As we wrap up Black History Month, I can’t help but look at how these past few years have motivated U.S. African Diaspora into empowerment and against mass discrimination. From the #BlackLivesMatter to the #SayHerName movements, the Black community has made significant strides in politics, science, business, and the arts for centuries now.
At ShawChicago Theater Company, we like to promote the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries in Chicago. With this in mind, I’d like to recommend to you some African American contemporaries of our favourite Irish guy (Bernard Shaw, of course.) They’re all great contributors to American art, culture and history and hopefully you’ll see some of these greats on our stage in the near future!
Original photo source: biography.com
A classic figure in literature, James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) did leave the United States to find better acceptance in Paris on grounds of race and sexuality, but his works continue to resonate with the Afro-American experience. While he may be famous for pieces like Go Tell It On The Mountain or Giovanni’s Room (a personal favourite of mine), he was also a playwright. His first play, The Amen Corner, was published in 1954 and details the trials and survival of people in poverty-stricken Harlem. His other landmark play was Blues For Mister Charlie (1955), which was inspired by the violent murder of Emmett Till.
Original photo source: Wikipedia
Be sure to read for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange (1948 – ). It’s a raw and powerful collection of monologues, cataloging the Black woman’s experience. It’s a tear jerker, but by the end of play you do realise the powerful intersectionality of Black womanhood. I would especially recommend the monologue Somebody Almost Walked Off Wid All My Stuff. Definitely read it, not watch the Tyler Perry version.
Original photo source: Wikipedia
My introduction to Lorraine Hansberry (1930 – 1965) was when my mom took my brother and myself to see A Raisin In The Sun with Kanye West, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan. They had to hold the curtain because Hillary Clinton was in the audience. I was maybe 9 or 10, but now, at 24, I think anyone who hasn’t felt like they belong in a certain space because of their difference can relate to Hansberry’s words. I also admire Hansberry for speaking out against homophobia and misogyny when sexual and gender rights were still taboo in the U.S. Her own sexuality non-normative, I also love this quote: “I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced…. There may be women to emerge who will be able to formulate a new and possible concept that homosexual persecution and condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma.” Some other plays to check out from her are The Drinking Gourd and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, the latter of which ran for 101 shows and closed the night she died from her battle with cancer.
Original photo source: The Front Porch
Although he was best known for his poems, Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) was also the librettist for Troubled Island, an opera composed by the first known classical African American composer William Grant Still. Detailing the Haitian Revolution, this opera was the Black opera to be performed by a U.S. major opera, in 1949 at the New York City Opera. Although it has never been staged since, it’s still great to listen to. Hughes also collaborated with the wonderful Zora Neal Hurston to write Mule Bone, another play I’d recommend. Other plays include Emperor of Haiti, Tambourines of Glory and Black Nativity.
Photo source: Watch The Yard.
Speaking of Zora Neale Hurston (1881 – 1960), I first saw her literature on my mom’s shelves, right next to the Autobiography of Malcom X. I was kid and had no idea as to what a gem she had. Another cornerstone of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston was not only an accomplished novelist, but also a great playwright. Apart from her collaboration with Hughes for Mule Bone, she wrote many plays including De Turkey and de Law, Forty Yards, even a musical called Meet The Mama.
Original photo source: 100 Pages.
I still haven’t read anything by Alice Childress (1916 – 1994) as yet, but I admire her accomplishments as a genius writer. She made her Broadway debut on 1944 in the play Anna Lucasta, which became the longest-running play with African American themes. Five years later, she wrote, directed and starred in her own play, Florence. She won several awards for her writing, including the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Paul Robeson Award. So put this writer on your list, because she’s on mine!
Original photo source: Île en île
Haitian immigrant Félix Morisseau-Leroy (1912 – 1998) was treasured amongst his community for speaking out against the Duvalier dictatorship. The first international Haitian Creole writer, he is considered a major figure of Haitian Renaissance, an era of Hatian-centric art in the 1940s. His best known play is a Creole translation of the Greek tragedy Antigone, entitled Antigone in Creole. The play premiered in Paris in 1953, and was set in a Haitian village, with His writing became a foundation for Haitian empowerment during the violent times that further rocked the country. He was also known for his poetry, including Boat People.
Written By Rohan-Zhou-Lee.