Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange: Carving a Place for Themselves on the American Stage
Early twentieth-century black women playwrights paved a way for the next generation of black women dramatists, as Margaret Wilkerson contends in 9 Plays by Black Women:
Women playwrights before 1950 were full partners in the theatre's protest against conditions for blacks, whether in the form of 'race propaganda,' folk plays, or historical dramas. They also made the unique perspective of black women's reality a part of that protest. Not until mid-century, however, would their voices reach beyond their communities into the highly competitive world of professional theatre. 1
It is out of this long and groundbreaking tradition that three of America's most talented black women playwrights have emerged. Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange, the three principal authors to be discussed in remaining pages, have profited from the theatrical breakthroughs made by the women playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance, many of whom continued to write during the 1930s and 1940s.
The works of Childress, Hansberry, and Shange are crucial links in the development of black playwriting in America from the 1950s to 1980s. Traditionally, the American theater has excluded women, particularly black women. It is because of their dogged determination to have their voices heard that these black women dramatists have been able to carve an indelible place for themselves on the American stage. Each has made significant contributions to the development of theater in America, particularly black theater. An examination of their plays reveals that their works are both