The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0434  Thursday, 22 February 2001

From:           Alex Houck <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 21 Feb 2001 22:03:01 -0800
Subject:        Carl Upchurch

I just attended a lecture/dialogue with speaker Carl Upchurch and I feel
the urge to share my experience with the list.  He is an advocate for
urban youth, the niggerized, who is best known for his Gang Conference
of 1993 and his book CONVICTED IN THE WOMB.  His book chronicles his
ignorance of his personal potential, how he dropped out of school at age
nine, and wallowed in crime, he spent twenty-two years collectively in
different penitentiaries.  So, what did this urban youth from a robber
and crook into a keynote speaker that tours the country and volunteers
at juvenile halls?  Shakespeare.  While in solitary confinement,
Upchurch found a dusty copy of "The Yale Shakespeare" (a collection of
sonnets) propping up a corner of his table.  He only picked it up
because it differed from unfathomable boredom created in his grey
world.  He had no idea who Shakespeare was, the name Shakespeare meant
nothing to him--but still he read the sonnets.  As he read and re-read
he began to identify with the voice of the sonnets.  One sonnet in
particular he identified with the most, he committed it to memory, and
shared it with us.

Sonnet 29
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
 From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Upchurch identified with the "disgrace" and "bootless cries" of his
"outcast state", and through this introduction to the inspiration of
literature found his own worth.  Shakespeare put Upchurch on the path to

There have been many accounts on this list of how Shakespeare has
changed their lives, this is a case of how Shakespeare saved a life.
There is no indication that Upchurch would have survived the rest of his
term in prison, the twenty years since his release, had he not cracked
open the book that propped up his table.

So, Shakespeare marks a turning point in Upchurch's life, but it does
not stop there.  Once we have identified with the lark rising to heaven
there is then the choice of what to DO.  Do we continue to sit in our
offices and debate the significance of quarto versus folio, OR do I,
you, we, choose to share the words with those that do not know the words
exist?  Do we continue to nod at the TV as reports of police brutality
in the prisons is exposed, or do we write and march to see that change
is done?  Do we share the hope? Or do we selfishly defend our hope
against a hope of a different color?

Am I accusing anyone specifically? No, we are all at fault, because we
can always do more.  Carl Upchurch is not a perfect man, nor is he an
imperfect man.  Still, he continues to share with those who think that
they are imperfect.  I urge you to read his book, CONVICTED IN THE WOMB;
Shakespeare can go beyond the stage and academia.

Where else can you take Shakespeare?

Alex Houck
Santa Clara University

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