Born in New Orleans, Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875–1935) was the daughter of a seamstress and former slave, and a sailor. She grew up poor and felt affluent only for a very brief period in her life, but had great personal elegance and was drawn to the pleasures of high culture and sensuality. She wrote fiction, poetry, and plays in a fluid and often gracefully romantic style, but was also a prolific columnist and essayist with a fiercely independent and blunt perspective. Much of her work was left unpublished in her lifetime, because it didn’t suit the literary market of the day, but also because she was protective of her public image.
Dunbar-Nelson described herself in multiracial terms, but as a hardworking educator and activist identified strongly with “the race,” as she put it simply. She was much in demand as a lecturer on what were then called Negro causes, as well as women’s and labor rights. Her fiction by contrast was racially ambiguous and universalizing. The first of a two-part program touches on some of her rich complexities as a writer and woman of color.
Episode One features fiction from her New Orleans story cycle and two essays: “A Carnival Jangle” and “Facing Life Squarely,” read by Renee Reed; “On the Bayou St. John” and the often-anthologized “Sister Josepha,” read by Berklea Going; and “The Woman,” read by Sarah Torbeck, who also hosts. Doug Storm is the announcer.
Special music for the episode comes from the albums Barktok/Korcia and Dances/Doubles Jeux/Bartok by Laurent Korcia.
This episode was produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistance from Doug Storm, Robert Shull, and Sarah Torbeck. Special thanks to Community Access Television Service for production support.
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes