Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust”) is in pre-production on a feature documentary about the life and works of writer, culinary anthropologist, actor, and broadcast journalist, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor. Titled “Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl,” the project has been awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as part of the NEH’s mission to preserve American history and cultural heritage. It marks Dash’s first feature film since 2002’s TV movie “The Rosa Parks Story.”
Smart-Grosvenor, who died in 2016 at the age of 79, enjoyed a multifaceted career that locates her at the heart of five twentieth century movements: the Beat Literary Arts Movement, the Black Power/Black Arts Movement, New Black Cinema, and Food as Cultural Memory. She first gained attention with her 1970 book, “Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl,” referred to as an autobiographical cookbook, using her rural Allendale County, S.C. cuisine to teach the world about the contributions made by people of African descent globally.
Born in Fairfax, South Carolina, growing up in a Gullah family, Smart-Grosvenor traveled the world as editor for Elan magazine, made appearances on several television programs including the “Today” show and “Nightline,” and wrote magazine columns for Ebony, Jet, Essence, Publishers Weekly and Redbook to name a few.
She produced award-winning documentaries like 1983’s “Slave Voices: Things Past Telling,” and “Daufuskie: Never Enough Too Soon,” and went on to host NPR’s award-winning documentary series “Horizons” from 1988 until 1995, when it was discontinued.
Smart-Grosvenor, also an actress, appeared in a number of films, including Julie Dash’s own “Daughters of the Dust,” as well as “Beloved” (1998), based on Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel of the same name.
In 2012, Dash began recording interviews with Smart-Grosvenor, gathering hours of videotaped materials and transcripts that have informed the research for this film. Additionally, also to be included in the film are interviews with seminal artists like South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, poets Sonia Sanchez, Quincy Troupe and Saul Williams, and culinary writers Rafia Zafar and Jessica B. Harris.
“Vertamae’s story is important to our history and culture as well as the international artistic, intellectual and social movements of which she was an active participant,” said director Dash. “Receiving this grant only further supports the need for us to bring ‘Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl’ to audiences of all race, ethnicities and cultures.”
Produced by Rachel Watanabe-Batton and Dash, with Patricia Williams Lessane, PhD. and Juanita Anderson as co-producers, the film is being made with full support of Smart-Grosvenor’s family. Sponsors include Women Make Movies, Black Public Media, The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts.
For more information about the film, visit Travelnotesofageecheegirl.com.