|Playwright Lori Matthews|
I was born and raised in Kingsport, Tennessee. When I was a kid, I thought everyone in the world worked for Tennessee Eastman Company; everyone in my world did. TEC’s workforce came from a six-county area in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Over 12,000 men and women worked shifts that kept the plant in constant operation, primarily producing chemicals and plastics.
Both my parents, my grandfathers and three of my uncles were on shifts at 4:45 p.m. on October 4, 1960. My mother, Mae Taylor Tate, was a secretary in the personnel office. My father, James Tate, worked shift work in the TEC asbestos division. The aniline building explosion has been part of the oral history of my family for my entire life. When my mother talked to me about it, she often prefaced her comments with, “In October, before you born. . . .” I’m grateful for the vivid picture she offered and for the many members of my large extended family who have, over the past fifty years, told me their versions of the evening. However, this play is a fictionalized account based on true events. No character is intended to represent any actual person, living or dead.
In an earlier form, October, Before I was Born received readings and workshops through Wisconsin Wrights and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Montgomery Davis New Play Development Series. Those opportunities have been instrumental in bringing the work to the stage. I am humbled by the amount of time and talent made available to me in support of this play, and I am grateful to all the actors, directors, readers, designers, and support staff who have contributed to the process. However, I would like to specifically and especially acknowledge the helpful influence of Jacque Troy and C. Michael Wright, whose early encouragement and advice moved the script from rough draft to finished product.
The impact from the aniline explosion damaged many homes and businesses in Kingsport. Sixteen men died, and more than 300 workers suffered injuries from the blast. Thousands of people displayed acts of courage and selflessness.
With respect for all those affected—