Women’s Theatre Festival presents Sip & Sign with LaRita Shelby at Hattiloo

Hometown talent returns to showcase her latest book – “Dictation: Plays, Poems and Monologues For African Americans.”

Tony Jones | 7/1/2015, 7:49 p.m.
Hometown talent returns to showcase her latest book – “Dictation: Plays, Poems and Monologues For African Americans.”
LaRita Shelby

Overton High School alum LaRita Shelby ventured back home this week to celebrate her bold collection “Dictation: Plays, Poems and Monologues for African Americans.”

The Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis presentation of Sip & Sign with LaRita Shelby is set for Wednesday night (July 1) from 6:30 to 8 o’clock at the Hattiloo Theatre.

Shelby’s hometown visit follows a second successful stage run of her book by the Caribbean Community Theatre on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The June 2015 St. Croix production of “Dictation” repeated an original presentation there in 2002. Shelby says the material has been presented by theatre companies in New York and Los Angeles and she’s beyond pumped to present her work to her theatre family in Memphis.

Audiences, said Shelby, have found that “Dictation” imbues the universally human impact the best theatre strives for.

“‘For African Americans’ is the sub-title but there a several passages in the book that speak to all cultures and many pieces that appeal to the general market,” she says.

Her book, Shelby says with pride, is endorsed by Dr. Irma Clanton, the founder of the legendary “Evening of Soul.”

“She was one of my childhood mentors, as well as Levi Frazier of the Blues City Cultural Center, and Karen Moore, who is the producer of the festival. Additionally, I also cannot leave out my drama teacher at Overton High School, Mrs. Barbara Turner. All these beautiful, creative people made such an impact on my life,” she said. “I have been blessed to present various versions of my work around the world (but) my roots are here in Memphis and I am proud of that.”

Shelby fondly recalls a production commission by local beauty shop owners.

“They wanted to do a main-stage production that was a little bit different from the typical fashion show, so I was inspired to write the play “Greased, Fried and Laid To The Side” and it went on to be produced in Los Angeles a couple of times. Among its original cast members were Eric Jerome Dickey, and many other talented people. So “Dictation” grew from my lifelong experiences in journalism, theater and the arts.”

Writing reaches deep into her family history.

“The first writer in our family was my grandmother’s oldest daughter, Ritta Hawkins Porter Smith. She was a graduate of Lemoyne Owen and produced several writings. Her son, Dr. Reginald Porter Sr., pastor of the Metropolitan B.C. – which will be celebrating its 119th anniversary this weekend – as well as his son, Reginald Porter Jr., and cousins Reginald and Roger Porter, are also great writers.

And, she said, the family line also includes her aunt, Mary Louise Hawkins Hale, who wrote and produced plays in the 1950s and the 1960s.

The former Miss Black Memphis, Miss Black Tennessee and Miss Black World now has credits on the IMDB entertainment database that include big and small films (Oliver Stone’s “South Central,” “Martin,” “E.R.,” “A Different World”), stage, international radio and more.