The Cultural Diaspora

African-American and African playwrights creative residency at the Camargo Foundation

Photo credit: Tom Matthew Wolfe

About the Program

In 2018, the Camargo Foundation organized an international residency program for African-American and African playwrights, The Cultural Diaspora. The Program brought together mid-career/established African and African-American text-based theater artists from opposite ends of the Africanist diaspora to share work, ideas and strategies for surviving as Black artists, without the veil of a white/Western filter, without having to explain themselves, without having to represent an entire group of people, but to explore their craft, their voice and their African-ness in a beautiful, safe, supportive environment with likeminded individuals.

Four participants from the United States and four from the African continent, all of whom are interested in the intersection and interaction, whether historic or contemporary, between the United States and Africa, were hosted from May 28 to June 25, 2018 at the Camargo Foundation.

The Program was conceived by playwrights and theatre practitioners Carlyle Brown and Chuck Mike, who are the principal promoters of the residency in its process, outcomes, and aftermath.

The Program was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Jerome Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and FACE (French American Cultural Exchange).

Thanks to the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, a second edition of the Cultural Diaspora, a residency program for text-based theater artists from the African diaspora, will be organized in 2022. An international call for applications will be launched in the summer of 2021 for the new edition. Please subscribe to our newsletter to be informed.

  • The Context +

    By Chuck Mike

    In what ways has African society reverberated its cultural dynamism within modern day transnational artistic imaginings? Playwrights on the African continent and in the African diaspora are well endowed with tools to provide enlightenment. Creative methodologies and thematic concerns amongst playwrights in Africa and the African World of the Americas are derived from a plethora of sources and influences. The African has at his disposal a reservoir of resources, including the use of African languages, rituals, myth and other traditional and contemporary mores. Common topics include colonialism and the exigencies of cultural, social and political transformation into the modern world.

    Storytelling in Africa has been a traditional event since the presence of the Griots who—through music and poetry—became the creative custodians of oral history. By extension some African-American dramatists view preachers, spoken word artists, stand-up comics, blues singers and playwrights as part of that tradition. They examine and record through text based platforms the trials, tribulations and conditions of a people who evolved from slavery to become one of the most celebrated cultures globally. The aesthetic values and humane concerns which hover their works clearly speak to an African continuum in the New World. Not only does the commonality of practices and history between modern day African and African-American playwrights deserve notice, of seminal importance is their mutual struggle to devote attention to their craft—as modern day Griots—in a hostile environment often imbued with racism, colonialism and inept governments.

    Questions abound towards the survival of these writers in separate lands. How are playwrights funded in Africa in the face of corrupt regimes that feel threatened by the pen and have little or no appreciation for the arts? What can be done about the disparity in funding which goes to the development of black playwrights in the US as opposed to their white counterparts? Where do these playwrights share or showcase their work and to what audiences given the limited building spaces available to them on both sides of the Atlantic? How do playwrights engage in debates about identity and authenticity within an African diaspora? What are the different ways in which international boundaries shape the African experience and how do they manifest in writing and performance? If the notion of Africa is to be broadened, the specifics of these playwrights’ experiences and practices must be examined.

    The purpose of Camargo’s transatlantic black playwright residency would be to afford the opportunity of sharing work, discussing viewpoints and approaches towards enduring as Black artistes—in a safe haven—free of occidental screening and judgment with no self explanations and no obligation to represent anyone but oneself. Exploring one’s craft, voice and African-ness in a picturesque and encouraging atmosphere with kindred spirits would be an essential raison d’être.

  • The Selection Committee +

    In selecting the participants, the Camargo Foundation worked with a panel composed of internationally recognized reviewers from the United States, the African continent, and Europe: Alicia Adams (Vice-President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, US); Walter Chakela (Playwright, South Africa); Mamadou Diouf (Professor of African Studies and History, Director of the Institute for African Studies at Columbia University, US); and Jan Goossens (Director of the Marseille Performing Arts Festival, France).

  • The Purpose of the Residency +

    The program is designed to offer participants time and space to:

    • Research, experiment & create: applicants may apply either with a specific project or a specific area of inquiry on which they would like to work during the residency. An area of inquiry should be specific and represent exploration and investigation in the resident’s field. The Camargo Foundation welcomes both open-ended exploration, or more focused works and long-term research projects;
    • Exchange & network: during the residency, discussions are held regularly to foster exchanges between the selected artists. In addition, the Camargo Foundation’s staff provides formal and informal links with local professionals to develop possible creative collaborations between the selected artists and the region of the Marseille-Provence area. The selected artists will also attend performances with other cultural organizations and artists in the Marseille-Provence area.

The Program's Residents

Bode Asiyanbi, Playwright, Nigeria
France-Luce Benson, Playwright, US
Kara Lee Corthron, Playwright, US
Kimberly Ellis, Playwright, US
Blessing Hungwe, Playwright, Zimbabwe
Zainabu Jallo, Playwright, Switzerland
Genevieve Jessee, Playwright, US
Femi Osofisan, Playwright, Nigeria

The group was in residence at the Camargo Foundation from May 28 to June 25, 2018.

The Program's Facilitators

Carlyle Brown, Actor, Playwright and Artistic Director, US
Chuck Mike, Playwright and Theatre Director, US

With support from

Photos and Acknowledgments

The Camargo Foundation would like to warmly thank the following institutions and persons for their implication and for their time and energy: the Massilia Afropea festival team (Eva Doumbia and Gerty Dambury); the Festival de Marseille; the ERAC-M acting school of Marseille, its students as well as Olivier Quero and Didier Abadie; Carlyle Brown and Chuck Mike for their commitment and the richness of their contributions; and the Jerome Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the FACE Foundation and the Ford Foundation for their crucial financial support.

After the Residency: Camargo Foundation’s Cultural Diaspora 2018 Fellows Participated in Afro-Atlantic Playwrights Festivals around the world!

  • July 12—14, 2019, The Playwrights' Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, US
    Click here to learn more.

  • December 4—7, 2019, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, New York City, US
    Click here to learn more.

  • February 4—5, 2020, Boundless: Africa, as part of the 2019–2020 WORLD STAGES season at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, US
    Click here to read the schedule, and here for the press release.
    Book your tickets:

  • February 17—22, 2020, Playwright Workshop centered on a reading of Femi Osofisan's play Not all Canoes Sail Back Home, in partnership with the National Theatre of Ghana.
    Click here to learn more.