Sandra Seaton

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Sandra Seaton
Born Columbia, Tennessee, United States
Occupation Playwright, librettist
Alma mater University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
Notable works The Bridge Party, The Will, Music History, From The Diary of Sally Hemings
Notable awards Mark Twain Award
Spouse James Seaton

Sandra Cecelia Seaton is an American playwright and librettist.[1] She received the Mark Twain Award from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature in 2012.[2][3] Seaton taught creative writing and African-American literature at Central Michigan University for 15 years as a professor of English.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Seaton was born in Columbia, Tennessee, to Albert Sampson Browne, Jr. and Hattye Evans, both teachers. [1]After Seaton's parents divorced, her mother remarried and the family moved to Chicago’s West Side in 1949. Seaton's grandmother, Emma Louish Evans, often performed at amateur minstrel shows and had a strong influence on her granddaughter's work. Evans gave Seaton a deep pride in the work of Flournoy Miller, a family member, who wrote the book for the pioneering all black musical Shuffle Along in 1921.[1] Seaton graduated from Farragut High School in Chicago and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in Arts and Letters (Creative Writing). At Illinois, she studied with John Frederick Nims, George Scouffas, and Webster Smalley. She earned a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Michigan State University. Seaton is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

She married James Seaton, a professor of English at Michigan State University; the couple has four children.[1]


Seaton is the author of 10 plays, the libretto for a solo opera, a spoken-word piece, and short fiction. Ruby Dee, Adilah Barnes, Kim Staunton, Michele Shay and Linda Gravatt appeared in a 1998 production of her first play, The Bridge Party, at the University of Michigan, a work inspired by local events.[4][5] The play is anthologized in Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women (1998).[1] Seaton's literary works have been featured by the Michigan State University in their Michigan Writers Series.[6]

Seaton wrote the libretto for the solo opera From the Diary of Sally Hemings (2001) for the composer William Bolcom.[7] The fictional work is a depiction of the innermost thoughts of Sarah “Sally” Hemings, an enslaved woman of mixed race who is believed to have had a sexual relationship with Thomas Jefferson. Bolcom asked Seaton to create "diary" entries that would provide the text for his song cycle From The Diary of Sally Hemings. Seaton spent over a year doing research to create a "diary" that would be historically plausible. As David Lewman pointed out in an article on Seaton’s libretto, "It was a challenge. Though there is voluminous material on Jefferson and his period, there are no surviving examples of writing by Sally Hemings."[8] The work was commissioned by mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar, who sang the piece at the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium,[9] the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan,[10] and the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco,[11] and other similar venues. In 2010, soprano Alyson Cambridge performed From the Diary of Sally Hemings at Carnegie Hall.[12]

Seaton has continued to explore the relationship between Sally Hemings and the third president in two plays, Sally, a solo play, and A Bed Made in Heaven, a multi-character play. Sally premiered in 2003 at the New York State Writers Institute featuring Zabryna Guevara.[2] Seaton’s play The Will, the story of an African-American family in Tennessee during Reconstruction, was performed in Idlewild, Michigan, the historic black resort, in 2008 as part of an event that focused on the connections between African-American culture and classical music. The character of Patti was inspired by the life of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, the African-American opera singer of the Civil War era.

Seaton’s comedy Martha Stewart Slept Here, set in an Indiana trailer park, premiered in 2008 [13] and Estate Sale, a comedy set in a Cleveland suburb, in 2011.[14] Music History, a play about African-American college students at the University of Illinois, SNCC, and the struggle for civil rights, was the focus of a 2010 symposium at Michigan State University on the ability of drama to illuminate issues of racial and social justice.[15] Seaton is also the author of "Betty Price and George Nelson, Spreading the News about Modern Design", which appeared in Modernism magazine.[16]

Seaton taught creative writing and African-American literature at Central Michigan University for 15 years as a professor of English.[2]



