LIKE HALLEY'S COMET, once in a generation a book on a favorite topic appears and illuminates the previous work on the subject. A book of that scope gives one a vision of an entire landscape and requires a re-evaluation of history. Such a book is E. Quita Craig Black Drama of the Federal Theatre Era: Beyond the Formal Horizons.
When in 1974 Professors Brown and O'Connor of George Mason University opened an old airplane hangar in Baltimore, Maryland, to uncover the "lost" archives of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), they discovered more than manuscripts, photos, posters, scene designs, budgets, and all the other memorabilia of our nation's first and only national theater; they uncovered more than a treasury of the Negro Units of the Federal Theatre with their amazing playwrights. They unearthed a legacy that would contradict the weary platitudes about black drama which had been routinely shuffled along by white and black critics alike.
Among those who came early to examine the FTP archives, which had been moved from the hangar to George Mason University, was E. Quita. Craig, a scholar of acuity. As she read the plays which she and so many others had only heard about, as she discovered scripts that no one had written about, Ms. Craig perceived that the black writers of FTP were not the isolated, culturally crippled amateurs she had been led to believe they were. Instead these playwrights stood out as shrewd, talented artists who had negotiated impossible dreams into possible productions. They had worked in a difficult time and place: faced with a segregated theater, and the racism of its audiences, they had cunningly worked into their dramas "dual messages" -- one to be perceived by whites, the other by blacks.
Drawing on her knowledge of cultural anthropology, Ms. Craig was able to discern how these black writers used the European mode of viewing the world to speak through their plays to the Caucasian audience and, at the same time, how they were able to present the African aesthetic and philosophy to a second audience of AfroAmericans.
For many years there was a seldom questioned consensus among