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U.S. honors Black History Month with reading from historic play

U.S. honors Black History Month with reading from historic play

PAS, Harare

A scene from the reading of the play "A Raisin in the Sun."

Ambassador Wharton with the Black History Month essay contest winners

Harare, February 27, 2013: The U.S. Embassy’s Black History Month celebration today at the Ambassador’s residence will feature a 30-minute reading from the award-winning play, A Raisin in the Sun, by African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry.  Following the performance, Ambassador Bruce Wharton will honor the five winning high school students, who wrote essays on Langston Hughes’ famous poem, “Harlem (Or A Dream Deferred).”  The poem is the basis for A Raisin in the Sun.  This the fourth year that the U.S. Embassy has run its Black History Month Essay contest; the 2011 winner went on to win a full scholarship to Yale University. 

Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1930 and became an influential playwright, author, and activist.  A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by Hansberry’s own experience with racial segregation in Chicago and opened on Broadway to critical acclaim.  It was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and directed by an African-American.  The play was named the New York Drama Critics' Circle best play of 1959.

A Raisin in the Sun was ground-breaking in several ways.  With a cast in which all but one minor character is African-American, it introduced the struggles of 1950s black life to predominantly white Broadway audiences, and it was the first Broadway play to draw large black audiences.  Finally, it served as a catalyst for the black theater movement of the 1960s.  Frank Rich, chief theatre critic at The New York Times, claimed that A Raisin in the Sun, “changed American theater forever.”

This production has been coordinated by Almasi Collaborative Arts Company founded by playwrights Danai Gurira and Patience Tayengwa.  Almasi’s mission includes raining the professional standards and administration of the Zimbabwean arts industry.

Almasi, working with Julie Wharton, wife of U.S. Ambassador Bruce Wharton, has been coordinating a series of play readings since November 2012 with the objective of increasing the value of education in and through dramatic arts. 

“The play enables us to develop the way we probe, understand and unlock the sub world of scripts in order to make discoveries and go places that will enable us to stage much richer performances,” said Tawengwa during the launch of the reading series in November last year.

This year’s Black History Month Essay Contest top winner is Evans Lesedi Shumba of Masothsa High School in Magwegwe, Bulawayo. Other winners in order from second to fifth place are Tristan Benzon, Gateway High School, Harare; Albert Mahatchi, Rimuka High School, Kadoma; Lisa Luka, Makomborero Scholarship Program student from Hellenic Academy and Mabvuku High, Harare; and Palmer Mhonda, Highfield High School, Harare. During the event, Ambassador Bruce Wharton will announce the winners and present certificates and prizes, which include a collection of books authored by African-American writers. The winners’ schools will also receive a collection of Zimbabwean fiction sourced from Weaver Press.

The essay contest was open to all high schools in Zimbabwe. Twenty-four schools selected the two top essays from Upper Sixth students and submitted them to the Embassy for judging. The students were asked to write a 500-word essay about Langston Hughes’ poem, “Harlem (Or A Dream Deferred),” and how it relates to them personally, to their community, and to Zimbabwe. The authors of the five essays, as well as their family and school representatives, have been invited to the event.

Black History Month was the inspiration of Carter G. Woodson, a noted scholar and historian, who instituted Negro History Week in 1926.  He chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  The celebration was expanded to be a month in length in 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.  At the time, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

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