Academic journal article African American Review

"This Thing Called Playwrighting": An Interview with Sonia Sanchez on the Art of Her Drama

Academic journal article African American Review

"This Thing Called Playwrighting": An Interview with Sonia Sanchez on the Art of Her Drama

Article excerpt

Introduction

Critical and popular emphasis on the poetry of Sonia Sanchez, while clearly merited, has often overshadowed her work in drama and her role in the development of an African American female dramatic voice in America. Yet, as this interview illustrates, Sanchez has always acknowledged and continues to recognize the potency of drama. She uses it as a venue for the artistic expression of social protest and the condemnation of injustice, as well as to explore personal anguish and spiritual transcendence. This brief discussion of some of Sanchez's plays introduces the dramatic work discussed in the interview that follows.

To date, Sanchez has created five plays that have been produced and published: The Bronx Is Next (1968); Sister Son/ji (1969); Dirty Hearts (1971); Malcolm Man Don't Live Here No Mo! (1972); and Uh Huh, But How Do It Free Us (1974). Sanchez's latest completed play, I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't, was produced once over 20 years ago in 1982, by Jomandi Productions in Atlanta, Georgia, and again in a much abbreviated form as a thesis project by Karen Turner Ward at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1985. The play is currently being prepared for publication. While she still feels the need to write plays, Sanchez has observed that her poetry has taken precedence over her drama for a number of years. Since March 2003, her dramatic writing has included a play concerning mature black women's retrospective looks at the 1960's militant movement, which is as yet unfinished.

Each of the plays she has written, however, has impacted the genre in its own way, particularly in terms of race and feminist politics. Large and loud in its celebration of life, her drama reflects themes also evident in her poetry: anger against racism and bigotry, as expressed in poems like "Malcolm" (I've Been a Woman, 1978) and "Morning Song and Evening Walk" (Shake Loose My Skin, 1999). Sanchez particularly recognizes the complexities of African American women's struggles against sexism, as in "Song No. 2" (Under a Soprano Sky, 1987). She has written plays about black militant revolution, plays that explore the role of ritual and form in African American drama, plays that engage questions about the dual oppression of African American women. As a result, rather than remaining exclusively recognized for her contributions to African American poetry, Sanchez also merits acclaim as an important influence on black drama, a politically courageous, and artistically innovative playwright.

Sanchez's fiery dramatic voice, which both glorified and chastised the black militant movement, first burst forth in the 1960s. During the Black Power Movement, African American drama developed an aesthetic of black consciousness through Black Revolutionary Theater. This theater's main premise, according to its most famous proponent Leroi Jones/ Amiri Baraka, was to exist as "a theater that actually functions to liberate Black people ... that will commit Black people ... instruct them about what they should do ... [and] involve them emotionally" (Coleman 84). These strategies were developed through strong language and volatile situations, ritual structure, and stereotypical or symbolic characters that addressed, and at times encouraged, often-violent confrontation between black and white cultures. (1) Some of the best-known names of this militant period in African American theater were Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, Larry Neal, Loften Mitchell, and Ben Caldwell. (2) Few women are even mentioned as militant playwrights of the period, except for Sonia Sanchez. Already known as a feisty, irreverent, gadfly figure of a poet, Sanchez, as she points out in this interview, was actually invited to join in the development of black consciousness theater. She became one of the few consistently visible female playwrights active in the development of black revolutionary dramatic aesthetic, although it is evident that she was not recognized at the level she deserved, primarily because she was a female in a male-dominated movement. …

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