Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is the play writer of “Let me Down Easy” she is a dramatist, actress and professor. She interviews people about social justice and uses their exact words and phrasing into her plays. She also includes herself in her work.

Anna’s style of writing is different from many other authors.  In the following video, Anna tries to bring out a person’s true character by impersonating their pitch, emotions, and pauses—their own unique language.  As she said at approximately 1:14, she doesn’t put parts of herself in the play, but tries to become the person she is interviewing by bringing out their features through their personal language.  “Let me Down Easy” questions the reader to think about if our society is caring.  She tries to find this out by putting herself in her interviewee’s shoes


Cave Canem

Cave Canem is a home for the many voices of African poetry, and they are dedicated to the growth and development of African American poets. Cave Canem is latin for “Beware of the Dog”, and their symbol that can be traced back to house of the tragic poet in  Pompeii. The symbol is supposed to represent protection for poets while releasing new poetic voices into the world. Toi Derricote and Cornelius Eady founded it in 1996, and it is based in Brooklyn, New York.  Some of their other poets include Claudia Rankine and Natasha Trethewey.  They give out an annual award called the Cave Canem Poetry Prize.  This is awarded to the first book of an author, and it is dedicated to the finding of exceptional writings by an African American author.  The past winner was Spit Back a Boy by Iain Haley Pollock.  There is also the Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize, and it is offered every other year.  This is awarded to the second book by an author.  The award celebrates literature that displays long lasting cultural value and literary excellence. The last winner was Through the Stonecutter’s Window by Indigo Moor.

For more information click here.

William Faulkner in Trethewey Poems

In multiple Natasha Trethewey poems she references William Faulkner and his work. For example in Miscegenation she refers to Joe Christmas, the main protagonist from Faulkner’s, “Light in August.” Joe Christmas is an example of a tragic mulatto and his character references Jesus Christ in multiple ways such as he was found on Christmas eve at an orphanage, he has the same initials as Jesus Christ (J.C.) and he died at age 33, which is when Jesus died. It is important to understand that Trethewey comes from a mixed-race family just like Joe Christmas and since she is from the south where racism is prominent she has difficulty dealing with her race. Also, William Faulkner is a southern writer so Trethewey relates herself to him because they both write about southern issues.

O Brother Where Art Thou?

O Brother Where art Thou? is set during the Great Depression and follows the lives of three men who had recently broke out of jail. They are attempting to find treasure that one of them had stolen before going to jail. The only problem is they only have four days until it is lost forever. Now, you might not know just by watching that this movie is based off a book. You may even be more surprised that it is loosely based from Homer’s The Odyssey.

The directors do a tremendous job in correlating the two stories so that some people can see the similarities. This method of movie making is very unique and not many people do it. It is hard enough to interpret a story into a movie, let alone using a completely different setting and story-telling style.

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine is the author of Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, in which she blends poetry, essays, and images. Here is an excerpt from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely:

There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where’s the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn’t seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren’t Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I’d never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane nor the funeral.

Every movie I saw while in the third grade compelled me to ask, Is he dead? Is she dead? Because the characters often live against all odds it is the actors whose mortality concerned me. If it were an old, black-and-white film, whoever was around would answer yes. Months later the actor would show up on some latenight talk show to promote his latest efforts. I would turn and say—one always turns to say—You said he was dead. And the misinformed would claim, I never said he was dead. Yes, you did. No, I didn’t. Inevitably we get older; whoever is still with us says, Stop asking me that…

This book uses a mixed genre style that some may argue that it will remain a lasting legacy for future poets. Claudia Rankine flows effortlessly, and intuitively from the different writing styles and images that she uses.

Brutal Imagination

The play “Brutal Imagination” is about a white woman, Susan Smith, who creates a fake identity, Mr. Zero, to blame for the abduction of her two sons after she intentionally pushes her car into the lake with her sons in it, killing them. Although Mr. Zero only exists in Susan’s imagination, the play is a duet between Susan and Mr. Zero where they take us from the scene of the crime through the following nine days where the investigation and the search for Mr. Zero took place.

In the beginning, Mr. Zero states,

“How I Got Born

Though it’s common belief

That Susan Smith willed me alive

At the moment

Her babies sank into the lake…”

Susan tells the police that a black man made her pull over on the highway and get out of her car. He then sped off with her two kids in the back seat after saying that he would keep the kids safe. She describes a typical black man for the police to create a composite sketch from, and then make copies of, to place around the town. Every black person seemed to fit the description.

Throughout the play, Mr. Zero tries to get Susan to confess that she was responsible for the disappearance of the kids. Despite Mr. Zero’s wishes, she continues to desperately hold onto the fake identity. Then, her house is searched and a note from her ex-boyfriend is found. In the letter it states,

“I’m sure that your kids are good kids, but it really wouldn’t matter how good they may be…the fact is, I just don’t want children.”

After this, Mr. Zero begs Susan one more time to confess and then Mr. Zero and Susan both tell the police the real story. She didn’t want to be a mom anymore but she didn’t want her kids to be without a mom. She contemplated driving all three of them into the lake but then changed her mind last minute and got out. After the car was submerged, Mr. Zero was born and the nine day investigation of the crime and the search for Mr. Zero began.