  • The Bridge Party (1989)[6]
  • The Will (1994)
  • Do You Like Philip Roth? (2001)
  • Room and Board (2002)
  • Sally (2003)[6]
  • A Bed Made In Heaven (2005)
  • Martha Stewart Slept Here (2008)
  • A Chance Meeting (2009)
  • Music History (2010)
  • Estate Sale (2011)
  • The Lookout (2013)
  • Black for Dinner (2014)

Other genres

  • "Nightsong" [short story], Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review (Winter 1989)
  • King: A Reflection on the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (2005). Spoken word with choral accompaniment.
  • Libretto: From The Diary of Sally Hemings (2000), CD: White Pine Music (2010). Score: Hal Leonard (2011)


  • Annual Emma Lou Thornbrough Lecture, IUPUI and Butler University, November 2008 [17]
  • Inaugural writer-in-residence, Michigan State University College of Law 2010-11 [6]
  • Mark Twain Award from The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. 2012[18]
  • Theodore Ward Prize [19]
  • Residencies: Yaddo [20] and Ragdale [21] artist colonies.


  1. ^ a b c d e Seaton, Sandra, The Bridge Party. Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women. In Kathy A. Perkins and Judith L. Stephens(eds), Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1998, 318–65.
  2. ^ a b c d "Sandra Seaton". Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Latest...". SSML.Org. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  4. ^ Potter, Christopher. "A Bid for Respect", The Ann Arbor News, May 1, 1998.
  5. ^ "The bridge party' inspired by local woman's family's stories", Michigan State University, January 25, 2000.
  6. ^ a b c d "MSU LAW LAUNCHES WRITER IN RESIDENCE PROGRAM WITH PLAYWRIGHT SANDRA SEATON". Law.MSU.Edu. April 19, 2010. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  7. ^ Bolcom, William. "A Preface to From the Diary of Sally Hemings", Michigan Quarterly Review, XL.4. 611–12.
  8. ^ LAS News, 2003. Retrieved March 5, 2013.
  9. ^ Baker, Wendi L. "Work Premiered at Library of Congress", The Morning Sun, April 2, 2001.
  10. ^ "Seaton’s song cycle makes in-state debut", Central Michigan Life, February 1, 2002. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "Clef Notes / A month of the Bay Area's best orchestral and vocal music", San Francisco Chronicle, April 2, 2001. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
  12. ^ performance by Alyson Cambridge, From the Diary of Sally Hemings at Carnegie Hall. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  13. ^ "Alt-drama explosion". Lansing City August 19, 2009. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  14. ^ "THEATRE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE BOX" (PDF). Renegade Theatre Festival.Org. August 18, 2011. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Then play on". Lansing City November 10, 2010. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  16. ^ Seaton, Sandra. "Betty Price and George Nelson: Spreading the News about Modern Design." Modernism. 14.3 (Fall 2011): 38-45.
  17. ^ "Sandra C. Seaton to Deliver Thornbrough Lecture". H-Net.Org. November 14, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  18. ^ Castanier, Bill,"A Playwright’s Work is Never Done", City Pulse, May 9, 2012.
  19. ^ Bao, Bob, "Sandra Seaton: Sally Hemings’ Mind", MSU Alumni Magazine (Spring/Summer 2001).
  20. ^ "Artists' Web Site Links". Yaddo.Org. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Writers - Play/Screenwriting - O-Z". Ragdale.Org. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Humphries-Barker, Dedria. "Civility in the Writing of Sandra Seaton", Muses (Michigan State University College of Arts and Letters), Fall, 2001.
  • Junkin, Patricia. "Sandra Browne Seaton: Nationally acclaimed Playwright and Librettist", Historic Maury, XLVII.2: 4-7.
  • Young, Patricia. "African American Women Playwrights Confront Violence: A Critical Study of Nine Dramatists." McFarland Publishing, 2012. [1]

External links[edit]