Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America

By Elizabeth Brown-Guillory | Go to book overview

Natalie points out that there are some white women who castigate themselves because they were not born black. Natalie says, "yes, i'm sorry they were born niggahs. But then if I cant punish myself to death for being white/i certainly cant in good conscience keep waiting for the cleaning lady" (p. 49). Shange's most severe indictment against white female liberals is her denouncement of them as women who have to take twenty Valium a day to contend with their ignorance of the world, ERA, and men. Unlike For Colored Girls, which seems to focus on the common suffering of women, Spell # 7 singles out black women as victims at the hands of white men and white women.

Spell # 7 is not without elements of hope. Shange challenges blacks to rise above injustices and particularly to avoid hurting each other. Natalie says, "surviving the impossible is sposed to accentuate the positive aspects of a people" (p. 51). The play ends as it began, with the magician casting a spell to make blacks love themselves. So as not to imply that the struggle is over, Shange has the huge minstrel mask lowered while the cast sings "colored & love it" (p. 52).

It is not surprising that Childress, Hansberry, and Shange chose to write about racism, sexism, and poverty. These are problems that seriously affect the quality of life for African Americans. These contemporary playwrights have taken up the cross once carried by black women playwrights who wrote before 1950. Whereas the early mavericks often trod gently and spoke softly, these contemporary black women playwrights have lifted their voices in order to raise consciousness in this "Theater of Struggle." The authors' tones, shaped by the skillful development of private and public symbols, range within each play from disappointment to outrage.

These women could not look upon America and the world and feel anything but outrage at society's inhumanity. Unable to escape into a world of racelessness, these dramatists wrote candidly about blacks and their struggle in America. Each of these playwrights wrote about the extraordinary spirit of survival of blacks and offered encouragement. Each believed mightily in the capability of individuals to make the world a better place. Though each has her own brand of humor, wit, and wrath, the messages are the same: African Americans must struggle together in order to make substantial social, political, and economic gains.


NOTES
1.
C. Hughes Holman, A Handbook to Literature ( New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co, Inc., 1972), p. 231.
2.
Fred B. Millet and Gerald Eades Bentley, The Act of the Drama ( New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1935), pp. 4-5.
3.
Stanley Vincent Longman, Composing Drama for Stage and Screen ( Boston, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1986), p. 119.

-74-

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Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Foreword xiii
  • 1 - Black Theater Tradition and Women Playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance 1
  • 2 - Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange: Carving a Place for Themselves on the American Stage 25
  • Notes 46
  • 3 - Tonal Form: Symbols as Shapers of Theater of Struggle"" 51
  • Notes 74
  • 4 - Structural Form: African American Initiation and Survival Rituals 79
  • Notes 100
  • 5 - Mirroring the Dark and Beautiful Warriors: Images of Blacks 105
  • Notes 130
  • 6 - The African Continuum: The Progeny in the New World 135
  • Notes 149
  • Afterword 151
  • Note 152
  • Selected Bibliography 153
  • Index 159
  • About the Author 165
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