Renee Alexander Craft
BA (English) and MA (Communication Studies), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; PhD (Performance Studies), Northwestern University. Postdoctoral Fellow: Performance Studies.
Broadly, Professor Alexander Craft’s research analyses dialectical constructions of “blackness” and performances of black cultural nationalisms in the Americas. She is interested in the ways in which twentieth and twenty-first century African-descended communities use literary and performance practices to argue for rights of citizenship and map differential terrains of “blackness.” More specifically, her research and teaching examine the relationship among colorism, nationalism, nationality, language, gender, sexuality, class, history, religion, and region in discourses of black inclusion, exclusion, representation, and belonging. Performances of black cultural nationalism such as various carnival traditions in the Americas as well as Juneteenth and Kwanzaa celebrations in the US, for example, function as rich intergenerational sites where groups rehearse, debate, revise, and disseminate the values and histories that undergird their cultural and political projects.
For the past eleven years, Alexander Craft’s research has centered on an Afro-Latin community located in the small coastal town of Portobelo, Panama who call themselves and their performance tradition “Congo.” Enacted through embodied storytelling, costumed dancing, singing, and drumming, the tradition honors the history of the cimarrones, runaway enslaved Africans who fought for and won their freedom during the Spanish colonial period. The main drama of the tradition takes place during carnival season, which peaks on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the beginning of Lent.
Alexander Craft is currently completing two manuscripts and a digital humanities project, which reflect her research. The first is an ethnographic monograph entitled When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in 20th Century Panama. The second is a novel based in part on her field research entitled My Father is a Country. Both engage the Congo tradition through fluctuating discourses of race, culture, and nationalism in Panama’s first century as a republic. Entitled “The Portobelo Digital Oral History Project,” the third is a collaborative research initiative, which seeks to respond to a call from the community for greater cultural preservation. It also addresses a need from researchers on the topic to have a better platform to share and expand upon existing research. As a collaborative interdisciplinary digital humanities initiative, it seeks to make the process and products of research more available and accessible beyond the academy—especially to the communities represented by and invested in them. The primary goals of this project are to: 1) establish a digital space for researchers to return the stories and interviews we have collected to the population most intimately connected with them; 2) foster a collaborative digital environment in which community members and researchers may share information, correct absences and errors, and create on-going dialogues related to Congo traditions and culture; 3) create a mechanism for local community members to archive and share their cultural practices and memories.