Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Keeping Traditions & Saying Goodbye: Leslie Lee

Leslie Lee - Playwright & Teacher 1935 - 2014
It's been a little over a year since the passing of one of the most important, yet grossly under recognized, contemporary playwright's in American theater as a whole and Black theater in particular. was a wonderful playwright, teacher, and friend.
Leslie Lee

Back in 2000, I was invited to see a play at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn and took my grandmother as my date. We very much enjoyed the show and in the lobby got a chance to meet the playwright, a chubby, dark-skinned man with a kind face and pleasant smile. I knew he was the writer because tucked under his arm was a valise, likely containing the text to the play so that he could read along, make notes and changes as needed for future performances. In my grandmother telling him how much she enjoyed the play, she also noted, "my grandson asked me to come. I told him that any descent old lady would be in bed by now; but I guess I'm not one, so let's go." We all had a good laugh. Little did I realize that this same man, Leslie Lee, would become one of my teachers and mentors four years later at Goddard College's MFA program.

I have had many blessings in my life, but among them are the theater artists and dramatic writers who have taken me under their wings, not just as their students but as an apprentice to the point of adoption. When I joined New African Company, Lynda Patton took my rough, from-the-hip sketch writing style and helped me craft it into actual dramatic texts and scenes. Also working as her research assistant for her historic dramas, I learned how to bring the past to life on stage; as well as use the stage as a vehicle to explore the social and philosophical world of our past.

New African Company, Lynda Patton and Leslie Lee were all part and parcel of a social and intellectual tradition defined by Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal as the "Black Arts Movement" which was a slightly revised form of the Afro Post-Modernism pioneered in the 19th Century and further developed during the Harlem Renaissance: the writers and dramatists who depicted Black life outside of the stereotypes that were fostered and encouraged by the mainstream as the kinds of images that Black people wanted to see. The struggle between Black reality and white fantasies of Black realities.

Thank you for all that you imparted to me, now is my time to continue to pay it forward.

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