A Note from [hieroglyph] Playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza

A Note from [hieroglyph] Playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza

[hieroglyph]: an origin story

I was six years old when Patrick Sykes kidnapped & raped nine-year-old Shatoya Currie (Girl X) in apartment 504 of Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project at 1121 N. Larrabee St. He left her for dead on the seventh-floor landing. But she survived. I lived with my mother in the Marshall Field Garden Apartments, a non-governmental subsidized housing project just five minutes from Cabrini. I remember the visceral details of Shatoya’s case whispered in circles of Black mothers (including my own), aunts, grandmothers & other-mothers. I remember the sharp fear thundering through them. That fear would manifest in arming Black girls with mace, steak knives—whatever our small hands could employ against the threat of sexual violence, a terror that could visit us at any moment. Fear lived in the meticulous policing of Black girls’ attire & our budding sexual selves.

I turned fourteen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina & The Flood that devastated Crescent City. While I did not experience these disasters firsthand, many of my paternal relatives did. I learned of the horrors that transpired in the Superdome, Convention Center, shelters & self-made places of refuge. At every turn, I remain righteously angered by the denial of these experiences by former New Orleans police chief, Eddie Compass. [hieroglyph], a play whose real title is an inarticulable symbol, became the vehicle through which I attempt to talk about the unspeakable & ask how we chart the history of a feeling & the genealogies of fear & shame.

This play is for Shatoya Currie & the last childhood friends to see her before her assault, Shavontay Fluker & Shatonya Edwards. This play is for the Black women who find us & come to our aid much like Ms. T. I’m talking about the Tarie Millers, Sharon Thompsons, Mary Johnsons, & Brenda McNairs of the world. This play is for every Black girl from Chicago who grew up in the after-life of the Shatoya Currie case. Our lives are forever shaped by its haunting. This play is for girls like Davis who suffer & survive in silence. It’s for the women & girls of New Orleans who courageously tell their stories of sexual assault in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina & The Flood. This play is for Black fathers navigating their own toxic masculinity & role in perpetuating rape culture. This play is in memory of Cabrini Green, the Austin neighborhood & the Third Ward. This play is for girls like Leah, who we are slow to protect & quick to dispose of. This play is for Black women who hold the vestiges of Black girlhood joy in our muscle memory through bounce, juke parties, & other sacred Black cultural formations. It’s for the Black girl friendships & art that holds & heals us. This play is for all of the survivors. & me too.


always for the love & liberation of Black girls,

Erika Dickerson-Despenza

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