Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: A Casebook

Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: A Casebook

Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: A Casebook

Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: A Casebook


'The impressive array of scholars gathered in this collection, all experts in the field, read the plays with nuance and situate them deftly within their cultural and historical contexts. Scholars of contemporary theater and drama and of African American literature will find value in this engaging collection.'- Choice

'For students and scholars of American theatre and drama generally and African American theatre and drama most particularly, this is an extremely valuable critical source.' - Harry Elam, Stanford University, USA

In the last fifty years, American and World theatre has been challenged and enriched by the rise to prominence of numerous female African American dramatists. Contemporary African American Women Playwrights is the first critical volume to explore the contexts and influences of these writers, and their exploration of black history and identity through a wealth of diverse, courageous and visionary dramas.

Kolin compiles a wealth of new essays, comprising:

  • Yale scholar David Krasner on the dramatic legacy of Lorraine Hansberry, Zora Neale Hurston, Marita Bonner and Georgia Douglas Johnson
  • individual chapters devoted to: Alice Childress, Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Kennedy, Ntozake Shange, Pearl Cleage, Aishah Rahman, Glenda Dickerson, Anna Deavere Smith and Suzan Lori-Parks
  • an essay and accompanying interview with Lynn Nottage
  • comprehensive discussion of attendant theatrical forms, from choreopoems and surrealistic plays, to documentary theatre and civil rights dramas, and their use in challenging racial and gender hierarchies.

Contributors: Brandi Wilkins Catanese, Soyica Diggs, James Fisher, Freda Scott Giles, Joan Wylie Hall, Philip C. Kolin, David Krasner, Sandra G. Shannon, Debby Thompson, Beth Turner and Jacqueline Wood.


Black male playwrights historically have had a commanding voice in American theatre. In the 1930s, Langston Hughes’s Mulatto (1935) was the longest running play by an African American playwright on Broadway. In 1941, Richard Wright adapted his widely known novel Native Son (1941) for the stage. In the 1960s, the protest plays of Amiri Baraka and Ed Bullins received resounding critical attention and productions. In 1970, Charles Gordone’s No Place to be Somebody was the first play by an African American dramatist to receive a Pulitzer, and in 1981 Charles Fuller’s Soldier’s Play also won this prestigious award. The plays of August Wilson (twice a Pulitzer winner), beginning with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984), earned him “the stature of premier theatrical mythographer of the African American experience” (Marra 123).

But African American women playwrights are also taking their place as the leaders of the American theatre, creating their own theatrical space, history and mythos. While they are the heirs of Lorraine Hansberry’s legacy, perhaps the most widely taught and staged African American woman dramatist, most of the playwrights represented in this collection have radically departed from her realistic techniques and boldly interrogated and amplified her protests against racism and classism. The racial prejudices these playwrights have fought against as African Americans and as women have pyramided in the last third of the twentieth century. Gender politics and gaps have also intensified their searching for or proclaiming their identities. Each playwright in this volume has not been afraid to assert, assault, and to discover the complexities of survival of self in the process. Their politics are aesthetic; their aesthetics are political. As Anna Deavere Smith proclaims:

Yes, my entry into the theatre is political. Largely because of my race and
gender. I am political without opening my mouth. My presence is political.
The way I negotiate my presence becomes political. If I tried to deny my
politicalness, I would be even more political.

(“Not So Special” 80)

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