African-American Playwrights

 Playwright August Wilson once said, "For me, the original play becomes an historical document: This is where I was when I wrote it, and I have to move on now to something else." 

African-American dramatists have often used theatrical productions to explore themes such as alienation, rage, sexism, classism, racism and a desire to assimilate into American culture. 

While playwrights such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston used African-American folklore to tell stories to theater audiences, scribes such as Lorraine Hansberry have been influenced by personal family history when creating plays. 

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Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967)


 Hughes is often known for writing poems and essays on the African-American experience during the Jim Crow Era. Yet Hughes was also a playwright. . In 1931, Hughes worked with Zora Neale Hurston to write Mule Bone. Four years later, Hughes wrote and produced The Mulatto. In 1936, Hughes collaborated with composer William Grant Still to create Troubled Island. That same year, Hughes also published Little Ham and Emperor of Haiti.  

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Lorraine Hansberry (1930 - 1965)

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry, 1960. Getty Images

Hansberry is best remembered for her classic play A Raisin in the Sun. Debuting on Broadway in 1959, the play reveals the struggles associated with achieving the . Recently hansberry 'a unfinished play, Les Blancs has performed by regional theater companies. also been making the regional rounds.

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Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (1934 - 2014)

Amiri Baraka, 1971. Getty Images

 As one of the leading writers in the, Baraka's plays include The Toilet, Baptism and Dutchman. According to The Back Stage Theatre Guide, more African-American plays have been written and staged since the premier of Dutchman in 1964 than in the previous 130 years of African-American theater history. Other plays include What Was the Relationship of the Lone Ranger to the Means of Production? and  Money, produced in 1982.

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August Wilson (1945 - 2005)

August Wilson has been one of the only African-American playwrights to have consistent success Broadway. Wilson has written a series of plays that are set in specific decades throughout the 20th century. These plays include Jitney, Fences, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, as well as Two Trains Running. Wilson has won the Pulitzer Prize twice--for Fences and The Piano Lesson.

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Ntozake Shange (1948 - 2018)

Ntozake Shange, 1978. Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons

 In 1975 Shange wrote-- for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. The play explored themes such as racism, sexism, domestic violence and rape. Considered Shange ' greatest theatrical success, it has been adapted for television and film. Shange continued to explore feminism and African-American womanhood in plays such as okra to greens and Savannahland.

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Suzanne Lori Parks (1963 - )

Playwright Suzan Lori Parks, 2006. Eric Schwabel at Schwabel Studio

 In 2002 Parks received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Topdog/Underdog. Parks other plays include Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The America Play, Venus (about Saartjie Baartman), In The Blood and Fucking A. Both of the last plays are a retelling of Scarlet Letter.

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Lewis, Femi. "African-American Playwrights." ThoughtCo, Jun. 14, 2021, Lewis, Femi. (2021, June 14). African-American Playwrights. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "African-American Playwrights." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).