On Sunday, July 25 at 4 p.m. Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre (CCTC/HJT) will host a book signing and selected reading on the new outdoor stage with Harwich authors Pamela Chatterton-Purdy and Rev. Dr. David A. Purdy and their new book “Adoption in Black and White.”
The Purdys' story starts with a mixed-race family involved in the Civil Rights Movement and continues with their ever-deepening sensitivity to racism and their appreciation of their special family. Harwich Junior Theatre played an important role in their lives.
Pamela and David adopted Ronald, their first Black son, at the age of 3 in 1971. He joined the family's two biological daughters, five-year-old Kristen and two-year-old Jessica. The Purdys began the process of adopting their second son in 1975. Hoang Quan Nguyen was part Black and part Vietnamese, and he came to the United States on the “babylift” at the end of the Vietnam war. At that point a friend suggested that Chatterton-Purdy start to keep a diary so the family would have a journal of the struggles and joys of their growing mixed race family.
“I will always be grateful that I did,” Chatterton-Purdy said.
The diary often helped her maintain her perspective when things became challenging. Eventually the diary led to a book, “Beyond the Babylift: A Story of an Adoption,” published in 1987 by Abingdon Press. The book began with the arrival of Hoang Quan Nguyen. The new version, “Adoption in Black and White,” is a fuller and updated version of the struggle to become an integrated family.
When the new version of the book was finished, Chatterton-Purdy called CCTC/HJT Producing Artistic Director Nina Schuessler to ask if she would be interested in reading it.
“I said yes,” Schuessler said. “She sent me a copy and it really touched my heart and brought me back to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and '70s.”
Schuessler has fond memories of the Purdy family at HJT.
“It was a family affair,” she said. “They have deep roots in the theater and continue to be supportive to this day. I remember Ron Purdy playing Thorin in 'The Hobbit.' He was marvelous in a full beard. They are a wonderful family and I know they have kept up with the many friendships which originated through the theater.”
In one excerpt from the book, Chatterton-Purdy describes the family's connection to the theater.
“Summers at the Harwich Junior Theatre became an oasis away from the racism of the suburbs!” Chatterton-Purdy writes. “Kids of all backgrounds, Cape Verdean, black and white, all participated in building sets and acting in plays! One summer Jessica was cast in the lead role of 'Snow White.' Kristen, Ron and Stephen were cast in a wonderful play, 'Emil and the Detectives.'"
Schuessler describes the book as a heartrending, inspiring, and complex story about a family and the courage of their convictions. She said that she talked with Chatterton-Purdy about the atmosphere in the country today and how the book resonates in the current environment.
“We need to make racism wrong once and for all,” Schuessler said. “We need to take direct action to foster a sense of belonging in our theater. To that end we have established an anti-racism task force that Tammy Harper has facilitated through Theater for Young Audiences.”
“Adoption in Black and White” is available at chatterton-purdyart.com under “books” and may be ordered on Amazon.