“Due to the weather, the Frederick Douglass speech has been postponed to Saturday, July 5 at 1:00pm at the Inkwell Beach, opposite Waban Park in Oak Bluffs,” explained Abigail McGrath, founder of Renaissance House: Retreat for Writers & Artists. “It’
Now in its 10th year as an annual attraction on the island, McGrath, organizer of the program, is calling for more voices to read different sections of the 10,000-plus word address written in 1852 in the midst of slavery.
“Each year, Renaissance House Writers-in-Residence participate in this historic reading on the beach. However, we need all kinds of voices, men, woman, children, soft, loud, sweet, tough -- to give life to one of the greatest speeches known to mankind. We want everyone to be part of this event,” says McGrath. “Douglass always called for unity of spirit and purpose.”
The public is encouraged to participate in the Frederick Douglass reading on July 5th. The projects’ architects include Frederick Collins, a law professor at John Jay College, a fan of Mr. Douglass and a cultural advocate and resident of Oak Bluffs and Makani Themba, executive director of the Praxis Project, a grass roots media policy non-profit in Washington, DC. She is a Renaissance House Writer-in-Residence and the editor/producer of the Frederick Douglass speech presentation.
But it’s Martha’s Vineyard that appeals to McGrath who is delighted that her project inspires others off-island. “There is just something about people of all ages, all backgrounds, reading these words, and those words being carried out over the Atlantic waters where millions lost their lives during the Middle Passage,” she said. “And each person brings their own light and energy to these words.”
Themba says she focuses on the historical context. “1852. A Black man speaks to a packed hall full of whites without air conditioning and he is lighting them up. It defies our standard narrative of Black power and voice in the 19th century. And I love how people of all walks of life, all races, just show up to read Douglass’ words. Each person brings their own light and energy to these words. Each time I hear their voices, it’s new all over again - each and every year.”
Renaissance House is an annual writers retreat sponsored by the Helene Johnson and Dorothy West Foundation. West, the author of the award-winning novel and film The Wedding, and her poet cousin Johnson (Mc Grath’s mother) were writers during the Harlem Renaissance. It was founded by McGrath, an author, playwright and filmmaker, who was the inspiration for the novel The Wedding. Renaissance House provides writers and other artists with a subsidized retreat away from life's responsibilities and the space in which to create new works of art. It is one of the few retreats designed for issue-oriented writers, writers of color and writers of social justice.
To participate in the Frederick Douglass reading on July 5, please call Renaissance House at 917-747-0367 or email Renaissancehse@