Arcadia Hosts African-American Read-In to Kick Off Black History Month

By Dan DiPrinzio | February 2, 2024

Arcadia University kicked off Black History Month on Thursday with the annual African-American Read-In featuring students, faculty, staff, and alumni reading monologues written by African-American playwrights.  

This year’s theme was African-American theater. Volunteers read or acted out excerpts written by African-American playwrights including “The Colored Museum” by George C. Wolfe, “Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan-Lori Parks, “Pipeline” by Dominique Morisseau, and “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, among many others. 

“The African-American Read-In is part of a big collective of people nationally that allows Black authors to be represented,” said Deja Edwards, grant administrative coordinator of the Center for Antiracist Scholarship, Advocacy, Action (CASAA), who helped organize the event. “When I was thinking about the theme of African-American theater, I was thinking about how we revolutionized the presentation of theater.”

“Many people think that theater for Black people really started in the minstrel era and in blackface, but before that we had our own ways of telling stories in the community,” Edwards added. “Storytelling is a very big part of African and African-American culture and I wanted it to be represented through theater. I’m proud that so many people got involved and that the Theater program collaborated with us to put on their own scene.” 

Finnigan Irvin ’25, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Acting, and Raymond Hairston ’27, who is pursuing a BFA in Musical Theater, performed a scene from the play “Pipeline,” which chronicles the hopes of a Black mother for her son and an educational system rigged against him.

“I previously read the play and have seen an adaptation of it,” Irvin said. “My mom was a school teacher in the Philadelphia school district, but I went to a predominantly white institution in a different school district, so I related to this play a lot.” 

The National African-American Read-In was developed in the early 1990s by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English, which was dedicated to ensuring Black literature had its place in Black History Month. Arcadia participates in this tradition every year and focuses the event around a specific theme relevant to the time. 

“The Read-In is a staple across the United States that allows us to increase the understanding and awareness of African-American texts and how they helped change the way Black people were represented,” said Christopher Allen Varlack, executive director of CASAA and director of the Pan-African Studies program. “For so much of history, African Americans did not have the platform to tell their own stories, so this is a way to elevate those underrepresented voices.”

“This is also part of our larger work on campus for Black History Month,” he added. “The goal of Black History Month is to tell more of that history and more of those stories so that they become more of our everyday culture.”