Saundra Quarterman was the only Black, woman, professionally-trained artist that would talk to me freely about her work and her process. I now recognize this as extremely precious and unusual because I am older now and have experienced many Black women artists—and, inside many feminist histories, one should be surprised about how “careful” (not intimidated) these people were to withhold.
Perhaps Saundra was so open to me (metaphysically) because we met when we were teenagers. Nevertheless, I assume that Saundra respected me—and she respected dearly her heritage. It is a tragedy—for the both of us—that Saundra is so unique.
As an actor, Saundra could have exposed a powerful revival of Nina Simone to a new generation, get the voice-acting baton passed to her from James Earl Jones in a future Star Wars movie, carried an entire franchise by replacing Leslie Jones in the latest Ghost Busters installment and start work on her epic biopic on Ida B. Wells—the world would be eagerly anticipating Saundra Quarterman.
And what is deeper is knowing that Zoe Saldana, Lupita Nyong’o and Leslie Jones would want to be Saundra’s close friend—in spite of being outclassed—because of a strange mixture of girl-like admiration and professional jealousy. As a very zealous and devout Christian, Saundra would try to reciprocate—and my guess is that only Leslie Jones would be tolerated the longest—because Saundra is a reclusive ingenious artist and few folks (even self-described Black folks) will be prepared for her ‘seasons.’
I met Saundra Quarterman in Baltimore at the NAACP ACT-SO competition in the late 1980s—just before she was off to a full scholarship at Juilliard School. I was in Baltimore as a poet—and she was there as the best young actress any of us had ever seen. She lost the competition to a boy—because, I assert to this day, they wanted to ‘encourage’ the boy. Her career, therefore, started as she self-ended it: she was not the political preference of the moment—and she is the kind of fiery and prophetic person that does not tolerate the Roman politics for too long.
Since Saundra has been so reclusive. I have already written too much about her here in public. To dial it down a bit, here are some highlights:
- Saundra taught me to think of the words spoken from the script as notes in a music chart.
- Saundra taught me that there is a theatrical place to go after Shakespeare: Anton Chekhov.
- Saundra is a badass chess player and a lifelong dog lover.
- Saundra loves to watch again and again Cate Blanchett for her “mathematical” finery.
- Saundra notes that Meryl Streep’s ferocious power began to wane after she had that baby…
- Saundra told me that all that great acting in The Deer Hunter was helped with a lot of booze—a lot of booze.
- My 20-year career as a “computer guy” started with me working as Ms. Quarterman’s assistant in the early 1990s.
I planned, by the way, to work with Saundra for the rest of my life. She’s one of a kind.