Isn’t it wonderful how a book can give you a glimpse into another life and open it up for you like a door? Reading a review of two new works about 19th century Native American tribal leaders, Crazy Horse and Hole in the Day (Wow, what a name! He has to be has to be a fascinating guy), I was struck by how many heroes among Native Americans there must be who are totally unknown to us. And from there, it wasn’t a big leap to ponder how many “great” unknown leaders or other unsung people ignored by history there are hovering like shadows, just waiting for some gifted and determined writer to bring them to life.
When I was working on my play about Sojourner Truth, Leaving Egypt, one of the most fulfilling things I did was to create a character named Robert. He was Sojourner’s love interest when she was a young slave named Belle. At first, Belle and Robert had one very brief scene in the play. But when two gifted performers read the scene, they were so lively and wonderful that it inspired me to create a bigger moment in the play in which the two would envision their life together. The scene just came to me in a flash on the bus going back home from Manhattan and I rushed up to my desk and wrote it.
It was thrilling to hear and see the new scene performed — amazing, really. At one point, I realized that Robert was just a sort of sad footnote in Sojourner’s long and colorful life, but that for a few moments, I had made him come alive for people. I had given him dreams and hopes and a future — a place in the world. He had been forgotten, but I had rescued him. And for just a few moments, he lived again. He was a person; he was someone. It was such a great feeling to feel I’d given him a voice for a few moments.
How many unsung heroes and untold stories are just waiting to be “recalled to life” — as Dickens said of Dr. Manet in A Tale of Two Cities? Are any of you rescuing people from oblivion — giving them voices and visions?