African American Plays and Literature

I want to do a play with my students and am looking for some plays to consider. I am just not sure what to do or what to look at. I am hoping for something by an African American writer. It needs a sort of smallish but not too small cast and it sort of needs not to be mostly male. These things sort of leave out the plays I know. I have done Fences and Raisin in the Sun. and am looking at For Colored Girls Who Have Concidered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf but it seems to me there should be alot out there that has just not been something that has been on my radar before.

I am also in need more information on literature beyond Maya Angelou and the writers of The Color Purple and The Bluest Eye. The kids have been giving me some stuff but I need more.

Thankyou to those that can help.

Of course, just because my students are African American does not mean that it is all we should do, and we are probably going to have to do some amount of gender neutral casting in any case, but I want to broaden my horizons.

Too bad you require female roles- I would have endorsed Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play,” but the cast is practically all male.

Here’s an idea that MIGHT work, but it would require some work and editing on your part: Anna Deavere Smith is an African-American playwright, actress and “performance artist.” She frequently writes plays in which she alone plays the parts of numerous characters, male and female. Some of her best works are “Fires In The Mirror” and “Twilight” Los Angeles," in which she played numerous characters of different races and genders. You could have different students play the different characters she played all by herself.

Just a thought.

Beyond that, there are a lot of “white” plays that COULD be played by people of different genders and races than the author originally envisioned. For example, “12 Angry Men” had a cast of 12 white male jurors originally, but is there any reason you couldn’t stage the same play with an African-American cast that included females?

I’m not very well informed about plays, but there’s some great literature that i can recommend.

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. It’s not a novel, but i believe it is literature in the true sense of the word. Some of the chapters—essays really—are very moving.

Richard Wright, Native Son. Fanatastic novel of racial politics and class relations, written in 1940, and set in Depression-era Chicago. Highly recommended.

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. Another powerful novel about race in modern America, this book was written in the late 1940s.

Also check out work by James Baldwin, with Go Tell It on the Mountain high on the list.

There’s plenty more, but these are authors and works that come immediately to mind, and that reflect the fact that my interests are, in general, more historical than literary.

You have already mentioned Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, and my knowledge of other black women authors is not very strong. One that i do know about is Zora Neale Hurston, who was a contemporary of Richard Wright. Works like Their Eyes Were Watching God made her probably the best-known black woman writer of her time.

Hurston has been somewhat marginalized in the post-war era, because her novels were rather apolitical, and were not explicitly directed at issues of race relations in America, the way that Wright’s and Ellison’s were. Many blacks, especially in the Civil Rights era, wanted literature to deal directly with race and racism, and Hurston was seen as something of a sellout by some. Her own political conservatism and criticism of some Civil Rights activists didn’t help her cause.

If you’re interested in going back further, and looking at works by black women of the nineteenth century, you might check out this site. Some of the work is fiction, and some is non-fiction, but it is all historically important stuff.

I had forgotten A Soldier’s Play, and it is wonderful, but that is one i do not think gender blind casting would work. I wonder if anyone knows if there are some one acts out there?