For the Humanities Council’s first ever Live to Read, we are reading the play, Ruined by Lynn Nottage which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and will be performed at Arena Stage’s new Mead Center beginning in late April.
“From Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such plays as Fabulation and Intimate Apparel, comes this haunting, probing work about the resilience of the human spirit during times of war. Set in a small mining town in Deomcratic Republic of the Congo, this powerful play follows Mama Nadi, a shrewd businesswoman in a land torn apart by civil war. But is she protecting or profiting by the women she shelters? How far will she go to survive? Can a price be placed on a human life?”
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Do you live to read? Check out these related books, plays and films:
- Brecht, Bertolt – Mother Courage and Her Children (play)
Although it is unknown when exactly Bert Brecht’s play was written, the drama deals with political developments in Europe on the eve of the Second World War. Taking place in the Holy Roman Empire during in the Thirty Years’ War, the play tells the story of a female sutler who loses her three children in her greed for money. Lynn Nottage’s play is loosely based on Mother Courage and Her Children; however, unlike Brecht, she believes “in engaging people emotionally”, not intellectually. Click here to read the whole interview with Lynn Nottage and find out more about the connection between Brecht’s and Nottage’s play. To learn more about Brecht and his works, check out the Goethe-Institut, and the International Brecht Society.
- John F. Clark (Ed.) – The African Stakes of the Congo War (non-fiction)
The articles which are collected in The African Stakes of the Congo War focus on the Second Congo War, a war so devastating that it became known as Africa’s World War. Since 1998, more than 5 million people have died as a consequence of the war. The ongoing hostilities in the Eastern regions of the DRC are a result of that war, and the atrocities described in Lynn Nottage’s play can only be understood on the background of the Second Congo War. John F. Clark's edition helps the reader understand the dimensions of the conflict and the articles in the book view the civil war from various angles. The history of the war, foreign influences and military engagements – nine nations send troops into the Congo –, the economic impact and the situation of refugees are among the issues that are analyzed in the book.
- Gurira, Danai – Eclipsed (play)
Like Nottage’s play, Eclipsed tells the story of women in a war-torn African country. However, not only is Liberia, where Gurira’s drama takes place, about 3,000 miles away from the Eastern Congo, it is also a very distinct from the central African country. In Eclipsed, the women, kidnapped by a rebel leader who keeps them as sex slaves, don’t know much about the conflict around them, and yet it is this conflict – the Liberian Civil War shortly before its end in 2003 – that defines their lives. The play portrays the different ways Liberian women dealt with the shocking and humiliating situations they often found themselves in and foreshadows the important role women were about to play for the establishment of peace in the West African country – a country that elected a woman for president in 2005.
- Kane, Sarah – Blasted (play)
Blasted is one of the most shocking and controversially debated theatrical approaches to the atrocities of war. It is set in a hotel room in Leeds, but the audience, respectively the reader does not learn when it takes places or what military conflict is raging in the background. Telling the story of Kate, Ian and an anonymous soldier, the play shockingly describes the boundless mutual humiliation and emotional blunting of the cast of characters, which ultimately results in gross abuse, rape, suicide, and cannibalism. However, small, unexpected acts of humanity occur throughout the play.
- Keitetsi, China– Child Soldier: Fighting for my life (autobiography)
Born in the Congo’s neighboring country Uganda in 1976, China Keitetsi ran away from home when she was 9 years old. She was picked up by members of the National Resistance Army and was recruited as a child soldier. For almost ten years, the young girl had to fight in the Ugandan civil war and was repeatedly subject to rape and torture. She managed to escape in 1995 and later found asylum in Denmark with the help of the UNHCR. Child Soldier: Fighting for my life is Keitetsi’s memoirs of these horrific times.
- Kingsolver, Barbara – The Poisonwood Bible (novel)
In 1959, a year before independence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Baptist missionary Nathan Price, accompanied by his wife Orleanne and their four daughters, leaves Bethlehem, Georgia to live as a preacher in the Belgian Congo. The novel is narrated by the female family members who develop distinct viewpoints on the situation of the family and the Congolese people. Unable to respond to the needs, traditions, and feelings of the local population, Nathan separates his family from the people which leads to a variety of issues. Covering 30 years, The Poisonwood Bible follows the stories of the Price family and their contacts with, and views on the local population, ending with the death of long-time dictator Mobutu in 1997.
