Talking Book

Production Notes #2: Considering the Author’s Purpose


Production Notes #2

In a letter to his friend George Cable, Chesnutt wrote of the significance of writing on society. He also wrote of his wishes to have worked as a secretary at Cable’s firm, signaling a lost ambition and desire. This is helpful in understanding the weight of “The Conjure Woman,” as Chesnutt maintained an awareness of the political and social reflections his stories would carry. He speaks of the “the fear that future political action […] will still further curtail the opportunities for education of the colored people in the south.”

Is this fear something we can incorporate in the production of the audiobook? That is, how can we bring the author himself through these characters. These stories were essential in bucking the negative tropes of the Plantation Narrative, but from this letter we get a sense as to why: Chesnutt was concerned with how future generations would handle or hide the negative histories of this country–how the harmful political practices which essentially sustained slavery after emancipation would serve as a “prototype” for what we’ve seen since: Jim Crow, the Southern Strategy, redlining…

Let’s consider the ways in which “The Conjure Woman” sits as a commentary of the transitory period between emancipation and the harms American government would continue to inflict on African Americans. In what ways does the relationship between Whites and Blacks as seen in these tales speak to a greater inequity which exists outside of the sphere of legislation and can thus mutate and manifest in other, perhaps more sinister and hidden forms that continue to perpetuate racism in our society? I think Chesnutt was aware of this in his writing and in his life. He was able to identify the deceptive nature of racism and how it can continue to persist even after so-called “emancipation.”

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