I grew up in the South of legal segregation and illegal but almost always unpunished violence against African Americans. There was, nevertheless, something compelling and satisfying about the way of life of my family and their community, an indefinable quality that I tried to evoke in my play The Bridge Party. What was that something? Why is it that some of my best memories are of life in the South of the forties and fifties?
I am not sure I can answer these questions completely, and I am not sure I want to. Indeed, I can think of no more effective way to stifle inspiration than to theorize about the emotional sources of my plays. Still, one can hazard a few guesses. Because of my particular life history, my childhood memories just happen to be memories of the South before the civil-rights era. Since childhood memories have a special importance in everyone's life, perhaps no other explanation is needed. But I think something more is involved. Because racism was then legally entrenched and publicly justified, it was a significant accomplishment to build a life with
From the Diary of Sally Hemings, a song cycle for voice and piano with libretto by Sandra Seaton and music by composer William Bolcom, was written at the request of mezzo soprano Florence Quivar. The work recreates the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings throughout her long relationship with Thomas Jefferson by means of fictional diary entries. The 18 songs in this imaginary journal provide a surprising yet persuasive interpretation of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, officially a slave but also the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson. The songs trace the life of Sally Hemings from her earliest memory, Martha Jefferson dying from complications following childbirth, to her sojourn in Paris with Jefferson and finally her life with Jefferson at Monticello until his death. Premiered by mezzo soprano Florence Quivar and pianist J.J. Penna at Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress with additional performances at Kennedy Center, San Francisco Performances, Lied Center, Rialto, and University Musical Society. Performed by soprano Alyson Cambridge and pianist Lydia Brown at Carnegie Hall, Central Michigan University, Harkness Memorial Chapel in Cleveland and Oberlin Conservatory. CD available on