- Mouawad, Wajdi – Scorched (play)
In her last will, Nawal asks that before a headstone can be placed on her grave, her daughter Janine and her son Simon have to manage a task: they both have to deliver a letter to a family member of which they didn’t know he was still alive (their father) or even existed (their brother). On their quest, the history of Nawal is revealed and the reader learns about the shocking wartime atrocities the woman has suffered in her past. Wajdi Mouawad’s play describes the hardship and humiliation Nawal experienced in her life in an anonymous, supposedly Middle Eastern country.
- Perkins, Kathy A. (Ed.) – African Women Playwrights (anthology)
Focusing on a broad variety of topics and set in numerous places, the nine plays in this collection are linked by the fact that they were all written by female authors from the African continent. Works by Ama Ata Aidoo, Violet Barungi, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nathalie Etoké, Dania Guira / Nikkole Salter, Andiah Kisia (Chika Okigbo), Sindiwe Mgona, Malika Ndlovu (Lueen Conning), Julie Okoh can be found in the anthology.
This 2007 documentary describes the situation of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where humiliation, rape, torture, and mutilation have become a weapon of war. It tells the story of victims of these ill-treatments and the way they try to come to terms with the indescribable cruelties they have experienced. Director Lisa F. Jackson also portrays some of the perpetrators and tries to understand the motivation for their outrageous crimes. Interviewing several other members of the Congolese population, the film paints a comprehensive and dark, but very realistic picture of the situation of women in the Congo. In 2008, The Greatest Silence won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
View the trailer here.
Based on a true story, this drama film about the genocide in Rwanda tells the story of hotelier Paul Rusesabagina who saved a large number of refugees by making his hotel a safe haven for persecuted members of the Tutsi minority and moderate members of the ethnic group of the Hutus. Rusesabagina managed to protect more than 1,000 refugees during April and July 1994, when the organized killings took place and left up to one million people dead. The Rwanda genocide, and in particular, the large number of Tutsi refugees, had a substantial influence on the neighboring country Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This can be seen as one of the most important factors that led to the Congolese civil war depicted in Lynn Nottage’s play.
View the trailer here.
Jazz Mama – that’s not just the name of a film, it is also the name of a women’s movement in the Congo that aims at raising awareness for the sufferings of women in the ongoing conflict in the Congo. It shows how women who fell victim to sexual violence deal with their shocking past. Although they have experienced indescribable acts of rape, torture, and mutilation, these women develop an immense strength and become crucial for the support of others in their communities.
View the trailer here.
Closely linked to the story that is told in Danai Gurira’s drama Eclipsed, this documentary movie portrays the “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace” movement that played an important role for ending the Liberian civil war and the establishment of peace. Risking their lives, these women peacefully demonstrated against the violence in Liberia urging President Charles Taylor to negotiate with the various rebel groups. Pray the Devil Back to Hell won the award for best documentary at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
View the trailer here.
In the late 1990s, Rose Mapendo fled from war in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she and the majority of her children had been imprisoned and her husband had been killed. When she gets the opportunity to flee to the US, she has to leave Nangabire, one of her ten children, behind. 13 years later, mother and daughter are reunited in Phoenix, Arizona. The documentary shares the experiences Rose and Nangabire have made in the Congo and describes the challenges war refugees face when they find asylum in another country. ITVS Community Cinema is screening Pushing the Elephant in DC this spring as part of Live to Read.
In Weapon of War, the twin sisters Ilse and Femke van Velzen focus on the perpetrators of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The documentary portrays a member of the rebel militia group CNDP (Congrès national pour la défense du people - National Congress for the Defence of the People) as well as a soldier from the state military of the Congo. Both have raped women and international human organizations argue that both parties use sexual violence as a weapon of war. The film looks at the motivation of the perpetrators, the way they feel about their crimes in retrospect and the consequences the vicious circle of violence, humiliation, rape, and torture has on both perpetrators and victims.
View the trailer here.
- Written by Felix Siggemann, Fulbright Scholar and Humanities Council of Washington, DC intern from Berlin, Germany
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