CONTINUUM: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance ISSN 2471-2507
Volume 1 Number 1 - INCEPTION - June 2014

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An Introduction to the First Issue of Continuum:
Toward an Anthropology of Inception 


LUCY: That gunplay. Wierdiduhntit. Comes. And goze.

(They ready his coffin. He inspects)

At thuh Great Hole where we honeymooned-son, at thuh
Original Great Hole, You could see thuh whole world without
goin too far. You could look intuh that Hole and see your entire life
pass before you. Not your own life but someones life from history,
you know, [someone who'd done somethin of note, got theirselves
known somehow, uh President or] somebody who killed
somebody important, uh face on uh postal stamp, you know,
someone from History. Like you, but not you. You know: Known.

                                                        -Suzan-Lori Parks

As I began researching in preparation for the lecture, I was struck by the absence of any detailed literature on this pivotal figure in African-American history.  While no scholarly biography existed of Medgar Evers there were several detailed studies of his assassin, Byron de la Beckwith.  Even in the 1996 Hollywood film Ghosts of Mississippi, which depicts Evers’s assassination and Myrlie’s thirty-year crusade to bring her late husband’s killer to justice, Evers himself is only present as a ghost. 

                                                                        -Manning Marable

We introduce the first issue of Continuum with the concept of inception. In postmodern parlance, the concept of inception has a multiplicity of performances in contemporary consciousness. After all, was it not a multi-million blockbuster starring Leonardo DiCaprio? Yet there are other resonances more germane to our discussion. In an academic and theoretical context there are other words and phrases that perform with and accompany inception. These words and phrases include but are not limited to living histories (or the great (w)hole of history), intersectionalities, iconographies and archives. When fellow board member Dr. Sandra Shannon put forth the idea of inception, I was puzzled as to how I would treat the idea in an introductory essay in the journal.  I now see that the idea of inception, in the context of Continuum, is actually predicated on a culturally complex past (historiography, intersectionality and archive). Furthermore, that past represents myriad culture influences, systems and resonances (iconography/anthropology), and that same idea or concept looks toward the future (electronic media). When all of these influences and forces converge or dialogue and form a literary product, then our present or even our inception, in the words of Lucy (The America Play) is made Known.

African American historian Manning Marable (1950-2011) and dramatist Suzan-Lori Parks (b.1963) both have expressed concerns about the discourses of Black, specifically African American, history. They join the chorus with August Wilson (1945-2005). In the spring of 2012 I taught an August Wilson Seminar and doctoral student Sarah Saddler prepared a paper that investigated August Wilson's meditation on the 1960s, Two Trains Running. The study addressed the issues of historical absences or “rifts,” in regard to that decade. She uncovered, through her research, “real,” examples of such concerns or (w)holes. Saddler articulated Marable’s historiographic concerns accordingly.

In the introduction to Living Black History (2006), Manning Marable proudly opens up his work by describing his historical inspirations: the death of Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers, as well as the theoretical framework of (the) intellectual C.L.R. James. Viciously gunned down outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12th, 1963, NAACP Chairman Medgar Evers fought for over a decade to help free the African American community from their oppression in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. As of today, however, Marable asserts that we have barely a trace left of Medgar’s legacy: the files which documented his tireless crusades were thrown away. Marable opens his introduction by showcasing how the near-disappearance of Evers’ legacy from the history books evidences how “too often the study of history is an exercise in nostalgia or political myth-making rather than an honest interaction with raw materials of the past…” He further invokes this example through using the case of writer C.L.R. James, whose archives are now inaccessible through a series of unfortunate events which occurred after the sudden death of his research assistant. Marable delves into the details of these cases to make the argument that the intellectual remains of the “great black forerunners” (Marable XVIII) are being destroyed for two main reasons: either the economy neglects to maintain their proper maintenance, or the American public chooses to remember only the ideologically pertinent facts of our ancestors. Marable uses the example of Martin Luther King Jr. to prove this last point, writing “The Kings’ goal is to ‘freeze’ Martin on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.” (Marable XVII)[1]

Suzan-Lori Parks also speaks constantly about the importance, presence, absences and the paradoxes of history in her dramaturgy.  Notably this is seen and dramaturgically developed in The America Play through the semiotics of the Great Hole of History, which figures prominently in the text of the play.  Scholar Deborah Geis makes the following observation: 

Finally, (the) “Great Hole of History” sets up a paradoxical, postmodern pun.  Much as some would like to see history as having a whole, that is, a contained presence (what Jean-François Lyotard would call a grand reçit, or metanarrative), that presence is an impossibility or an absence – that is, a hole rather than a whole. [(w)hole] This also echoes the idea in Last Black Man that history, particularly as it fails to tell the stories of submerged cultures, is an incomplete narrative.  Multiple critics have been interested in Park’s hole of history as it affects African-American identity.[2]

Marable Manning, Suzan-Lori Parks, and, although not extensively discussed here, August Wilson, through The Century Cycle, have all focused on historical dramas as proactive strategy to situate that which is absent.  For Manning’s “lived history” the desire is to, through established academic historical methods and research, replace “ the real,” that which has been lost, forgotten, refused, or refocused. Parks broadens Glenda Dickerson’s notion and creation of “miracle plays” and contests and reimagines historical personalities, possibilities and situations while seeking dramaturgical and a (gendered) social commentary.[3]  August Wilson reimagines the historical past as transhistorical place. This place is infused and manipulated with spiritual realism.  Furthermore this is a dramatized place created to reflect contemporary significances of other decades.[4] Each of these writers begins with the clear notion that there is a missing cultural history and/or anthropology, an archive, that must be re-imagined, re-constructed and documented.

