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Getting It

December 13, 2013

To a degree, I still think I am bumbling around a bit in figuring out how to facilitate Shakespeare at Pendleton. Yet last week, one of the men, who has been with it from the beginning, passed me a short play/scene he had written, based, he said, on the first scene of Coriolanus.

Now … a moment of honesty: with as much student writing as I read, I am usually very resistant to people who want to call themselves writers and pass me their stuff. On the other hand, though I wasn’t looking forward to it, I knew I would have to read his play. I have put it off because of grading 50 research papers and writing and grading exams.

So tonight came the moment of obligation. And … it’s better than I expected it would be.

His title is Let Us Take Back Our Community, and it involves a group of African American citizens having a community meeting in a public park about confronting local violence and vagrancy. As such, the characters are delineated, but the dialogue is speechifying. They are making points rather than revealing themselves and living life. However, the speechifying itself is better than I would have expected. When I think of the few instances when I’ve seen college students try their hands at playwriting, they tend towards plotless speechifying too, so he’s working at an equal level–without regular educational input from professors–to the budding writers of a university program. Furthermore, the idea of taking back one’s community is, indeed, present in the opening of Coriolanus. This scene, significantly reworked, has elements which very definitely could go into an adaptation of the Shakespeare play. 

Though I’ve critiqued the play here, I want to encourage him to keep working at it. I think I might call on him to talk about how he sees Shakespeare developing his characters. Because I cannot give one inmate something of value which I am not giving the others, I am also going to look into how I can make contributions to the prison library. I want to put in some Shakespeare resources, but I also want to put in a few things by August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry. Shakespeare at Pendleton is about 2/3rds African American in its membership, and I think we can benefit from seeing the interconnectedness of their lives, their visions, Shakespeare, and other dramatists of the African American experience. And if Travis keeps learning from Shakespeare, hang on. He’s got something to tell us. 

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