Patrice Rankine, who is the dean for the arts and humanities and a professor of Classics at Hope College, is among the four editors of “The Oxford Handbook of Greek Drama in the Americas,” the first such collection ever produced on the topic.
Published by Oxford University Press, the 944-page book discusses productions and interpretations of Classical Greek plays from the beginning of the 19th century through the first decade of the 21st. More than 50 authors cover plays performed all across the Americas, including Latin America, Canada and the United States. Several of the book’s chapters examine how the millennia-old plays have been adapted in the Americas to explore contemporary issues of marginalization and social justice.
“This volume seeks to define the complex and often surprising contours of the reception of ancient Greek drama in the Americas, and to articulate how these different engagements—at local, national, or trans-continental levels as well as across borders—have been distinct from each other and from those of Europe and Asia,” the co-editors note in their introduction.
In considering the productions as social commentary, the co-editors in the introduction adapt the concept of “Omni-Americans” presented by the late Albert Murray in his 1970 book “The Omni-Americans: Black Experience and American Culture.” Murray, the co-editors explain, argued that blacks were the quintessential Americans because of the way that they “embodied the struggles for freedom, equality and democracy which best encapsulate the Americas.” The editors use the idea as a point of departure to explore what the model of Omni-American might mean across class, gender and race, each group owning Greek drama and adapting it to their riff on American identity.
“In the end, what we have in ‘Greek Drama in the Americas’ is an archaeology that reveals what the Omni-American might look like,” the co-editors write. “We would expand the Omni-Americans to include all of the strivers represented in this volume because, in the end, these strivings incorporate what it might look like to be ‘American’ or to practice Greek drama in the Americas.”
In addition to co-authoring the introduction, Rankine wrote the chapter “August Wilson and Greek Drama: Blackface Minstrelsy, ‘Spectacle’ from Aristotle’s ‘Poetics,’ and ‘Radio Golf,’” and co-authored the chapters “Countee Cullen’s ‘Medea’: Daniel Banks on Adaptation and Change,” and “The Shock of Recognition: Nicholas Rudall’s Translation of Greek Drama for the Chicago Stage at Court Theatre.”
Rankine has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2013. He was previously on the Classics faculty at Purdue University for 15 years, with affiliations in the African American Studies and Research Center, comparative literature, and philosophy and literature. He was assistant head of Purdue’s School of Languages and Cultures from 2007 to 2012, and was director of the university’s Interdisciplinary Program in Classics from 2004 to 2007.
He completed his doctorate in Classical literature at Yale University in 1998 with his dissertation on Seneca’s tragedies. He has since developed interdisciplinary interests in African American literature and the reception of the Classics among black American authors.
He is the author of the books “Aristotle and Black Drama: A Theater of Civil Disobedience” (2013, Baylor University Press) and “Ulysses in Black: Ralph Ellison, Classicism, and African American Literature” (2006, University of Wisconsin Press), the latter of which was named one of “Choice” magazine’s outstanding academic books in 2007. His publications also include numerous articles, book chapters and book reviews. In addition, he has made more than four dozen scholarly talks at professional conferences and in other settings.
Rankine co-edited “The Oxford Handbook of Greek Drama in the Americas” with Kathryn Bosher, an assistant professor of Classics at Northwestern University; Fiona Macintosh, director of the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama and professor in Classical reception at the University of Oxford; and Justine McConnell, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Oxford. The book is dedicated in memory of Bosher, who died of cancer at age 38 in March 2013, while it was still in process. The idea for the book developed from a conference that Bosher organized at Northwestern University in 2010 for the Sawyer Seminar, “Theater after Athens: Reception and Revision of Ancient Greek Drama.”