Critical race theorist and feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw brings a most important perspective to our discussion. Similar to Manning’s perspective on the interdisciplinarity of African American history, Crenshaw, in her discussion of Black feminism, introduces the concept of multi-axled perspective and engagement, “intersectionality.”  For Crenshaw, the history of the “other,” gendered, queer or otherwise, necessitates a different method.  Crenshaw offers:

I argue that Black Women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and in anti-racist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender.  These problems of exclusion cannot be solved simply by including Black Women within an already established analytical structure.  Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.  Thus, for feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse to embrace the experiences and concerns of Black women, the entire framework that has been used as a basis for translating “women’s experience,” or “the Black experience” into concrete policy demands must be rethought and recast.[5]

I predicate the concept of inception within a (w)hole of history historiography. In doing so, I too embrace Manning’s and Crenshaw’s concept of an intersectional crucible that includes racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other forms of bias within a critical historical analysis.

            The evidence of intersectionality is located in the articles in the present issue of Continuum focused on inception. There are four articles in the current issue of Continuum.  They are:

  • “Toward a Critical Vocabulary for African Diaspora Expressivity,” by Paul Carter Harrison.[6]
  • Spreading the Sand: Understanding the Economic and Creative Impetus for the Black Vaudeville Industry,” by Nadine George-Graves.
  • “Mourning, Orature, and Memory:  Cultural Performativity as Historiography in Pearl Cleage’s A Song for Coretta,” by Khalid Long.
  • “To Be a Man: A Re-Assessment of Black Masculinity in Lorraine Hansberry’s, A Raisin in the Sun and Les Blancs,” by Julie M. Burrell.

Continuum authors Paul Carter Harrison and Khalid Long further extend the concept of  social/critical/historical intersectionality and embrace and include aesthetic intersectionality that teases transatlantic continuities, an important variant within such frameworks.

At the center of an historical, intersectional framework of inception that moves toward an anthropological paradigm rests an iconography that many would label as “bordering on the spiritual.” The relationship between anthropology and iconography is well established. It is therefore not surprising, that in an inaugural issue devoted to themes and readings of and on inception, that these authors “go to the (proverbial) rock.” These rocks include:

  •  African Spirituality, the Orixa, and Pan African readings of contemporary African American Theatre (Harrison).
  • The inception of Black vaudeville at the beginning of the twentieth century and its intersectionality with greater economic mobility for African Americans, thereby deepening the signification of those early African American and European American musical ventures (George-Graves).
  • Pearl Cleage’s intersectional and generational meditation on the historiographic signification of the passing of the iconic Coretta Scott King within the specific context of African American women, the Black church and mourning (Long).
  • A gendered Lorraine Hansberry, now focusing on the masculine, in both her monumental Raisin in the Sun (domestic) and the African Diasporic, Les Blancs, (Burrell).  

Located in the midst of this discussion and within the parameters of a historiographic cultural anthropology is Performance Studies scholar Diana Taylor‘s writings on the archive. For Taylor,

The rift, I submit, does not lie between the written and spoken word, but between the archive of supposedly enduring materials (i.e., texts, documents, buildings, bones) and the so-called ephemeral repertoire of embodied practice/knowledge (i.e., spoken language, dance, sports, ritual). 

“Archival” memory exists as documents, maps, literary texts, letters, archaeological remains, bones, videos, films, CDs, all those items supposedly resistant to change.  Archive, from the Greek, etymologically refers to “a public building,” “a place where records are kept.  From arkhe, it also means a beginning, the first place, the government.  By shifting the dictionary entries into a syntactical arrangement, we might conclude that the archival, from the beginning, sustains power.  Archival memory works across distance, over time and space; investigators can go back to reexamine an ancient manuscript, letters find their addresses through time and place, and computer discs at times cough up lost files with the right software.[7]

The relationship between the rift and the archive, now explored not only through Taylor, but Manning, Parks, Crenshaw and Wilson serves as catalyst at the center of Continuum.

