Travel Notes of A Geechee Girl

Through a narrative blend of first person storytelling, archival images and sound, contemporary landscapes and settings, and dramatic evocations of historical moments, this hybrid documentary explores the Lowcountry community and culture that framed Vertamae Smart Grosvenor’s creative work, and the powerful relationships that informed her storied career. It powerfully situates Grosvenor’s story within the context of Gullah Geechee history and culture, southern race relations, and the international artistic, intellectual, and social movements of which she was an active participant.

Grosvenor’s story will come to life through her own unique storytelling style, as well as the voices of those who know her and those who have been influenced and informed by her work. Her culinary recipes for both food and living will punctuate this narrative, in conjunction with images and sounds from the various locales she experienced throughout her life.

Written and Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Julie Dash, Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, chronicles the life and work of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, whose unconventional life-journeys and multifaceted career 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. Writer, culinary anthropologist, actor, griot, broadcast journalist, grandmother, and citizen of the world —there is no singular definition for this Gullah-Geechee woman who was described by The Lowcountry Weekly as an “infinitely creative, cosmopolitan woman with the soul of a poet and the fortitude of a soldier.”

The Film

Migration Narratives


“We descendants of Africans enslaved in the Lowcountry have intrigued scholars and anthropologists for more than a century. They call us Gullah, but we call we-self Geechees...” - Vertamae Smart, Hampton County, SC, circa 1939  

The Beat Generation

Verta Kali, Beat Hotel, Paris, France, circa 1958

“If you can’t be free, be a mystery” – Riva Dove

In Paris, Vertamae changes her name to Kali, “The Black One”, in honor of the Hindu Goddess who represents her newfound sense of empowerment. At the Beat Hotel she finds a colony of expat artists and writers — including the Scottish folk singer Alex Campbell, the French painter Lucien Fleury, and American writers Jonathan Kozol, Herbert Kohl, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg. She will also meet and marry sculptor Robert Grosvenor. Verta Kali Smart begins to write articles about life at the Beat Hotel for the Left Bank This Month, a short-lived publication she produces for American visiting Paris.


Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, Lower East Side, New York, circa 1965
Bob and Vertamae Grosvenor return to the United States and settle in New York, where Smart-Grosvenor finds herself in the center of two American cultural movements. She also bears two children, hosts parties for artists, intellectuals, and SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; she pursues her goal of actng, and gets divorced. By 1963, Grosvenor embarks on a new journey that takes her across the country and the ocean once again, as a costume designer and sun-goddess for Sun-Ra’s mystical Arkestra.

Black Cinema Movement

Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, 1971

Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, this renaissance child of the Lowcountry becomes the inspiration for Toni Cade Bambara’s play, “The Johnson Girls”. She works with Calvin Lockhart, Clarence Williams, III, Louis Gossett, Jr., the actor, playwright and film director Bill Gunn who is working on “Ganja and Hess”, and with his protégée Kathleen Collins Prettyman who is working on “Losing Ground”, Sam Waymon, Ishameal Reed’s “Personal Problems”, St. Clair Bourne, and Elis Hazlip on “Black   Journal” and “Soul”; Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust”, and Oprah Winfrey on “Beloved”.


Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, 1996
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” — Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1800s “I was a grown girl and across the ocean before I, as folklorist Zora Neale Hurston has described it, looked at home through the spyglass of anthropology and began my exploration of Afro-Atlantic food ways.” — Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, 1996

The Legacy of Vertamae

Vertamae Smart Grosvenor and daughters, Kali and Chandra, ca. 1980
In 1998, Dr. Vertamae Smart Grosvenor received an Honorary doctorate ("Doctor of Humane Letters") from the University of New Hampshire. Books: Vibration Cooking: The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. Ballantine Books, 1970. Thursdays and Every Other Sunday Off: A Domestic Rap, New York: Doubleday, 1972 Black Atlantic Cooking, Prentice Hall Trade, 1990. Vertamae Cooks in America's Family Kitchen. KQED Books, 1996. Vertamae Cooks Again. Bay Books, 1999. Awards: Robert F. Kennedy Award for Daufuskie: Never Enough Too Soon (1990) Ohio State Award for Daufuskie: Never Enough Too Soon (1990) DuPont-Columbia Award for AIDS and Black America: Breaking the Silence (1990) National Association of Black Journalists Award for her NPR piece South Africa and the African-American Experience (1990) CEBA Award for Marcus Garvey: 20th Century Pan-Africanist (1991) James Beard Award for Best Radio Show for Seasonings on NPR (1996) Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance (2013)  

Gullah Geechee Culture

Who are the Gullah Geechee people?

STgullah The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of enslaved Africans from various ethnic groups of west and central Africa. Brought to the New World and forced to work on the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, Gullah Geechee people have retained many aspects of their African heritage due to the geographic barriers of the coastal landscape and the strong sense of place and family of Gullah Geechee community members. Today, the cultural and linguistic umbrella of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, NC to St. Augustine, FL. People who identify as Gullah or Geechee represent the many ways that Africans in the Americas have held on to and amalgamated the traditions of Africa with the cultures they encountered both during and after enslavement. – National Park Service

Geechee Girl

She’s often described as a mermaid-like figure, with a woman's upper body and the hindquarters of a fish – like the Mermaid popular in European folklore. She’s Mami Wata, or among the pantheon of water spirits in Africa and it’s Diasporas, our Geechee Girl is simply the Mother of all Orishas, Yemoja.

Transmedia Components


Staff and Crew

Patricia Lessane, PhD

Patricia Lessane, PhD

Executive Producer

Patricia Lessane is the Executive Director of The College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, a post she has held since 2010. She is an affiliate faculty member in Sociology and Anthropology, Women’s and Gender Studies, and African American Studies. <continued>

Julie Dash

Julie Dash


Twenty-four years ago, filmmaker Julie Dash broke through racial and gender boundaries with her Sundance award-winning Daughters of the Dust (Best Cinematography), and she became the first African American woman to have a wide and general release of her first feature film. Dash has since written and directed for movies for CBS, BET, ENCORE STARZ, SHOWTIME and HBO. <continued>

Rachel Watanabe–Batton

Rachel Watanabe–Batton

Produced By

Rachel Watanabe-Batton has over fifteen years of media and entertainment experience working across various platforms, including film, television, new media, commercials and music videos. Watanabe-Batton began her career in feature film development at Warner Brothers, working for Australian director Peter Weir on the film Fearless. <continued>

Juanita Anderson

Juanita Anderson


Juanita Anderson is a veteran producer and documentary filmmaker whose work has centered on the African American experience, the arts, and social issues that give voice to diverse perspectives in the Americas. <continued>

David Claessen

David Claessen

Director of Photography

David Claessen has shot documentary films for Dutch, French, and British Television, and has worked as a Camera Operator under French Cameramen Henri Alekan and Sacha Vierny. Claessen completed several films with Julie Dash, including Brothers of The Borderland, Love Song and The Rosa Parks Story. <continued>

Mary Battle, PhD

Mary Battle, PhD

Scholarly Consultant

Mary Battle is the Public Historian at the Avery Research Center. She received her PhD in Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts from Emory University in 2013. Battle has professional experience museums, including the Smithsonian Institution. Her research interests include African American history and culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry, public history, digital humanities, and oral history.

Floyd Webb

Floyd Webb

Digital Media Consultant

Floyd Webb’s background includes global work in cinema, photojournalism, publishing and advertising. All these experiences contribute to his convergent skills as a producer, multimedia specialist,designer and consultant for the Internet. <continued>