The Cultural Diaspora

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

Photo credit: Tom Matthew Wolfe

About the Program

The Camargo Foundation organizes an international residency program for African-American and African playwrights, The Cultural Diaspora. The Program will bring 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 is 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).

  • 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


  • FACE Foundation +

    This program is supported by FACE Contemporary Theater, a program developed by FACE Foundation and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States with the support from the Florence Gould Foundation, Institut Français-Paris, the French Ministry of Culture and private donors. Additional support for women artists has been provided by Fondation CHANEL.

  • Ford Foundation +

    This Program is supported by the Ford Foundation, which is dedicated to the enhancement of social justice throughout the world, the advocacy of human rights and the equal redistribution of, and access to, knowledge, education, and resources of our societies.

  • Jerome Foundation +

    This program is supported by a grant from the Jerome Foundation.

  • National Endowment for the Arts +

    This program is supported by the NEA. Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more about NEA.

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.

[Playwright Festival] Camargo Foundation’s Cultural Diaspora 2018 Fellows Participated in Afro-Atlantic Playwright Festival

July 12-14, 2019, The Playwrights' Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, US

The Camargo Foundation, the Playwrights' Center and Carlyle Brown & Company presented the first Afro-Atlantic Playwright Festival (July 12–14, 2019) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The festival, free and open to the public, , featured works by residents who participated in the Camargo Foundation’s Cultural Diaspora Program, which convened eight playwrights from Africa and the U.S. in Cassis in Summer 2018. While at Camargo in 2018, they had to opportunity to share work, meet with local theater students, and participate in a roundtable discussion entitled "African and Afro-Descendent Writing," which was presented as part of the Festival de Marseille and Massilia Afropea. The three-day event included readings from three participating playwrights, workshops, and a panel discussion.

Curated by playwright Carlyle Brown and theater director Chuck Mike, the event addressed various conceptual and cultural facets of African diaspora studies and their impact on playwrights from around the world. From the eight participating playwrights, three were included in this festival: France-Luce Benson (New York City, U.S.), Zainabu Jallo (Bern, Switzerland and Nigeria), and Femi Osofisan (Ibadan, Nigeria). The festival is made possible with kind supports from the Venturous Theater Fund, the Ford Foundation, and FACE (French American Cultural Exchange).

Press release of the event: click here
Learn more:
Livestreaming of the closing roundtable: click here

Curatorial Vision of the Festival

  • The African Diaspora +

    By Carlyle Brown

    My overall artistic practice as an African-American theater artist is rooted in the traditions of the West African Griots who with their songs and recitations are the traditional story tellers and the repositories of the history of African peoples in oral culture. In African-American culture I consider preachers, spoken word artists, stand-up comics, blues singers and playwrights as part of that tradition. I have long been fascinated by the mysteries of the transference of those traditions from Africa to the new world through the transatlantic slave trade and how it managed to survive through subversion and rebellion the oppressive, subjugating atmosphere in which it shaped and transformed itself into one of the major cultural influences in the world.

    The Atlantic Ocean is a cultural lake whose principal port is the West Coast of Africa from where it has been exporting its African-ness aesthetic for hundreds of years spreading across the Western Ocean in slave ships running before the trade winds through the Caribbean Islands to ports like Havana where it disperses its human cargo throughout the Americas. Jam packed in the bowls of those slave ships, back to back and belly to belly, breathing in each other’s faces, sweating on each other’s bodies, pissing and defecating in each other’s space, people from different language groups and different ethnic groups, some old friends and some old enemies and many strangers all howling in fear and desperation over being torn away from their ancestral homeland, to be dislocated and rootless body and soul forever. It is estimated that between 11 and 22 million Africans survived this ordeal and to heal their psychic wounds they mixed together their disparate ideas and beliefs and made a common culture. Part of the greatest act of human trafficking in the history of the planet, a mass forced human migration, they are the ancestors of every Black person born in the new world. The common culture that they made is the manifestation of the African Diaspora.

    In the United States, one of Africa’s major cultural colonies, where Black Americans are its most noted beneficiaries, Black American artists who are aware that they are related historically and aesthetically to the artists of West Africa have over time created a body of artistic expression so distinct and unique that American culture could not be what it is without it. This kinship and connection, this expanded sense of space, geography, history and the imagination are the African-ness ingredients that shape art making on both sides of the Atlantic. Contemporary West African and African-American text based artists share these traditions and accompanying history, as well as the common problems of creating art in opposition to a dominate culture saturated in racism and colonialism. As noted by Africana scholar Maboula Soumahoro, “Africana studies, the academic discipline specializing in the systematic study of peoples of African descent globally through the prism of history, geography and culture has emerged as a specific field rather recently… is an attempt to place the African continent at the center of all preoccupations…acknowledges Africa as the locale of all departures and ultimate returns.”

    This spiritual, resilient, ethereal aesthetic is like a restless virus seeking out welcoming hosts in places like Bahia, London, Toronto, Brooklyn. Born out of suffering and nurtured in oppression it makes itself from the improvisational complexity and multiplicity of a collectively lived experience. There must be a multitude of stories out there that make themselves out of an Afro-Atlantic point of view. New, intricate, expansive narratives that do not simply explain who we are but celebrates our return to ourselves. That explores and discovers our African-ness. Narratives that are for ourselves where Black Lives don’t simply matter, but are essential.

    Carlyle Brown
    Artistic Director
    Carlyle Brown & Company