by CARMEN SIERING
Gladys DeVane, 81, is a storyteller, scriptwriter, and actor. She first learned stagecraft competing in oratorical contests as a child and acting in plays in high school and college.
“My aunt worked with me on dramatic readings—storytelling in the form of monologues,” DeVane says. “By 15 I was giving recitals all over [Oklahoma City]. I wanted to be an actress, but my mom was very practical. She said I needed to major in something that would put food on the table.”
DeVane grew up on a farm in Texas, raised by her maternal grandparents. “My mom sent me to live with my grandmother when I still just months old,” she says.
Racism in 1940s Texas was rampant. “Racism like you wouldn’t believe,” DeVane says. “Or maybe you would.” But, she says, her grandmother taught her never to be angry or vindictive. “She taught us to do what was right and told us God would take care of everything else. That has taken me a long way.”
While she was still a child, DeVane’s grandfather died and she moved to Oklahoma City to live with her mother. Her grandmother returned with her and continued to have a major inflfluence on DeVane’s life. But her mother’s advice also held sway and at college, she sought out a practical major.
DeVane attended Oklahoma State University, which had recently been integrated. “The racism wasn’t overt,” she recalls. “The students just kind of ignored us.” She graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in speech therapy and speech communication. That July, she married Gene DeVane, and shortly thereafter the two headed to Bloomington where she had been accepted into a master’s program at Indiana University. She later earned a Ph.D. in speech and hearing sciences from IU, where she taught for 38 years before retiring in 2003.
When DeVane graduated from college, she stopped acting. “Once I married, I never stepped on stage,” she says. “Then I retired and decided to really devote time to what I liked.”
DeVane has since appeared in many theatrical presentations, including starring in Cardinal Stage’s production of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years and in a Michigan summer stock performance of Raisin in the Sun.
“But I realized there weren’t very many parts for a person my age and my color,” she says. “That got me started writing storytelling for the stage. Doing this at my age, I have so much to draw from. The knowledge I’ve gained is so valuable.”
In 2016, DeVane, historian Elizabeth Mitchell, and director Danielle Bruce founded Resilience Productions, a theater company that brings little-known Black history to the stage. Being a student of history, she knows its vicissitudes, which causes her to reflflect on current political and racial tensions.
“I was saying to Gene the other day that during Reconstruction, things were looking good,” she says. “Then, it was all torn down. So, right now I’m holding my breath, hoping we won’t go through another phase of almost back to square one. I don’t think a lot of people realize how close we are to losing this democracy, as imperfect as it is.”