            Continuum is an electronic refereed academic journal. The potential for content is therefore potentially without boundary. In addition to conventional articles and reviews and production photographs, future entries might take a range of forms. Furthermore how one accesses the contents of Continuum changes.  For example our Website Designer and Administrator, Hely Perez, recently requested from our authors metadada statement and meta tags, that would facilitate search engine inquiries. describes metadata and meta tags accordingly,

Metadata describes other data. It provides information about a certain item's content. For example, an image may include metadata that describes how large the picture is, the color depth, the image resolution, when the image was created, and other data. A text document's metadata may contain information about how long the document is, who the author is, when the document was written, and a short summary of the document.Web pages often include metadata in the form of meta tags.[8]

Two such examples received from our authors are from Paul Carter Harrison:

Metadata :  A reassessment of canonical vocabulary used to evaluate Black Theatre as a racialized performance and the need for the construction of new critical vocabulary to assess Black Theatre as a unique aesthetic practice.

Meta tags : (Re) Branding Black Theatre, The Drama of Nommo, The Great MacDaddy, Kuntu Drama, Totem Voices.

and from Julie Burrell:

Metadata : In contrast to those who see Lorraine Hansberry's portrayal of men as damaging or a departure from feminism, this essay argues Hansberry scripted positive representations of Black masculinity, from the politically progressive, while still patriarchal, structures of masculinity in A Raisin in the Sun, to the heterogeneous performances of revolutionary masculinity in Les Blancs.

Metatags  Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the SunLes Blancs, Julie Burrell, Jean Genet, The Blacks, Norman Mailer, "The White Negro," Black feminism, Black masculinity.

Beth Turner’s work with Black Masks has provided an important forum for African American Theatre and Performance. Continuum is an important ally.  Over time Continuum, as an electronic archive, will continue to evolve in both content and form from its inception.

In closing, the concept of Inception within a context of Black and African American Theatre and Performance exists within a paradigm that stages many, if you will, performers.  I have given a brief synopsis of their scripts.  I chose two of the major playwrights of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, August Wilson and Suzan Lori-Parks who conceive plays to address the problems of “history.”  Marable Manning and Kimberlé Crenshaw were chosen due to their elucidation of Wilson and Parks’ “problematic(s) of history.” within the context of the real.  Crenshaw further extends that discourse, through her writing on intersectionality, to include not only a race and gendered analysis but one that also embraces and uncovers the intersectionality of sexuality among others scripts.

On May 28, 2014 Maya Angelou joined the ancestors. It is possible to think of this as a kind of inception, a new beginning for her and a beginning for us without her.  During the early days after her transition, many spoke of her poem prepared for the inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton. Angelou’s poem, On the Pulse of Morning (1993), resounds with themes of inception, and a fitting parallel to the inaugural edition of Continuum.  History, intersectionality, icon and archive rejoice in the lyrics of the poem. I quote a small section of the poem here as coda:

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again.[9]

[1] Sarah Saddler,  “Drifting Diana Taylor’s “rift:” Embodying Manning Marable’s “Living History” Narrative in Two Trains Running. (Unpublished, 2012), 2. 

[2] Deborah Geis, Suzan-Lori Parks (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008), 100.

[3] Freda Scott Giles, “Glenda Dickerson’s Nu Shu: Combining feminist discourse/pedagogy/theatre,” in Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: A Casebook, ed. Philip Kolin (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 135

[4] For a complete meditation on August Wilson and history see Harry J. Elam’s The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 2004)

[5] Kimberlé Crenhaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politic,” University of Chicago Legal Foundation 139 (1989): 140. 

[6]  Editorial Note:  Paul Carter Harrison’s essay was prepared as a speech that was given in Panama.  To maintain the integrity of the material, we have chosen to use his documentation of the speech.  For research purposes we have provided a formal bibliography

[7]   Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham and London: Duke, 2003), 19.

[9] Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning.” In The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. New York: Random 1994), 269.

Works Cited


Angelou, Maya.1994. “On the Pulse of Morning.” In The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou.  New York: Random House.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé.1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine Feminist Theory and  Antiracist Politics.” Chicago: University of Chicago Legal Foundation.

Elam Jr., Harry J. 2004. The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Geis, Deborah. 2008. Suzan-Lori Parks. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Giles, Freda Scott.2007. “Glenda Dickerson’s Nu Shu: Combining feminist discourse/pedagogy/theatre.” in Contemporary African American Women

Kolin, Philip C. ed. 2007. Playwrights: A Casebook. London and New York: Routledge.

Manning, Marable.2006. How Reimaging African American Past Can Remake America’s Racial Future. New York: Basic Civitas Books.

Parks, Suzan-Lori.1995.The America Play. New York: Dramatist Play Service.

Saddler, Sarah. 2012. “Drifting Diana Taylor’s “rift”:  Embodying Manning Marable’s “Living History” Narrative in Two Trains Running. Unpublished. 

Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Wilson, August. 1993.Two Trains Running. New York: Plume.


Miami University College of Creative Arts: Elizabeth Mullenix, Dean and Julia Guichard, Interim Chair of Theatre, Dr. Stefanie Dunning, Dr. Katie Johnson, Dr. James Engstrom (always for you), Editorial Board of Continuum. Hely Perez (for all you do.), and Josh Horowitz, Graduate Editorial Assistant.