by JULIE GRAY
The subjects of many of the poems, essays, and plays in Gladys DeVane’s inspiring new collection, Come Sit with Me: Life in Poetry, Prose and Plays (Jewell Jordan Publishing), are risk-taking, crusading women. DeVane dedicates the book to the two strong, influential women who raised her: her grandmother and mother. The book’s winning illustrations are by local artist Danielle Bruce, a frequent collaborator of DeVane’s.
DeVane herself is not afraid of change or challenges. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees at Indiana University, where she taught for 38 years in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences and at the Kelley School of Business.
After retiring from IU in 2003, she pursued a new direction, plunging into theater and writing. She has appeared in stage productions, storytelling events, and staged readings with the Bloomington Playwrights Project and Cardinal Stage, among others. She also co-founded the theater company Resilience Productions.
The spirit of sisterhood, as well as of social activism, inspired the creation of many of DeVane’s pieces. For example, in 2018, she helped the City of Bloomington celebrate what would have been the 105th birthday of Rosa Parks. DeVane, dressed as Parks and accompanied by Mayor John Hamilton and other City officials, rode a city bus to the newly renovated transit center, where she delivered an account of Parks’ famous 1955 Montgomery bus ride to a large audience that included teachers and schoolchildren.
Her book also contains essays about her own life. In one she describes the battle she fought on behalf of her oldest son, who was born in 1969 with intellectual and physical challenges. Doctors informed her that her son might eventually have to be institutionalized. “Over my dead body,” she told the doctors.
Like Rosa Parks and the other defiant women DeVane has written about, she did not bow to authorities. She fought to ensure her son got the education and services he needed. Today, he has a job and lives independently in a house with other men.
The story of DeVane’s advocacy for her own son makes her theatrical pieces about the grief of enslaved mothers whose children are sold to distant landowners even more poignant and devastating. Try as they might, these 19th–century women faced an entrenched system they could not surmount. Fortunately, we have creators like DeVane who preserve the memory of their struggles to inspire us all to push forward for even more and greater changes.
Come Sit with Me is available at jewelljordanpublishing.com and digitally on Amazon.