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Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Sonata Mulattica: Poems' by Rita Dove

There was once a time when celebration of black achievement in the humanities, arts and sciences was limited to Black History Month and recitations at black churches. But given the widely respected scholarship of the late John Hope Franklin, the accomplishments of Nobel laureate Toni Morrison and the political ascendancy of President Obama, among many others, black achievement has irrevocably moved beyond cameos in someone else's drama to leading roles.

But if one has ever identified with those in heretofore supporting roles, their presence on the stage, however brief, can lead to intense curiosity and sometimes creative expression. And while exploring the lives of those marginalized in history and fiction is not the exclusive preoccupation of black writers (Tom Stoppard's play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" comes to mind), Obama inauguration poet Elizabeth Alexander's re-imagining of the life of the tragic Saartjie Baartman in the poem "The Venus Hottentot" stands out as does Alice Randall's "The Wind Done Gone," an alternative version of "Gone With the Wind" told from the perspective of Scarlett O'Hara's half-sister, Cynara, a slave.


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