Students and faculty compose for “Iola Leroy” concert

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Communiversity is an online course run by English professor and Associate Chair of the Department of English Jennifer Camden. Camden said this course is offered during the first semester of every year at the University of Indianapolis. With this course, she said there are events run by different departments who all give a 45 minute presentation about the book. 

Camden said that “Iola Leroy” is the seventh novel in the Communiversity series. She said this novel is set during the Civil War through the reconstruction process. Iola Leroy was raised white, and only after her father’s death did she learn that she has African American blood, Camden said. The book, she said, follows Leroy through the decision between embracing her new heritage and facing adversity and racism, or keeping her secret with the threat of discovery. 

“Iola Leroy” has themes such as racism, freedom, the struggle of African Americans, the Civil War and the emancipation process, Camden said. Because of the time period, she said, a drop of African American blood made her Black, even though she presented as Caucasian. Camden said she wanted to bring light to this novel because of its themes. 

“I’d read ‘Iola Leroy’ in graduate school, and I thought it was certainly timely to bring a novel to communiversity written by an African American woman, for a long time thought to be the first published novel by a Black woman until Henry Louis Gates Jr. found the Hannah Craft narrative, and a novel that’s really centrally concerned with race and racism,” Camden said. “So it seemed like the right time for that novel and that conversation.”

Camden said her colleagues throughout Shaheen College are willing to partner up and work on this project with her. Professor of Music John Berners said that last year they had started talking about doing a concert for this novel. 

Camden said that it is more than just the Music Department that helps out. Other departments that helped with “Iola Leroy” are the History, Philosophy and Religion and Art and Design departments. Camden said the Art and Design students make letterpress works for each of the novels. 

Berners said that the concert had 10 pieces of music which are all composed by student or faculty composers. He said some student composers took general themes, while others took Civil War themes of the battles and hardships. 

“One student did his own contemporary arrangement of a spiritual that related, it was a spiritual ‘Let My People Go’ which, of course, relates beautifully to slavery and emancipation theme,” Berners said. 

Berners said that his students are both composers and wonderful performers. The pieces written by students were performed by other students and faculty members to make a beautiful concert for the novel, he said. 

Camden said this novel is about celebrating Leroy’s new heritage and the challenges her and her brother face because of it. It also talks about how they overcome those challenges, she said.

“I think it’s part of the work that we do in English to and in the humanities right to understand our past as part of being good citizens, good humans as part of informing our decision making for the future,” Camden said.

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