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Books Unbound – W.E.B. Du Bois’s ‘Darkwater’: Two Stories

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A black man and a white woman might be the last two people on earth in the post-apocalyptic tale “The Comet,” an early example of African-American sci fi from W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1920 collection Darkwater. Lauren Robert is the reader. This Books Unbound original presentation introduces the story with dramatized newspaper articles from the New York Times, May 1910, reporting on fears surrounding Halley’s Comet: “Southern Negroes in a Comet Frenzy” (with Doug Storm as the reporter) and “Chicago Is Terrified: Women Are Stopping Up Doors and Windows to Keep Out Cyanogen” (Joe Crawford, with Maria McKinley as the housewife and Jack Hanek as the psychiatrist).

Du Bois (1868–1963) is one of the outstanding figures of American literature in the first half of the 20th century, and one of the most prominent voices on African American issues. He was also an advocate for feminism, and believed that capitalism contributed to the perpetuation of racism. (Listeners are advised that this episode contains the repeated and emphatic use of a racial epithet as it appears in Du Bois’s stories.)

Du Bois’s fairy tale of race “The Princess of the Hither Isles” is narrated by Heather Perry, with Frank Buczolich as the King and Berklea Going as the Princess. Guest host and announcer are Joan Hawkins and Frank Buczolich.

Music for “The Comet” comes from William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano, as performed by Lynn Chang and Vivian Taylor on the album Works of William Grant Still (Videmus, 1990). The music of African American composer Still (1898–1978) was admired by Du Bois. Special thanks to Community Access Television Services for production support on “The Comet.”

Additional music for the episode comes from the album Saxophone con Forza (Phono Suecia, 1999), by Jörgen Pettersson and guests. Break music comes from Ethel Waters, “I’ve Found a New Baby” (1926), and Mamie Smith, “Crazy Blues” (1920, the same year Darkwater was published). Books Unbound theme music by The Impossible Shapes.

Produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, this Black History Month episode is re-edited from the first part of the “American Girls Horror Stories” series originally broadcast in October 2015. Production assistant is Heather Perry. Executive producer is Joe Crawford.

IMAGE: Portrait (circa 1901) of W.E.B. Du Bois, his wife Nina, and their daughter Yolande, a public domain photograph from the New York Public Library Digital Collections

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