhaps in a single sitting or maybe in 2-3 forty-minute chunks, then read act one with your eyes and mind for seminar on 3/15 and act two ditto for seminar on 3/22.

There are two critical readings on the syllabus for week one, but I will suggest that you consider them optional.  I'll draw on them for the lecture, perhaps sharing a mini-anthology of passages, and your seminar leader may bring a paragraph or two to class for you to read together as a group, but please don't worry about them otherwise.  These are as follows:

  • an important theoretical discussion by Joseph Roach, “History, Memory, and Performance,” the introduction to his extremely influential book Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance
  • the overture and introduction ("overture" being the instrumental introduction to an opera, oratorio or play ) of a really great book by Harry J. Elam, Jr., , The Past As Present in the Drama of August Wilson (the full book is available through the Columbia library system).

In the second week, I will ask you to read August Wilson's short manifesto “The Ground on Which I Stand” for discussion in seminar on 3/17.  You will also write assignment #5 for seminar that day (it's two full weeks after the break), and this assignment will be designed not by me but by your own particular seminar leader, so that they can customize the questions with a view to directing the discussion they'd like to have in class.

Bonus picture: my happy mother and myself in her back yard with high winds and temps in the 20s!  If you're not so lucky as I was to catch a glimpse of a much-loved person this week, fortitude, and I hope that the chance will come to you sooner rather than later.

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