Celia, a Slave Barbara Seyda, Nicholas Wright

Yale Drama Series
Publication date:
01 Nov 2016
Yale University Press
112 pages: 229 x 140 x 8mm
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The ninth winner of the Yale Drama Series is a searing and powerful drama of slave litigation, injustice, institutional racism, and the rule of law.

The winner of the 2015 Yale Drama Series playwriting competition was selected by Nicholas Wright, former Associate Director of London’s Royal Court. Barbara Seyda’s stunningly theatrical Celia, a Slave is a vivid tableau of interviews with the dead that interweaves oral histories with official archival records. Powerful, poetic, and stylistically bold, this work foregrounds twenty-three diverse characters to recall the events that led to the hanging of nineteen-year-old Celia, an African American slave convicted in a Missouri court of murdering her master, the prosperous landowner Robert Newsom, in 1855. Excavating actual trial transcripts and court records, Seyda bears witness to racial and sexual violence in U.S. history, illuminating the brutal realities of female slave life in the pre–Civil War South while exploring the intersection of rape, morality, economics, and gender politics that continue to resonate today.

Barbara Seyda is the author of Nomads of a Desert City and Women in Love. She has taught at Rutgers University, Pratt Institute, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Arizona’s Continuing Education Program, and lives in Tucson, AZ.

“It was Celia, a Slave that finally won [the 2015 Yale Drama Series] through the muscularity of its language, the vivid individuality of its characters and the intensity of the grief it evoked.”—Nicholas Wright, from the Foreword

“A fantastic play hurtling from its first phrase toward an inevitable climax.”—Niegel Smith, theater director and performance artist

“This play is invasive—in the best and worst way. A soulful offering.”—Sekou Laidlow, actor

“Powerful, important and ambitious.”—Martha Pichey, playwright