NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 32

essay DEREK WALCOTT/ AUGUST WILSON: By Paul Carter Harrison Derek Walcott, Paul Carter Harrison and August Wilson. On 17 March 2017, the Nobel Prize Laureate poet Derek Walcott made his transition, re-uniting among the ancestors with the Pulitzer Prize playwright, August Wilson, who had transitioned earlier on 02 October 2005. Though both were poets who found voices as dramatists as well, August may have demonstrated an edge in dramaturgy, while Derek was unrivaled as a poet in the English language. Irrespective of the genre that nurtured their voices in a century that produced much mastery in music, dance, art, and literature throughout the African Diaspora, they brought to the English language an authenticity that was momentous. TH E N EW WOR LD N EGRO…WHAT WOU LD DELIVER H IM FROM SERVITU DE WAS TH E FORGI NG OF A L ANGUAGE THAT WENT B EYON D MIMIC RY, A DIALECT WH IC H HAD TH E FORC E OF R EVEL ATION AS IT I NVENTED NAMES FOR TH I NGS, ON E WH IC H FI NALLY SETTLED ON H IS OWN MODE OF R EFLECTION AN D WH IC H B EGAN TO C R EATE AN ORAL CU LTU R E OF C HANTS, JOKES, FOLK-SONGS, AN D FAB LES… BY TH E WR ITER’S MAKI NG C R EATIVE USE OF H IS SC H IZOPH R EN IA, AN ELECTR IC FUSION OF TH E OLD AN D TH E N EW. — D E R E K WA L C O T T, W H AT T H E T W I L I G H T S AY S * These two virtuosos of the English language rarely encountered each other during their lives, yet mutually admired the eminence of the other’s literary production from afar. In 2003, Quincy Troupe organized a public “conversation” between Derek and August at Aaron Davis Hall, City College of New York, for the Black Roots Festival sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center’s writing workshops. It seemed appropriate that Quincy would invite me to mediate the conversation, since I had known them both separately, up-close and personal, for 20 years and was now able to bridge the few opportunities they had to engage each other. The event was published in the Fall 2009/Winter 2010 issue of Black Renaissance Noire, and in this current issue, the occasion is being re-visited with a closer view on their language, which, though wrought in dissimilar cultural modalities — Caribbean colonialism and American racism — shares the common objective to elevate narratives of the Black experience, despite their differences in expressive styles that became apparent at the outset, when Derek, with decorously measured speech and manner, graciously issued his praise of August: …my admiration for his achievement is very profound. I don’t think we’ve measured sufficiently what that achievement is. It’s very easy to make a judgment about Wilson saying, “Well, he already has exotica, if you can call Pittsburgh exotic.” But he has the solidarity of that experience. And I am not interested in theatre that does not have language. I am not interested in a theatre that does not have the mesmerizing power, the hypnotic power of great language. And I think that August Wilson is perhaps the finest American playwright, including (Eugene) O’Neill to use that language. Later in the conversation, August made a reciprocal gesture of mutual admiration toward Derek, describing their first encounter in 1984 at a Theater Communications Group conference, soon after having read the awe-inspiring texts of Derek’s The Star-Apple Kingdom, then Dream on Monkey Mountain, followed by Ti-Jean and His Brothers. Upon being introduced to Derek, he exclaimed unreservedly with the unfiltered, blunt spontaneity of inner-city Pittsburgh: “That a baaad muthafuka here!” ‘Nuff said: a crude, yet, powerful epithet, muthafuka, that can be conjugated and issued with a certain intonation to infer, depending upon the context, praise or condemnation, joy or despair, and instantly alter social intercourse, yet seldom is received in the ear as profane, unless the context is hallowed. It is a game-changer, as in August’s King Hedley II, when King returns home from a dyspeptic Drug Store encounter with unrestrained vituperation. Yet the lyricism of his riveting apocalyptic speech plays on the ear like a Coltrane solo: They ain’t got the pictures… Tonya’s pictures. They ain’t got the pictures. Told me they can’t find them and they ain’t got no record of them. I showed him the receipt and he told me that didn’t count. I started to grab him in the throat. How in the hell the receipt not gonna count? That’s like money. I told his dumb ass to get the manager. p Homage to 20th Century Masters of WORD