PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — West Philly native Lorene Cary goes by many titles — she’s a bestselling author, playwright, mother, and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.
Not just during Women’s History Month in March, but nearly 365 days a year, she uses her art to preserve stories, especially black legacies, for future generations.
“I love the people I write about, being able to read what I write means a lot to me. And that resulted in writing a memoir about going to boarding school. , three novels, including one based on the story, about a runaway based on a true runaway case of a woman who came to Philadelphia,” Cary explained.
One of her most recent works, the play “My General Tubman”, explores the less “traditional” aspects of Harriet Tubman’s life. Cary says her writing was inspired by Tubman’s epileptic spells believed to connect her to a spiritual realm.
“When I researched her and learned of her traumatic seizures as she called them, she said three things happened to her – she heard music, she flew over towns and villages, and sometimes she said that at that time she felt like she was allowed to touch the spirit of God. Well, I mean, to me, that meant time and space meant nothing,” Cary said.
“We all know Harriet Tubman is the Underground Railroad. But she lived to be 90. She lived until 1913. She was part of the suffrage movement, and even when white suffrage groups Americans tried to get black people out. She was fearless. She knew she had to vote, she knew she had to have a say, so she kept going.”
To commemorate Tubman’s 200th birthday, Cary presented pieces from “My General Tubman” to the African American Museum in Philadelphia with dozens of young people in attendance.
“We understand that African Americans or the African Diaspora understand time, past, present and future as interconnected,” Cary said.
“So having at the African American Museum, students from Girard College, my own students from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as older people from the African American Museum, to have them there… just to watch this has really helped connect Tubman and her activism to work in Philadelphia, Voting for Young Activists Today.”
Cary’s passion for connecting the past with the present and the future has blossomed into a mission to invest, advocate and empower young people. She says one of the things she’s most proud of is Vote This Jawn, an organization that takes storytelling a step further by encouraging young people to find their voice through voting and civic engagement.
“I like this civic maturity. I feel like we haven’t said enough [youth] that this business of voting – and not just voting, but getting a head start in the political life of the country – will allow them to influence the decisions we make that will influence their lives 20 years from now.”
For her next project, Cary says she’s working with the Arden Theater again to produce a new play based on her novel “Ladysitting.”
“It’s a play based on the ‘Ladysitting’ memoir about caring for our grandmother. And it’s really a play about the end of life, caregiving, love, scared,” she detailed, “but I’m excited about it. I hope I can start a workshop this year with it.”
You can listen to more of Cary’s interview on the Bridging Philly podcast.