Dr. Rebecca Hall had a story to tell but it wasn’t being heard by the people who needed it most. As an academic most of her life, Dr. Hall’s doctoral thesis was really only seen during peer review or by small committees responsible for furthering her academic career. She became a doctor to teach, and yet the work she poured her heart and soul into – The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts – remained a history unknown to the masses.
After getting fired from several teaching jobs for deigning to tell the truth about the Black reaction to chattel slavery, Dr. Hall found her answer in an unlikely place. Inspired by her former students, Dr. Hall teamed with artist Hugo Martinez to create a graphic novel that serves as a combination novel, thesis statement and personal memoir. Here at The Geekiary we love our female focused graphic novels! So hearing about this, I knew I was in for a treat.
Wake is a book that tells not only the forgotten history of Black women’s roles in uprising and resistance against slavery, but also documents Hall’s own journey to getting the work published. Dr. Hall, her wife, and her then young son, moved from place to place, encountering many obstacles. Dr. Hall became all but blacklisted from teaching and needed to find a way to support her family while continuing her mission.
The graphic novel finds a way to be extremely educational while also being heartfelt and engaging. The art is immersive and it’s easy to get lost in the richness of the narrative. So it would only make sense that the next step would be to make an audio drama podcast.
The audio drama is available on Audible or wherever audiobooks are sold. It stars DeWanda Wise and features the vocal talent of Chante Adams, Jerrie Johnson, Folake Olowofoyeku, Bahni Turpin and more. The audio drama allows the story to unfold even moreso, adding rich sound design to the 1700s segments and authentic atmosphere to the modern day set pieces.
And through it all, it still delivers the same message: that history is not always unbiased, and there are several historical figures that have simply been edited out, or worse, recast. That’s right; contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t a hot, white twink who threw the first brick at Stonewall.
I had the pleasure of Zooming with Dr. Hall and the show’s star DeWanda Wise to talk about the importance of the podcast.
The Geekiary: I love this project because Black women are kind of always behind the scenes of these really eventful things and they kind of get forgotten. Especially when we’re talking about things that are perceived as “masculine leaning”, like revolts, being controversial and rebellious. DeWanda, how did you get involved in the project?
DeWanda Wise: It was one of those things where I had to. I’ve long been interested in the ways that Black women and our contributions to all the movements in this count have just been kind of [forgotten]. I worked on a 2018 play called Fireflies and it was loosely based on the relationship between Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott.
In the process of doing that play, I researched her tangible contributions to the movement and there was so much I hadn’t been aware of. She’s just been the woman on the arm who took care of the kids, but no, she was literally out there, fundraising. There’s a degree of undereducation even within our own community. So reading the graphic novel, ingesting the images just felt like a wash of relief.
TG: That’s amazing. Dr. Hall, what was your journey to the audiobook like?
Dr. Rebecca Hall: It’s kind of a companion piece to the graphic novel. After I was basically driven out of teaching, I decided I wanted to turn my dissertation into a graphic novel. I wanted the work I did to actually reach people, even though I had no idea people were interested. I had a little $5,000 Kickstarter.
TG: The interest was definitely there. More people need to learn about these women.
Dr. Hall: I think about the “masculine leaning” idea you were talking about, in terms of “revolt” being a masculine act. It’s not just things like DeWanda talked about – women are erased from our own history and our consciousness – but it’s also that things get gendered. So this particular resistance, these coordinated acts of armed revolt have been gendered male. And I think a lot of this work is about breaking down this weird gendering.
[At the end of the novel and the audiobook is an essay that speaks more to these themes and is well worth the time to indulge.]
TG: It’s such an interesting thing because it’s not that we get erased, but we get recast. It has a masculine shadow on us. Women can have anger, and aggression and strength and not be coded masculine. We end up losing a bit of agency, they become actions that aren’t ours, but are instead borrowed from a stronger force. That’s why I love the audiobook so much, your strength and passion and tenacity are fully yours. What was your research like? How did you make the choices about what to include?
Dr. Hall: You know, I’ve written before and published before, but it’s all academic stuff. Something that no one is reading, right? But creative writing has not really been my thing, but when we got the book option, suddenly I had a contract with Simon & Schuster. It’s like, ‘Okay, I gotta figure this out!’ It’s a really steep learning curve to learn how to create a graphic narrative, it’s a whole skillset. So I went to Harlem, rented an Airbnb and did it.
TG: What was it like trying to find sources?
Dr. Hall: I was getting my PhD in History at UC Santa Cruz and I told my dissertation adviser what I wanted to do. She was like, of course women were in the revolt, but you’re never going to find the sources. And if you know me, you know when someone says that to me, it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I was like, watch me.
TG: DeWanda, what was it like learning about the project and then getting cast?
DeWanda: Podium reached out expressing interest in attaching me as an actor and as a producer. I ingested everything I could. I read the graphic novel and I went on a Google deep dive into everything about Dr. Hall. It was a real thrill, the entire creative team was Black women and I needed that. I’ve always operated in white spaces and I needed what I call the “family reunion”.
Wake is an engaging audio drama that will keep you rapt and interested throughout. It’s available now on Audible and other audiobook outlets. Do yourself a favor and listen today!
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