The Neustadt Lit Festival is returning to the University of Oklahoma campus after two years of being held virtually.
This year’s festival will feature Boubacar Boris Diop, a prominent Senegalese novelist, playwright, journalist and screenwriter. Diop is the winner of the 2022 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and will be honored as the festival’s marquee writer.
A dance film inspired by Diop’s creative nonfiction story “Black and Blues” will be presented at the festival to honor West African culture in coordination with Diop’s appearance at the festival.
The film’s artistic director is Marie Casimir, a Haitian American interdisciplinary artist. She currently serves as the public programs and performance curator for the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center and is an adjunct lecturer in the Clara Luper Department of African and African-American Studies. Casimir is also the lead choreographer of the film and worked on the project alongside Jessica Karis Ray, the film’s artistic coordinator. Ray is a multidisciplinary artist from Oklahoma City. She now works at the Lincoln Center and is a freelance videographer in New York City.
The film features University of Oklahoma School of Dance student Vitoria Correia.
Correia is a ballet major from Brazil. She started dancing at seven years old as part of a social project. She later joined the Bolshoi School of Brazil, where she studied classical ballet for six years before coming to OU in the spring of this year.
Correia became involved in the film project through Casimir, who has worked with OU School of Dance students in the past.
“Black and Blues” is about Senegalese migrants who travel by boat in search of better lives. The dancers and choreographer began the process of creating the film by reflecting on Diop’s text.
“When the rehearsals started we were already aware of the story and we started the process of giving movement to the text we were representing,” Correia said. “We tried to portray in the film the story of a couple that separates because the man embarks on a journey to bring better conditions. The woman stays because the trip is risky and she has the task of taking care of what remains in the village.”
Correia said her favorite part of the creation of the film was the process of creating connection with her partner.
“The process that we had to pass through to connect to each other, it was super interesting,” said Correia. “And this connection that we created … was essential to the film, so we could pass it on to the audience.”
Correia said she has been honored to be able to be a part of the project.
“We are super honored to be part of it and to be representing a special project, a special text,” said Correia. “That means a lot, not only for the writer, but … I think for any community that is living with this issue.”
The literature festival will be held Oct. 24-26 in the Oklahoma Memorial Union and comprises ten in-person events that will be livestreamed as well as two Zoom-only events. Events include roundtable conversations about African film, history and culture and reclaiming African history, culture and languages as well as about understanding Diop’s work. Diop will speak about writing Africa today and will present a keynote talk about his life and work. Registration is available online and is free and open to the public.
“Black and Blues” will premiere at noon on Oct. 26 and will be followed by a talk back with the choreographer and two dancers.