Published in 1848, Vanity Fair falls within a broad category of novels often referred to as “classic.” Some may have read the novel as students, while others stumbled upon William Makepeace Thackeray’s serialized story through the Mira Nair film (starring Reese Witherspoon) or the recent mini-series on Amazon. Whatever the medium, the story of Vanity Fair details the life of Rebecca (Becky) Sharp and her friend Amelia Sedley, two women who come from vastly different circumstances and are thrust into — or take on, depending on your interpretation — a society that isn’t very kind to either of them.
Thackeray’s intent was to be satirical and to be a mirror on society. However, like many classic novels it is often dismissed as lacking relevance in the here and now.
This is an extension of a hand written letter I sent Michael Kahn on the eve of his final production as artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. You might call this an ode to my love of storytelling on the stage, or more specifically a personal reflection on the importance of having access to theatre as a young adult.
Dear Michael Kahn,
I would like to start this message simply by saying thank you. For over a decade my experience with the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) included joy, wonder, terror, and awe — mostly in part due to your deft handling of the company’s artistic vision.
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity is set during a war that has lasted one hundred years and devastated the entire world. Yet, three women from opposite ends of the conflict still manage to find common threads of humanity through the majesty of a painting. The idea that a beautiful work of art could transcend what seem to be insurmountable boundaries seems like it could have been ripped from today’s headlines and leaves the mind swirling long after the show has ended.
Despite its long title, this play was meant for me.
In nine words, the title captures not only the imperatives of oral and intangible history of telling untold stories, but also with the final word — humanity— a dose of reality about what is at stake. I’ve written about my feelings about dystopian narratives, especially as they force us to take stock of the world while acknowledging its fragility.
When I first decided to write you a letter, I figured I would craft it in your favorite meter. After all, if you are writing a love letter to William Shakespeare, iambic pentameter feels like the right choice to make.
But here’s a reality check: I am terrible at it, though I will admit I really like saying the phrase because it sounds like something out of the Jabberwocky — familiar, yet completely made up.
(Jabberwocky is an amazing poem, the things you miss when you die in 1616.)
Happy birthday (a day late)! For being just over 450 years old you’re still breaking hearts, causing drama, and encouraging laughter around the world. As we wrap up marking the 400th year of your death (sorry!) I wanted to tell you how I felt.
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. – Excerpt from Executive Order 9066. Signed February 19, 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When I was in graduate school I was assigned Only What We Could Carry for a course on visual and material culture. This text used objects, poetry, photography, and art to reveal the wide ranging experiences of Japanese Americans (and permanent residents) that were forced, seventy-five years ago, from their homes into internment camps.
One of the first artifacts photographed is an evacuation tag. At first glance looks like a label you would place on an inanimate object with basic reference information. For the evacuees forced to leave their homes, this tag removed identities paring individuals down to a name, family number, and a time and a place to report. Continue reading “75 Years Later: Allegiance and Executive Order 9066”→
I am afraid. Folded in by the weight of postcards and calls links and 140 characters. Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.
I am certain that I have fingers toes, a heart with blood pumping slowly through my veins — as do you, and them, and us, but those that lead find different ways to say You Don’t Belong.
I question my ability my strength for this test. Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles And God cannot do all the work
And so —
Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready. I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.
Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:
I had intended for this to go up in the waning days of last year but found myself wanting to spend my vacation away from my computer rather than in front of it. So here we are, with some final thoughts on the other side of the new year.
A final post, one last time, on Hamilton: An American Musical.
This piece will mark my sixth and final blog post on my unabashed love for this genius historical musical. I swear.
In a lot of ways, this year has been the year of Hamilton for me. On some level it allowed some respite from the real world, while opening the floodgates on an already complex conversation about art, diversity, and our American past.
In 2016 I have been privileged to see the show on Broadway and like so many others devoured the Hamilton Mixtape, finished the Hamilton: The Revolution (henceforth the Hamiltome, the book about the making of the musical – with annotations!), and watched Hamilton’s America – the incredible PBS documentary that put the musical in its historical context. Continue reading “Hamilton: One Last Time”→
In the first post of this series I wrote of how the miniseries Roots and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of the Earth and Sky tackled a simple question of individual identity amidst displacement – “Who am I?” But there is a second question that both the show and the book addressed that looks beyond the status quo and the present revealing active identity creation. “Who do I want to be?” is a question that is both aspirational and forward looking.
And so two other art/history pieces I experienced this spring – the Smithsonian’s Crosslinesand the Folger Shakespeare Library’s District Merchants– demonstrate that not everyone wants or chooses to internalize their heritage in the same way. Rather they make it clear that answering the question “Who do I want to be?” is a combination of conscious and unconscious choices we make in the process of forging identities.