Women’s issues, women’s voices: Women’s words

Professors and local artists gathered in the Black Box Theater Thursday to share their works in “Women’s Words,” a reading sponsored by the department of women’s and gender studies as part of Women’s History Month.

The event featured performances by Paula Seniors, assistant professor of African-American studies, poet Robyn Art, local writer Lois Harrod and Amy Benson, assistant professor of English.

Although it is an annual event, Michael Roberston, professor of English, said it was “the first time we got to hear voices from the past. Paula Seniors’ presentation on African-American performers from the turn of the last century introduced fascinating women I never heard of before.”

In the first performance, Seniors gave a synopsis of the lives of two African-American performers – Ada Overton Walker and Abbie Mitchell – who both used their stage fame to pursue rights for African-American women.

Mercedes McCurdy, freshman communication studies major, and Jessica Espino, freshman deaf education major, recited quotes by Walker and Mitchell intermittently throughout Seniors’ narration.

At other times, a vocalist accompanied by a pianist sang the songs Walker and Mitchell once performed. “This is the history of black women,” she said. “We were denied women’s rights because of skin color.”

According to host Cassandra Jackson, associate professor of English, the women’s and gender studies department contacted her last fall to organize the event.

“I thought it was interesting to have creative writers and Ms. Seniors’ theater background all together,” Jackson said.

Art, a visiting writer at the College, expressed her enthusiasm to read her collection of poems, because she thought the event would be cancelled due to predicted snow.

Setting the stage for her reading, Art addressed the direction of her first poem, “Scenes From My Last Surviving B-Film.”

“This was going to be neurotic poem,” she said. “But it turned out to be disturbing.”

“Picture the line that is your mouth duct taped shut,” she began. “Now imagine eating.”

Yasmin Obie, freshman English major, found the poems engaging. “The writing had life that came through,” she said. “I was intrigued by that.”

Acknowledging the greater significance of Women’s History Month, Art explained the inherent feminism in her work.

“I think that some of my work definitely arises out of a gender consciousness,” she said. “It takes as its subjects the distinctly female experiences of love, birth, loss, etc.”

Harrod read poems about teaching, motherhood and family from her book, “Put Your Sorry Side Out.” Both she and Art participated in the reading last year.

Benson has an upcoming book based on her research of the U.S occupation of Germany during World War II. Her inspiration came from her uncle, who, after being engaged to a German woman, died in the Berlin airlift.

Her reading focused on her interviews with German women who lived during World War II, including her uncle’s fianc?e. It was titled “Unbeautiful.”

The excerpt focused on these women’s feelings of becoming foreigners and feeling powerless in their own country.

“I thought it might be appropriate to read a chapter that focused directly on an issue that has been both a source of power and a symbol of powerlessness for women historically,” Benson said.

In her introduction, Jackson retold the moment she first heard MC Lyte, one of the first female rap artists. She has been called an Emily Dickinson for women in rap music.

“In celebration of Women’s History Month, in the words of MC Lyte, ‘kick this one, now kick this one for me and my DJ,'” Jackson said.