Renée Alexander Craft
Professor/Director of Outreach and Public Engagement (Communication and Curriculum in Global Studies)
Area of Study: Performance and Cultural Studies
BA (English literature) and MA (Communication Studies), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
PhD (Performance Studies), Northwestern University
Postdoctoral Fellow (Communication Studies), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
For over twenty years, Alexander Craft’s research and creative projects have centered on an Afro-Latin community located in the small coastal town of Portobelo, Panama who call themselves and their carnival performance tradition “Congo.” She has completed a manuscript, digital humanities project, and novel that reflect this focus. The first is an ethnographic monograph titled When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in 20th Century Panama, which was awarded the 2017 American Society of Theatre Research Errol Hill Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship in African American theatre, drama, and/or performance studies. The second project, titled Digital Portobelo: Art + Scholarship + Cultural Preservation (digitalportobelo.org), is an interactive online collection of ethnographic interviews, photos, videos, artwork, and archival material that illuminate the rich culture and history of Portobelo, Panama. Digital Portobelo was initiated through an inaugural 2013-2014 UNC Digital Innovations Lab/Institute for the Arts and Humanities Fellowship and supported by an inaugural 2016 Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship. The third is a novel titled The Part of Me That’s Mine, which was inspired by her Portobelo-based research as well as her experiences growing up in a Black funeral home family in North Carolina. The Part of Me That’s Mine is represented by Beth Marshea, owner and lead agent of The Ladderbird Literary Agency. In addition to these Portobelo-centered projects, Alexander Craft co-edited The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performancewith Kathy A. Perkins, Sandra L. Richards, and Thomas F. DeFrantz. She is currently working on an edited manuscript and digital humanities project titled “Patacones, Paint Brushes, and Power: Historicizing an African Diaspora Arts Collective at the Crossroads of the Americas.”
Broadly, Alexander Craft’s research and teaching examine the relationship among sociohistorical constructions of Blackness, Black cultural performance, and discourses of Black inclusion and exclusion within a hemispheric American framework. With an intersectional approach attentive to class, colorism, nationalism, nationality, language, gender, sexuality, history, religion, and region, her research reflects an interest in the following questions: How has Blackness come to mean what it does in discrete countries of the Americas? How have African descended communities used the power of creativity and imagination to build community, preserve culture, inspire collective action in the service of social justice, and call new futures into being by troubling the fault lines of structural domination?
Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2022University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
American Society for Theatre Research Errol Hill Award, 2017
Alexander Craft received this award for her manuscript When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in Twentieth-Century Panama. The award is given in recognition of outstanding scholarship in African American theatre, drama, and/or performance studies.
Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship, 2016
Receipt of an inaugural Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship allowed Alexander Craft to the expand Digital Portobelo: Arts + Scholarship + Cultural Preservation. Specifically, she used the fellowship to conduct a pilot intergenerational oral history project in the community.
UNC Digital Innovations Lab/Institute for the Arts and Humanities Fellowship, 2013
This fellowship allowed Alexander Craft and her team to digitize initial materials, and build the prototype for Digital Portobelo.
In addition to the Portobelo-focused projects, Alexander Craft received a Durham Arts Council Ella Pratt Emerging Artist Fellowship in 2013 for I Will Love You Everywhere Always, a children’s book dedicated to helping children cope with death and loss.
Books & Chapters (Completed):
Alexander Craft, Renée. 2015. When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in 20th Century Panama. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press. (January 2015)
Alexander Craft, Renée. 2014. “How does it feel to be a problem?”: Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe’s Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of Academic Clarity and Inclusion” in Solo/Black/Woman: Performing Global Traditions and Local Interventions, edited by E. Patrick Johnson and Ramon H Rivera-Servera, 167-184. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.
Books & Chapters (In Process):
Alexander Craft, Renée. She Looks Like Us: A Novel
She Looks Like Us is a patchwork quilt of two fictional middle-class Black Diaspora families—one situated in the southern US and the other located on the Caribbean coast of the Republic of Panama. It draws heavily on my ethnographic research with the Congo community of Portobelo, Panama as well as my experiences of growing up in a Black Southern “funeral home” family in Charlotte, NC.
Edited Books (In Process):
Kathy A. Perkins, Sandra L. Richards, Renée Alexander Craft, and Thomas F. DeFrantz, eds. The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance. London; New York: Routledge. (forthcoming).
Alexander Craft, Renée. 2017. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. 19 (1): 91-107.
Alexander Craft, Renée and Pam Lach. 2016. “Staging Digital Portobelo: Humanities Scholarship, Digital Tools, and Collaboration as Acts of Persistent Translation.”
Public: A Journal of Imagining America. 3(2) http://public.imaginingamerica.org/