An Invaluable Colleague in Distress

By Turner, Beth | Black Masks, August 30, 2000 | Go to article overview

An Invaluable Colleague in Distress


Turner, Beth, Black Masks


An Invaluable Colleague in Distress

I know there is not a researcher of Black theatre among us who has not, at one point or another, consulted one of the invaluable directories by Bernard L. Peterson, Jr. and thanked our lucky stars that he had completed so much primary nuts and bolts research for us. Peterson has been a meticulous and prodigious chronicler of Black American theater for at least two decades. His directories are Contemporary Black American Playwrights and Their Plays (1988); Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers (1990); A Century of Musicals in Black and White (1993); and The African American Theatre Directory, 1816-1960 (1997), all published by Garland Press. Many of us eagerly await his forthcoming work, Profiles of African American Theatre People, 1816-1960. I consult his work religiously for Black Masks, for my scholarly articles and for the book I am trying to complete.

So, needless to say, I was deeply distressed to learn that Peterson is gravely ill, suffering from congestive heart failure, while living isolated in his home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Most poignantly, however, Bernard Peterson is living alone in what one friend termed "genteel poverty," meaning he is surrounded by a wealth of books and the tools of intellectual pursuit but is basically destitute. And when I say "tools of intellectual pursuit" I do not mean a computer system. I have learned that Bernard Peterson has done all of his research by hand on file cards.

Most heartbreaking is that after making such a tremendous contribution to the documentation of Black theatre, Peterson feels that his work has gone unnoticed and unappreciated. …

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