As a senior at (XUP) Xavier Prep: Xavier University Preparatory School in New Orleans, I had A.P. English with Mrs. Oubre, a feisty and brilliant Black woman with a love for literature. She assigned our class ‘Joe Turner’s Come And Gone.’ The words leapt off the page at me, literally in a way that no play ever had. I saw the characters, full and complex and recognized them. I knew them by face, mannerisms and name. They were my grandfathers and uncles and nannies and generations of people I would never meet. Being able to see the production on Broadway several years ago gave life an entire different meaning for me. August Wilson was a giant.
The other weekend, I saw Samuel D. Pollard during the Firelight Media’s Producer’s Lab Retreat. Initially I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think he remembered me. But he smiled and waved and motioned for me to come over. I hugged him and was humbled by both his presence and warmth. He himself is a living legend and this story of August Wilson is only yet another reminder.
Ironically, during that retreat, I received a text from my childhood friend Jewel Bush, who was also in Mrs. Oubre’s A.P. English class, telling me that she watched the August Wilson doc and said it was amazing. We began a brief back and forth of the wonder Joe Turner’s Come and Gone gave to two Black and Catholic, high school girls. Although this was many moons before I would come to know and practice African spirituality, I remember how intrigued I was by Bynum Walker, the conjure man and his ability to “bind” people, situations, things.
The documentary has shed light on Wilson’s upbringing, self education, and has given his characters brand new life. Like many literary giants of his day, his words were highly influenced by our other artistic forms – the blues and visual art. Watching the film, I learned that Joe Turner’s set was taken directly from a Bearden painting. And then, I get to relive the moment in the play where Christianity codifies African spirituality – ring shouts, hollering and wagging tongues.
I’m thankful for August Wilson’s genius. I’m thankful for Sam Pollard’s storytelling. I’m thankful for educators like Mrs. Oubre and schools like Prep that introduce young minds to the brilliance and artfulness of our community.
To this day I randomly say out loud, “Herald Loomis! You shining like new money!”