Friday, October 28, 2011

Jo Carson

On September 20th, a wonderful American playwright passed away: Jo Carson. Perhaps you've heard of her, perhaps you haven't -- most likely you haven't, because Jo Carson wrote plays about specific places, places that weren't megalopolises, places where the national media doesn't venture much. Places like Colquitt GA and Sautee Nacoochie GA, which I wrote about here. She also was a contributor to NPR, and published quite a few marvelous books like Spider Speculations and Liars, Thieves, and Other Sinners on the Bench. She also was the founder of AlternateROOTS, an inspiring organization devoted to community-based arts.

I never met Ms. Carson, although I was reading Spider Speculations with a mixture of amazement and inspiration the week she died. But I wish I had known her at least well enough to say thank you. But its more selfish than that: I wish I had heard some of her stories. In her collection of poems called Stories I Ain't Told Nobody Yet, a mother asks her child to come home while she is still alive, saying ""I could fill you up with stories, stories I ain't told nobody yet. . . . When I am dead, it will not matter / how hard you press your ear to the ground."

If you are a theatre person who is interested in diversity, I encourage you to expand your ideas of what that term means to include stories about people who live in the small towns and rural areas of America -- the people that Jo Carson wrote about. Read her books, her plays, her poems and break through the stereotypes fostered by the mass media.

But you can start by listening to her keynote speech at the AlternateROOTS 35th anniversary celebration three months before she died. What you'll hear is an authentic voice of passion, commitment, humor, and humility -- the kind of voice we could use more of in the theatre today. At one point in her speech, she says that people can live through hell if they have a strong community to support them. That certainly was true for her, and I think it is something we forget at our peril. I remember a time when certain members of the theatrosphere referred to "community" as the "C-word," reflecting the all-too-common alienation that turns cynicism into a virtue. I prefer authenticity, passion, commitment, humor, and humility.

Rest in peace, Jo Carson.