English class takes active role in literature


Photography courtesy of Kedran Wade/ISLANDWAVES - TAMU-CC students Raven Reese and Jayden Johanson perform a scene from Amiri Baraka’s “Dutchman.”

On Sept. 25, 2019, Professional Assistant Professor of English Wendy Walker held her 3rd annual literacy performance assignment in the Warren Theatre at TAMU-CC, where students taking her course had the opportunity to perform scenes from the famous 1964 play, “Dutchman and the Slave.”

“Its powerful,” said Walker. “We’ve been doing this play along with the scene performance assignment for a few years now, but this is the first time we’ve been able to do it on stage.”

“Dutchman,” as it’s also referred to, written by African-American playwright Amari Baraka, centers solely around Lula, a white woman, and Clay, an African-American man, who both ride the subway train in New York City. Clay’s name is symbolic of the pliability of African-American identity and masculinity. The play, likewise, is a representative of integrationist and assimilationist belief systems inside the contemporary Civil Rights Movement. Lula get on the train while eating an apple, a suggestive metaphor to the Biblical Eve. The characters participate in a long, coquettish discussion all throughout the train ride.

When asked an inquiry about the use of strong, suggestive language within the play, Walker discussed the use of language historically.

“Well, because it weighs heavily on them,” said Walker. “The play uses the N-word and when we first started talking about the fact that Amari Baraka uses the language and that it’s in a time when it was written, the terms were still commonly used. It’s almost like a trigger warning: ‘I’m going to use these words, but I’m only going to use them when quoting the text directly.’”

Kedran Wade
Professor Wendy Walker gives her input on the author’s choice of utilizing strong language within the play.

Students even chimed in with their thoughts of using the language choices.

“We’re using it in this piece of literature to sort of relay a message about racism that was in America and still prevalent today,” said Jayden Johanson.

After the performance, Walker gave a brief overview of the students’ performances, the process behind the literacy assignment and students emotions evoked by the plays content.

“Some of the students were nervous about repeating some of the language within the play and don’t want to say it,” said Walker. “They had talked to me before about whether or not to put a disclaimer because they had decided that they were going to include it (the language). But when we do these kinds of performances, we try to let the students lead the conversation to see where the conversation goes because I think that’s what makes the assignment rich. …It’s  a student driven conversation.”

There was a short deadline to perfecting the scenes before presentation day, but the students were ready for the challenge.

“For the past week or so, we’ve actually invested a lot of time,” said Harry Reese, a freshman student. “We stayed up until like midnight working on the dialogue. This assignment was more fun than I thought it would be!”