Anna is only one of a long line of black female dramatic characters who transform their broken bodies and mangled spirits into something that can serve them better. (When ntozake shange's colored girls found the healing goddess within themselves, they not only struck tender nerves but also sensitive chords whose vibrations had already been sounded.) Here, in this book Elizabeth Brown-Guillory has walked us down this line, acting as worthy guide and faithful interpreter. From her research and her thoughts, she has presented a history of Afro-American women playwrights that is intensely interesting.
We see Marita Bonner 1928 fantasy The Purple Flower and find tradition for Lorraine Hansberry What Use Are Flowers?, written three decades later. We hear the impassioned words of Alice Childress (whose full life is a study in itself) as they echo the way that shange's private furies counterpoint what she projects on stage. There is an excellent discussion of Childress' skillful use of restroom signs and of the low, dividing rail in Florence. The remarks about "initiation and survival rituals" broaden into suggestiveness about black women's fiction, and indeed, the whole of diasporic black literature. We see the originality of the household in Boogie Woogie Landscapes as a possible inspiration for moving beyond the platitudes--both positive and negative--about the weaknesses and strengths of black families. And there is the tangled thread of racism-sexism.
At every turn, something in Brown-Guillory's book sets us to remembering and thinking. She has begun an exploration that leads to additional exciting places. What about black women playwrights as actresses and poets (as many of them were)? What about their history in community theater and the way that overworked English teachers kept drama alive in our segregated schools and churches? Looking even more closely at these writers' texts, what more subtle Afrocentric strategies of presentations do they utilize and what new categories and theories do we need to formulate-- from the inside out--for analyzing their work? Finally, the forerunners in chapter one and the three main figures of this study make a space for considering all the other black women dramatists who could not be treated here (for example, Sonia Sanchez, Alexis DeVeaux). What do they bring to the dialogue, and contribute to the conversation?
Taking up these questions would constitute further mining of the riches of black women's drama, a richness that Elizabeth Brown-Guillory has clearly opened up to us in Their Place on the Stage.