Sunday, March 7, 2010

Resources for Writers #8: Historical Re-enactments

     She enters from the back, wearing period costume, chatting in character voice to members of the audience as she makes her way toward the stage—bare except for an antique, quilt-draped rocking chair and a green plant. By the time she stands in front of us, she is, in our minds, Harriet Tubman, and we wait in silence for her message.
     Describing herself as “nothin’ but a little ol’ bitty slave gal”, Harriet shares her early conviction that she had two rights—to be free—and to die.
     Often called the “Moses” of her people, she returned many times to bring family members and others to “freedom land”. Though I have read about her and know her story, I still find myself holding my breath as she details her first perilous journey from the border state Maryland to Pennsylvania.
     Finally, stepping down from the stage and out of character, Ms. Wright speaks to us—and especially to the children on the front row—about the importance of meeting life’s challenges with faith, hope, courage, and love for one’s fellow man. I find myself nodding and mouthing “amen” as if I were in church and hear verbal affirmations from others around me.
     I leave smiling, and the afternoon’s experience continues to bless me as I come out of a difficult week.
     Deborah L. Wright, now of Hot Springs, AR, has been re-enacting “The Legacy of Harriet Tubman” since 1997. She is a native of Chicago and worked as a journalist in both print and television. For her column, “Children Learn to Lose Colorblindness”, she was awarded a first place  Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors Award in 1999.
     For more information, contact Ms. Wright at

     Experienced authors often advise fledgling writers to “write what you know”. A historical background can, of course, be thoroughly researched and the facts vetted, but facts are cold, lifeless entities. In order to understand a historical character or period, one must  experience it. That’s where historical re-enactments become a valuable resource for writers. Just one brief hour, such as I spent, can be the springboard for insights and emotions that will bring your written words to life.
     Check your state’s tourist bureau for information about such events. Watch your local newspaper. Go online to individual historic sites to scan their offerings.
     Thanks to my good writing friend Donna for link to reenactor.Net (
 which may point you to opportunities in your own area.  


Mary Ricksen said...

Thanks for a great informative article!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! What an experience, I love doing things like this! Here in BC and I imagine other places in Canada, we have people dressed up in period costumes in all the old Hudson Bay Forts, and re enacting the period of time that the Fort was used. It's a great way to experience that time!

Donna Alice said...

Very well written! Almost wish I'd been in the audience - le sigh.

I've been to several historical re-enactments. The boys love the Civil War battles - although they can be a little bit hard on the ears with all those guns and cannons. It's like stepping back in time - a very worthy way to spend an afternoon.

Susan Macatee said...

I agree! I actually got into a reenactment group that reenacts the American Civil War, both military and civilian. I learned so much from that experience that helped me with my CW romance novels and stories. So much so, that reviewers rave about how accurate the history feels in my books.

You have to know the little, everyday things in your historical character's life to make the readers feel they're there.

K9friend said...

I also enjoy re-enactments. When well don I definitely feel as though I've stepped into a time machine.

Anonymous said...


AnneMarie Novark said...

I don't know why I've never thought about re-enactments as a form of research.

Great article, Judy!!!