Fourteen Plays About Blackness II

A large part of why I write is that forming words about a topic makes it stick in my brain. So this post is as much about wanting to remember all I learned from the introductions to these two collections as it is about sharing it (and setting the tone).

The eight plays from Post-Black Plays will be first. This collection was edited and introduced by Harry J. Elam and Douglas A. Jones. Both of these men are professors, but having read other introductions by him I believe it is Dr. Elam’s tone which prevails. I respect his stance that plays by black writers and plays about blackness (or post-blackness) deserve erudite study, recognition of significance, and analysis of sociocultural meaning and value. But I find the academic writing overwrought. That said, with 42 footnotes in 18 pages, I gained two great things: the names of many other artists I want to look into, and a very useful lens through which to view the collection. These are all plays that said something to these editors within their frame of post-blackness. I am almost positive that other editors would have chosen eight completely different plays. All collections are subjective, but sometimes I see a level of quality, or some celebration of innovation or form, that unites the work. The plays in this collection seemed to me consistent with the professorial air of the editors, very worthy of study. But I was delighted to learn about: Poet – Evie Shockley; visual artist Kori Newkirk; Playwrights Lynn Nottage and Tarell Alvin McCraney; and a host of literary, art, and cultural thinkers of color.

The Black British Writers collection was introduced by Dr. Lynette Goddard, same page count but half the footnotes and a much more inviting tone. The plays she chose span a longer timeline, and with Britain being smaller, she gives the history of some venues and companies that were particularly critical to the included work, as well as the context for the individual plays and playwrights. These six plays were all clearly performable and seemed very accessible to me. I felt invited to interpret them like a director or a dramaturg (rather than like a graduate student), and the discussions of the London theatre scene of the past set my imagination alight. I learned about Theatre of Black Women, Gay Sweatshop, and Drill Hall (which has led me to Unfinished Histories). The theme here is identity but there is much about here about how language (spoken, cultural, body, etc.) defines or sometimes condemns that identity.

The final lesson from these two collections was sort of a disappointment for me personally: I have a stronger attraction to plays with pretty “conventional” form. I am actually sad about this and working very hard keep my mind open to the more exotic pieces. Plays without conventional form sometimes don’t read well because of the words the have to be spent on…well, explaining the form. But I just want to acknowledge that I go in with a bias and I’m working on that.

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