I’ve thrown my planned post out of the window today to highlight the amazing book that accompanies sell-out Broadway success Hamilton. It’s a book that tells the story of how the musical came to exist; shares insights from cast and political pundits alike; and spells out a stark, clear message about the historical prominence of protest, rebellion and revolution in the political legacy of the United States.
Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence attended ‘Hamilton’ yesterday (Saturday 19th November 2016), and it provided an immediate cause for regret and a public relations mess. Or it was a handy distraction away from Trump’s begrudging settlement in the Trump University lawsuit and the fact that he sent Ivanka Trump to sit in on a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister. You decide. Either way, the positive thing to take way from this is the way that the cast behaved in these difficult circumstances, and the graceful but powerful message that they sent out:
Brandon Victor Dixon, speaking for the cast as a whole, read out a statement to Pence:
“We are the diverse America, who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf of all of us.”
VP-Elect Mike Pence is, of course, now infamous and rightly reviled for his position on LGBTQ* conversion therapy and HIV:
“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” [Source]
For reference, the Ryan White Care Act was the largest federally funded program for people living with HIV or AIDS. It was named in honour of an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS when being treated for haemophilia. You can find out more on the HRSA website.
This week I wanted to use the Sunday Non-Fiction Spotlight to highlight Hamilton: The Revolution, affectionately known by its authors as the #Hamiltome. This isn’t your usual publicity book that you might get after seeing a museum exhibition or a stageshow. Instead it contains an enormous amount of personal insight from the show’s creator Miranda. This can be found, in particular, in the form of hundreds of funny, personal footnotes that accompany the full text of the musical. The book also tells the story of how the show came about, and features accounts from other people involved. Physically, it is a beautifully put together book, full of glossy photographs and with deckle-edging to lend an aged quality. I’d always called this ‘rough-cut’ edging, but who am I to argue with Wikipedia?
Interestingly, Hamilton also tries to place the show within a political and historical context. Drawing on the legacy of political revolution and protest that defies the type of regimes that are home to people like Pence, Lin-Manuel Miranda demonstrates that the best stories, the most important and rewarding stories, are about the outsiders and the fighters; the people who take chances and bring change to a world that would otherwise see them silenced. He reflects on the continued importance of protest and defiance in all forms, be it tried and tested political protest of old or newer socio-cultural statements for the twenty-first century.
In the list of recommended reading below I’ve included other non-fiction books on the history and continued relevance of protest in the US. There’s also the specific biography of Alexander Hamilton that seems to have been part of the inspiration for the musical. Finally there are two books from two American radicals, one from history and one actively campaigning now; Henry David Thoreau, most famous for Walden, and Micah White, most famous for ‘Occupy Wall Street.’
If, like me, you’re in the UK and desperately want to see the musical then don’t worry- ‘Hamilton’ is coming to London’s West End in October 2017. It will open at the Victoria Palace Theatre, currently undergoing renovations. More information is available on the BBC website.
Other non-fiction books that I recommend this week:
Zoe Trodd – American Protest Literature (anthology)
Ron Chernow – Alexander Hamilton
Henry David Thoreau – Civil Disobedience
Micah White – The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution