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Dr. Shirlene Holmes
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Shirlene Holmes

Shirlene Holmes is from Queens, New York. She holds a B.A. in English from York College of the City University of New York, and M.F.A. in Theatre/Playwriting and a doctorate in Speech from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She is certified in a major and minor in African American Studies, and teaches courses for both GSU's Communication and African American Studies Departments. Her areas of specialty are solo drama, creative writing, and storytelling. She has received recognition for her creative writing, performances, and work with students. Her play, "A Lady and A Woman", was presented at Wichita State University in the Spring of 1997. This play was also presented by American Theatre Project in Washington, D.C., and appears in Amazon All Start, a drama anthology edited by Rosemary Keefe Curb, and published by Applause Books in 1996. Professor Holmes' play, "Conversation with a Diva," had a successful run at Actors Theatre of Washington in 1996. Her most recent works include, "Tray and Deborah" at Neighborhood Playhouse in May of 1998, and "Robert: Presenting Myself" at GSU's Alumni Hall Theatre in February 1999.

Shirlene Holmes, a prolific playwright and associate professor at Georgia State University, is proof that Irish bards come in all forms. Her play "Dark Irish" follows two women on their quest for identity.

Longtime friend Kathleen Ferguson Frandsen collaborated with Holmes on the piece, and the two will appear on stage together in their celebration of connections and self-discovery.

"For me personally, 'Dark Irish' comes from a running joke," said Holmes. "Back in the early '80s, I met a theater professional named Kathleen Ferguson in New York. When we met, she was intrigued by my name. 'That's an Irish name,' she said. And I replied, 'Yes, I'm Dark Irish.' She said, 'I'm Dark Irish, too.' It was a funny kind of joke because I'm African-American, but she's dark because of her dark hair and dark eyes, which is what is usually perceived as being 'Dark Irish.' I was making a bit of a funny, and that funny has grown into a 20-year friendship."

Identity is the key to the friendship that was formed between Holmes and Ferguson. They've spent much of their time together discussing Celtic identity and female identity.

"We both have this Irish ancestry," said Holmes. "Of course, mine's about three generations back, with my great-grandmother, and hers is with her parents. But we've been talking about Celtic lineage and how ironic it is. I was raised African-American, but somehow the 'green,' if you will, has always been around. I'm a black girl with two Irish names, which makes me very interesting and very much American. How do I deal with that? My name doesn't reflect who I really am, or does it? I don't know."

This kind of discourse led the two women to create a performance piece where two females talk about identity, with the goal of opening a dialogue among audience members. The Sunday matinee will be followed by a forum for people to talk about anything that the play inspires in them.

Holmes said that she would like her audience to take away from the play a celebration of diversity. "Kathleen and I would want them to say, 'Hmm… ain't that something: Two different women have many similarities!'"

"Dark Irish" is hardly the first play Holmes has had performed. On the whole, she says, her work has been devoted to the marginalized voice. She writes about lesbian mothers, martyred wives, and often about those who are marginalized by their sexual orientation. Often, says Holmes, she tries to write in the tradition of African-American playwrights before her who wanted to write about something serious.

"I write a lot about women," she said. "I write a lot about African-Americans because we are so interesting, and that's my perspective. It's how my ear is tuned. I write the stories down that I hear, that I read about in the paper. I want to write something that's going to speak to the community. That's what my work does. That's what this project is about."






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