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Reading Contemporary African American Drama

Fragments of History, Fragments of Self

Series:

Trudier Harris and Jennifer Larson

Contemporary African American dramatists such as Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, August Wilson, and Suzan-Lori Parks as well as Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, and Pearl Cleage find their creative inspiration in historical events from slavery to the civil rights movement. From the Emmett Till-inspired character in Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie to Parks’s recreation of Lincoln and Booth, these playwrights show that history is the mirror that shapes the identities of African American writers and characters.

«‘Reading Contemporary African American Drama’ is a much needed volume that makes a major contribution to black identity formation studies. Playwright and novelist Alice Childress devoted her life to debunking stereotypes – misrepresentations – about blacks inside and outside of the American theater. It is only fitting that quintessential scholar/teacher Trudier Harris, who wrote one of the first comprehensive studies on Childress’s plays and novels, should shepherd a volume that includes cutting-edge research on Childress and other black dramatists who have carved out a place for truth on the American stage. The essays in this volume explore the many ways in which contemporary dramatists reformulate black identity by interrogating historically racist praxis. What these essays have in common is an exploration of history wherein characters move forward toward self-discovery, self-definition, and self-fulfillment in plays by blacks since the 1950s.» (Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, University of Houston; Editor of ‘Middle Passage and the Healing Place of History: Migration and Identity in Black Women’s Literature’)
«‘Reading Contemporary African American Drama’ is an important reminder that history has never been a closed book for African American dramatists. By rejecting the long and troubling record of silent, biased, and inaccurate accounts of the African American past, dramatists from William Wells Brown and W.E.B. Du Bois to August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks have been able to rewrite history with an eye toward deconstructing old myths, giving voice to the nameless masses, and re-inserting the African American presence into the white space. The common bond that holds together this continuum of African American dramatists is the knowledge that history provides – for both writers and the characters – what August Wilson’s characters who suffer from historical amnesia call a ‘starting place.’ This book on the role of history throughout the canon of African American drama is an extremely valuable ‘starting place’ for increased scholarship on the works of African American dramatists.» (Sandra G. Shannon, Professor, Department of English, Howard University)

«‘Reading Contemporary African American Drama’ is a much needed volume that makes a major contribution to black identity formation studies. Playwright and novelist Alice Childress devoted her life to debunking stereotypes – misrepresentations – about blacks inside and outside of the American theater. It is only fitting that quintessential scholar/teacher Trudier Harris, who wrote one of the first comprehensive studies on Childress’s plays and novels, should shepherd a volume that includes cutting-edge research on Childress and other black dramatists who have carved out a place for truth on the American stage. The essays in this volume explore the many ways in which contemporary dramatists reformulate black identity by interrogating historically racist praxis. What these essays have in common is an exploration of history wherein characters move forward toward self-discovery, self-definition, and self-fulfillment in plays by blacks since the 1950s.» (Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, University of Houston; Editor of ‘Middle Passage and the Healing Place of History: Migration and Identity in Black Women’s Literature’)
«‘Reading Contemporary African American Drama’ is an important reminder that history has never been a closed book for African American dramatists. By rejecting the long and troubling record of silent, biased, and inaccurate accounts of the African American past, dramatists from William Wells Brown and W.E.B. Du Bois to August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks have been able to rewrite history with an eye toward deconstructing old myths, giving voice to the nameless masses, and re-inserting the African American presence into the white space. The common bond that holds together this continuum of African American dramatists is the knowledge that history provides – for both writers and the characters – what August Wilson’s characters who suffer from historical amnesia call a ‘starting place.’ This book on the role of history throughout the canon of African American drama is an extremely valuable ‘starting place’ for increased scholarship on the works of African American dramatists.» (Sandra G. Shannon, Professor, Department of English, Howard University)