Barbara Seyda

Celia, a Slave: 26 Characters Testify
By Barbara Seyda

Celia, a Slave was selected as the ninth winner of the coveted Yale Drama Series Prize by playwright Nicholas Wright. It is a stunning theatrical tableau of interviews with the dead that interweaves oral histories with official archival records. Powerful, poetic, and stylistically bold, this work foregrounds twenty‑three diverse characters to recall the events that led to the hanging of nineteen‑year‑old Celia, an African American slave convicted in a Missouri court of murdering her master, the prosperous landowner Robert Newsom, in 1855. Seyda bears witness to racial and sexual violence in U.S. history, illuminating the brutal realities of female slave life in the pre–Civil War South while exploring the intersection of rape, morality, economics, and gender politics that continue to resonate today.

"My reason for rating the play so highly was the thick lump of pain that it placed in my chest and that I carried around with me for days afterwards. It was a completely primitive and intuitive reaction to the tragedy of the story and to the whole of life, in a way."
-- Nicholas Wright, Playwright and 2015 YDS Judge

“A fantastic play hurtling from its first phrase toward an inevitable climax.” 
Niegel Smith, theater director and performance artist

“This play is invasive—in the best and worst way. A soulful offering."
-- Sekou Laidlow, actor

“Powerful, important and ambitious."
-- Martha Pichey, playwright

Published by Yale University Press 2016

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