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  • Sara E. Johnson

On 14 December 2007, on what would have been VèVè A. Clark's sixty-third birthday, hundreds of people gathered for her memorial service at UC Berkeley. In the week leading up to the celebration, people from all over the country, including friends, family, colleagues, and students, contributed memories celebrating her life. Poems and testimonies chronicled emotions ranging from triumphant to despairing, yet all affirmed the ase, or energy, she so graciously shared with those around her. As I recall the whirl of activities, one particular element of preparing the program stands out: the accents on proper names and the musical and dance selections had to be properly placed. Drafts were edited, printed, and corrected in order to ensure accuracy. In an Anglophone context, this preoccupation may seem trivial. Yet as her colleagues and former students, we knew that Clark's insistence upon precision was critical to her entire scholarly enterprise; the visual effect of a bodily gesture in a staged or ritual context or the pinpointing of the exact timing of a historical event had tremendous meaning and importance to her. Her precision was a formative aspect of her conceptualization of diaspora literacy, a hallmark of a research methodology and teaching pedagogy grounded in multilingualism, historical contextualization, and respect for the specificity of other cultures. This attention to detail endowed her work as an interdisciplinary scholar of the literature and performance traditions of the African diaspora in the Americas with nuance and complexity.

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1. Clark, VèVè A., “Developing Diaspora Literacy and Marasa Consciousness,” in Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, ed. Spillers, Hortense J. (New York: Routledge, 1991), 4061.

2. This and next quotation from ibid., 42.

3. Ibid., 40.

4. See VèVè A. Clark, “Fieldhands to Stagehands in Haiti: The Measure of Tradition in Haitian Popular Theatre” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1983), x–xi, 1.

5. For example, see the work of scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997); and Stoler, Ann Laura, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

6. Clark, “Fieldhands to Stagehands,” 32–3.

7. Clark, VèVè A., “Performing the Memory of Difference in Afro-Caribbean Dance: Katherine Dunham's Choreography, 1938–1987,” in History and Memory in African-American Culture, ed. Fabre, Geneviève and O'Meally, Robert (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 188204. Reprinted in Kaiso! Writings by and about Katherine Dunham, ed. VèVè A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 320–40. See pages 325–8 for a discussion of memory of difference as a methodology.

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Theatre Survey
  • ISSN: 0040-5574
  • EISSN: 1475-4533
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-survey
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