Dear Fannie, richly affirming for African American women, young women and girls — and it wouldn’t hurt males of all ages to give a good listen, for that matter — is a rare find that sustains and adds to the culture.
The spoken word performance CD, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting, is a marvelous contribution by author-actor Chadra D. Steward, in which a woman connects across time to communicate with and draw strength from her forebear who is a slave.
As Steward’s preface states: “Today is the day my character Fannie is born on the microphone. God gave me [her] when I was trying to balance the roles of teacher, wife and mother and the constant feeling that I was coming up short.
“Fannie is a slave who isn’t shy about telling of her everlasting hope in God. Now is the time that everyone hears Fannie’s wisdom, grace, humor and her reality. She wants all “free womens” to never forget where they’ve come from. She has made me more appreciative of life and has enhanced my joy because of her perspective.”
In the notes as well, “This is dedicated to all the women and people who: Teach/Feel chained to a list of 1,000 to-do’s/Struggle to keep a balance between work and family/Want to feel too blessed to be stressed/Want a different perspective to deal with your day-to-day struggles/Want to see a brighter tomorrow.”
Along with teacher, wife and mother, Steward takes on an additional role portraying Chatter, a daughter heeding hard-woman matriarchal wisdom. Subtly voicing both characters, doing a convincing job of conveying the aged Fannie, Steward is adept at dialogue that comes directly from behavior and the language wholly enlivens the text.
Reflecting on the project, Steward states, “Headed all the way back to slavery, Fannie came back to me with such vivid stories about her day on the plantation. It was as if these stories were being poured into me as I typed.
“Fannie came alive to me and became a cherished friend who always had a good word of wisdom for me. She encouraged me to ‘Stop frettin’ and enjoy a slice of Freedom Pie dey say taste so good’ and to hold fast to God’s unchanging hand. ‘You’s a believin’ woman, ain’t ya? Fannie and I — Chatter, she calls me — formed a lasting friendship in two separate spaces of time: freedom and bondage.” The character, she says, “Has helped me appreciate life as I know it, today.”
Steward has notions of adapting this thoroughly engaging work to the stage, which certainly is worth exploring. Example given, nationally venerated Mixed Blood Theatre successfully tours several performance productions, both educationally and as entertainment, that similarly have as their niche cultural history — According To Coyote (Native American), Minnecanos (Mexican American) and Eastern Parade (Asian American).
Dear Fannie, in truth, goes one better. Her deft wordplay drives, indeed propels a strong story and fascinating narrative structured not only as an informational showcase, but as a story, complete with, beginning-middle-and-end arch and concrete closure. She is also considering publishing the script in book form, which would make delightful reading.
A February signing sold out the first run of CDs at Juice-C Juice Books in Carson, California for which Steward stepped into character and performed an excerpt which can be viewed at www.dearfannie.com. Looking at the website will readily clue you in as to the valuable statement and amazing artistry Chadra D. Steward brings to bear with Dear Fannie.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403