The prodigal daughter returns

This week Emily Sahakian ’02 stepped on to the Grinnell campus for the first time in ten years.  After graduating with majors in French and Theater, the newly hired professor returns to her alma mater as an alumni scholar to deliver a lecture entitled “Theatre and Memory of Slavery in the French Caribbean: Ina Césaire’s ‘Rosanie Soleil.’”

Alumni A.J Morey ’73 and David Hechler ’72 put the finishing touches on the Activism at Grinnell exhibit in Burling Basement this week. Photograph by Roni Finkelstein

“When I first saw that campus I got really emotional; my heart started beating and then memories came back to me,” Sahakian said.
Sahakian, a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, completed a dual Ph.D. with Northwestern University and the l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Her dissertation, “French Caribbean Women’s Theatre: Trauma, Slavery, and Transcultural Performance,” discusses how theatre dramatizes cultural memory and how narratives of trauma are translated through intercultural performance.

The lecture was given this past Tuesday, April 3, in ARH 305.  Sahakian began with a piece of advice for all Grinnell students, which was also relevant to her topic of research.

“Often there are things that we’re learning long before we know that we know them,” she said.

Shahakian addressed the way in which slavery was essentially evaded in French Caribbean history and how theater has worked to reestablish a connection between the French Caribbean people and their local history of slavery in the end of the 20th century.

“Through a focus on Ina Césaire’s ‘Rosanie Soleil,’ our ‘Fire’s Daughter,’ I will argue that Césaire used theater to remedy the problematic practices by which slavery was remember and forgotten at the time of the play’s writing,” Sahakian said.

Sitting in the audience were three of the professors from her time at Grinnell who had a major impact on her education.

“A lot of [my professors] are still here.  There are three professors that I’ve kind of kept in contact with who I really learned a lot from,” Sahakian said. “They are Jan Gross, David Harrison and Ellen Meese, and they are all here.”

Both French speakers and non-French speakers enjoyed the hour-long lecture and had the opportunity to ask Sahakian questions afterward.  Earlier in the day, the scholar also visited the French 331 class, which has discussed Ina Césaire’s work in class.