CrossTalk: DC Reflects on Identity and Difference

The Folger was excited to build from the success of CrossTalk: DC Reflects on Identity and Difference, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and launched an institution-wide community engagement initiative, CrossTalk DC, through programming from our community partners and Folger events. 


CrossTalk: DC Reflects on Identity and Difference was a community engagement initiative that brought disparate publics together to think about race and religion thoughtfully and deeply, through the lens of literature and history. 

Two theatre pieces started us off: 

  • The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s play of justice, prejudice and betrayal among Jews and Christians, probably written in 1596, and
  • District Merchants, a retelling of The Merchant of Venice set in post-Civil War DC, this world-premiere piece, commissioned by the Folger Shakespeare Library, juxtaposed the experiences of two DC merchants: a newly emancipated Black man and an immigrant Jew.

The Folger, along with partner organizations across the city, brought together people of all ages, races, religions, professions, and lives - including community and religious leaders, scholars and educators - to talk "across," using both plays as a catalyst for dialogue. Folks gathered at the Folger and at our partner organizations to consider two basic questions that remain pivotal to our lives today: How do racial and religious identities foster both tolerance and polarization? What are the grounds of personal and cultural identity?

Why CrossTalk?

Tamir Rice. Laquan McDonald. San Bernardino. University of Missouri. Freddie Gray. Charleston. Sandra Bland.

Across this country, the issue of race and religion has divided us, just as much as they have served to unite us. Here in Washington, DC, we are a city divided, in particular, by race. The idea behind this project is timely, even urgent, as we struggle to find the words that will help us frame and communicate our deep feelings surrounding race and religion.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is a multi-faceted DC institution literally built on Shakespeare, a man whose plays have forcefully addressed the most troubling aspects of being human - and of being different - for almost 400 years.

CrossTalk DC kicked off with a public forum on May 15, 2016, where we explored how "us vs. them" becomes "all of us." Listen to stories. Tell your own. CrossTalk is the place where change begins.




CrossTalk DC Partners






This program is one part of a nation-wide initiative, Humanities in the Public Square, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and aimed at fostering meaningful dialogue in communities about the most pressing issues of the day. Discussions about race, democracy, and citizenship, to name a few, are happening around the country. NEH believes that the perspectives of the humanities - history, literature, philosophy - can be brought to bear on our current challenges and help us better understand the context and complexity of the issues.

CrossTalk was part of The Wonder of Will, a Folger celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare through exhibitions, performances, special events, and more—at the Folger, online, and across the United States.