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Mr. Carla Blank

In response to:

Escaping Blackness from the March 26, 2020 issue

To the Editors:

Only in the United States is my partner, the distinguished choreographer, author, teacher, and director Carla Blank, referred to as my “white wife.” Not only was the designation used in Darryl Pinckney’s review of Thomas Chatterton Williams’s Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race [NYR, March 26] but also in The New York Times review of the same book. Mr. Williams was a guest at a party that I threw in Paris for black American and Haitian expatriates in 2015. Who is Carla Blank? Some recent activities:

Her book Storming the Old Boys’ Citadel champions two women architects, Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856–1913) and Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart (1823–1902), who both continued their careers until close to their deaths. Bethune was the first woman Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. The book was published in Montreal by Baraka Books.

The Space in Back of You, based on Kool, a collaboration between Robert Wilson and Carla and a tribute to their late collaborator Suzushi Hanayagi, was broadcast by Arte TV in France and Sundance in the US. She directed an Arab-speaking cast of Syrian and Palestinian actors in an Al-Kasaba Theatre production of Philip Barry’s 1928 play, Holiday. None of the Arab media called her that. She directed an all-Chinese cast in a production of my play Mother Hubbard. The play received praise from the Hunan Daily, circulation two million. No mention she was my “white wife.”

The film of Yuri Kageyama’s powerful choreopoem News From Fukushima, Meditation on an Under-Reported Catastrophe, just won the grand prize at the Oniros Film Awards in Italy. It is based upon the 2017 San Francisco live performances, directed by Carla.

Photos and video documentation of Carla’s young performance works appeared in the Judson Dance Theater exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2018–2019.

With all of her accomplishments, why aren’t I called Carla Blank’s black husband?

Ishmael Reed
Distinguished Professor
California College of the Arts
Oakland, California

Darryl Pinckney replies:

I have had the honor of meeting Carla Blank. I most certainly know who she is. I was referring to a passage in Thomas Chatterton Williams’s book in which he recalls an evening in Paris when he did not bring his white wife to a dinner of black artists and was surprised to find that the black men whose good opinion mattered to him would not have held his having a white wife against him. He says that David Murray was the host and Ishmael Reed one of the guests. He does not identify their wives by name. He is remembering a social situation and his own ideas about race and acceptance. It made me look for Harold Cruse’s Crisis of the Negro Intellectual and his description of a black militant group in the East Village in the early 1960s. I was interested in the historical parallel. I meant no disrespect in not stopping to name the wives who might have been present.