“Ain’t I a Woman!” spotlights 4 influential black women

Minneapolis playwright Kim Hines will bring her chamber music theater work “Ain’t I a Woman!” to the

Minneapolis playwright Kim Hines will bring her chamber music theater work “Ain’t I a Woman!” to the University at Albany on Thursday.

The work, a blend of narrative and chamber music, tells the stories of four African-American women who helped to shape history. The Core Ensemble, a Florida-based arts organization that commissioned the piece, will perform.

Actress Shinnerie Jackson plays the parts of Zora Neale Hurston, Sojourner Truth, Clementine Hunter and Fannie Lou Hamer. “The fact that I can play all these heroes of the civil rights movement all at once is wonderful,” Jackson said.

She will be joined on stage by a chamber music group consisting of cellist Tahirah Whittington, pianist Hugh Hinton and percussionist Michael Parola.

The work takes the audience through history, illuminating the contributions that each woman made to society. The title of the show is taken from Truth’s famous speech about racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman,” which she delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. Truth, born a slave in Ulster County, was both an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

“The music is quite wonderful, and it’s from each of the eras that these women lived,” said Hines. There will be pieces from the 19th century for Truth, the 1920s and 1930s for Hurston, from the 1950s for Hunter and the 1960s for Hamer.

‘Ain’t I a Woman’

WHERE: The University at Albany Performing Arts Center Main Theatre

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

HOW MUCH: $15; $12 for seniors and UAlbany faculty/staff; $10 for students

MORE INFO: 442-3997, www.albany.edu/pac

The monologue includes tidbits about the women that aren’t necessarily in the history books, Jackson said. “It’s information about their private lives that isn’t always written down. They talk about their feelings about what happens in their lives.”

Researched lives

Hines researched the women’s lives after the Core Ensemble commissioned her to write the work. She had heard of Truth, and Hamer was an inspiration for her since childhood, but she didn’t know a lot about Hurston and had never heard of Hunter.

She was able to get some of the “not in the history books” history from a family member. Her grandfather’s cousin had been a model for artists in Harlem. “He hung out with Hurston and [Langston] Hughes — all these black artists from the black renaissance period,” Hines said. He had stories to tell. For example, Hines didn’t know that Hurston had a huge falling out with Hughes.

The work starts with Hurston’s story. Jackson describes the writer as a “sassy, vibrant, young, diva-like woman.”

It continues with Hunter, a woman who was dubbed “the black Grandma Moses.” She discovered her talent for painting in the late 1940s when she found some tubes of paint left by artists who visited the place where she worked. After working all day and then taking care of her family, she set about painting on whatever surface she could find, including cardboard, paper bags, lumber scraps, milk jugs and other discarded items. Patrons eventually got her work exhibited locally in New Orleans, and she later gained national recognition.

“I was lucky that I got to hear what she sounded like,” said Hines of Hunter. “I can’t write Creole, but I could pick up the energy of the way that she speaks and give the audience an idea of her rhythms.” Jackson said she enjoys Hunter for the humor she adds to the show.

Hamer, Hines’ favorite, is the climax of the 90-minute show, which is performed without an intermission. Hines celebrates the civil rights activist for her progressive work in bettering the lives of the poor, both black and white. Hamer was influential in encouraging African-Americans to vote and in fighting racial segregation.

Jackson said that this portion of the show takes people’s emotions on a real roller coaster ride.

“She lived a very hard life,” Hines said of Hamer. “She died way too soon. It was because of the beatings that she had gotten in jail.”

The piece ends with a bit about Truth, the famous abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

Sense of history

Because of time constraints, Hines was only able to offer audiences a slice of these women’s lives. “You’re only getting a moment of their lives,” she said. “I hope that people walk away with a sense of history and a curiosity about these women.”

Jackson hopes that the soulful message of the piece comes through to audiences, and that people will make the connection between historical events and their lives today.

“You can really do anything,” Jackson said. “Your struggles may be hard. They may seem horrible at the time, but it doesn’t matter what you are, where you are in your socio-economic stance, or your color. It doesn’t matter — you can persevere through anything. That’s the strongest thing that I get from these women.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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