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Black Arts movement

Amiri Baraka (born LeRoi Jones) is credited as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, which was a political and social literary movement that began in the 1960s as an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement and ended around 1975.  Part of the movement included the formation of several African American theater groups, performance poetry and literary journals.  The Black Arts Movement sought to create artistic works that would connect artists with their community, as opposed to conforming to societal standards which were alienating.

African American theater was active during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. The Federal Theater Project (FTP) helped support plays that featured all African American casts and written by African American playwrights.  After the FTP was discontinued in 1939, arenas for their work deteriorated. The Black Arts Movement generated a resurgence of opportunities for African American writers, artists and theater technicians to disseminate their work. Although the Black Arts Movement was primarily located in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, Black theater groups, literary works and performance poetry centers were active nationwide.

Playwrights involved in the movement include Ed Bullins, Langston Hughes, August Wilson, Adrienne Kennedy and Lorraine Hansberry.

Amiri Baraka

Four Black Revolutionary Plays: All Praises to the Black Man [by] LeRoi Jones. Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, [1969].

A Black Quartet: Four New Black Plays. With an introduction by Clayton Riley. New York: New American Library, [1970].

Contains Prayer Meeting, or, The First Militant Minister by Ben Caldwell, The Warning: a Theme for Linda by Ron Milner, The Gentleman Caller by Ed Bullins and Great Goodness of Life by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka).

Arm Yourself, or Harm Yourself: a One Act Play. Newark, N.J.: Jihad Publication, [1967?].

Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays. New York [N.Y.]: Morrow, 1964.

August Wilson

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; a Play in Two Acts. New York: New American Library, [1985].

This is part of Wilson’s ten-play “Pittsburgh Cycle,” with a Chicago setting, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only play in the series in which the action doesn’t take place in Wilson’s native city of Pittsburgh. A signed photograph of Wilson is laid into the book.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone: a Play in Two Acts. New York: New American Library, [1988].

The second play in the “Pittsburgh Cycle,” Joe Turner’s Come and Gone opened on Broadway on March 27, 1988 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and ran for 105 performances. It was awarded the 1988 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.

The Piano Lesson. New York: Dutton, [1990].

The play premiered on 26 November 1987 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and debuted on Broadway in 1990, earning Wilson his second Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

King Hedley II. Playbill, [1999?]

Directed by Marion Isaac McClinton. Wilson’s King Hedley II was performed by Boston University’s Huntington Theatre Company.

Seven Guitars. Playbill, Volume 96, Number 3, March 1996.

The production was directed by Lloyd Richards and featured Keith David. The produced opened on March 28, 1996 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun: a Drama in Three Acts. New York: Random House, [1959].

A remarkable critical and popular success, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, as well as the first play with a black director (Lloyd Richards) on Broadway. The play won the coveted New York Drama Critics Circle award for 1958-59 in competition with plays by Tennessee Williams, Archibald McLeish, and Eugene O’Neill. This edition of the play includes photographs of the original Broadway production, which featured Ruby Dee, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ivan Dixon, and Sidney Poitier. A card bearing Poitier’s autograph signature is laid into the book.

A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 1959.

Playbill from the first Broadway production autographed on the cover by the entire cast: Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon, Lonne Elder III, John Fiedler, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ed Hall, Claudia McNeil, Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, Glynn Turman, and Douglas Turner. Accompanied by a souvenir program from the same production.

A Raisin in the Sun: a Drama in Three Acts. London: Methuen & Co., [1960].

Hansberry’s play opened in London on August 4,1959 and received good reviews from the English critics.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window: a Drama in Three Acts. New York: Random House, [1965].

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window opened in New York on October 15, 1964 to mixed reviews and had minimal financial backing. On the verge of closing after five weeks of performances, the producers, cast, and friends of the author banded together to keep the production on stage. It ran until January 12, 1965, the day Hansberry died at the age of thirty-five of pancreatic cancer. The theater stayed dark that night in her honor and the play never reopened.

To be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff. With original drawings and art by Hansberry, and an introduction by James Baldwin. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, [1969].

Hansberry’s autobiography is written as a combination of play and correspondence. In this excerpt she expresses her feelings about the completion of the script for A Raisin in the Sun and reflects on the difficulty playwrights face writing about the human experience.

Ed Bullins

The Electronic Nigger: and Other Plays. London: Faber and Faber, 1970.

Bullin’s plays were first presented to British audiences in 1970, the same year as this first British collection of five of his early plays. Bullins self-censored the title of the American edition which came out in 1969 under the title Five Plays.

To Raise the Dead and Foretell the Future. New York: New Lafayette Theatre, [1970].

In the late 1960s, Bullins joined the Harlem-based New Lafayette Players. This scarce chapbook includes one of his short plays, which was first performed in 1970 at the New Lafayette Theatre.

Four Dynamite Plays. New York : W. Morrow, 1972, [1971].

How Do You Do: a Nonsense Drama. [Mill Valley, Calif.]: Illuminations Press, [1967].

This chapbook is Bullins’s first published book. His early play How Do You Do was first presented at the Firehouse Repertory Theatre, San Francisco, on August 25, 1965.

The Theme is Blackness: "The Corner" and Other Plays. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1973.

In his introduction to this collection of fifteen of his plays, Bullins explicates the development of black theater from 1965-1970 and critiques a number of his contemporaries.

Charles Gordone

No Place to Be Somebody: a Black-black Comedy in Three Acts, introduction by Joseph Papp. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, [1969].

No Place to Be Somebody was the first drama by an African American writer to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first play ever to win the prize before being produced on Broadway. The play had 903 New York performances followed by regional tours. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, it received the 1970 New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Vernon Rice Award.

Adrienne Kennedy

Cities in Bezique: Two One-Act Plays. New York : S. French, [1969].

Lonne Elder

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [1969].

An early version of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men received its first public reading at the New Dramatists Committee in 1965 and was also performed at Wagner College, Staten Island. Elder’s revised version of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, performed by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1969, opened to critical acclaim and received several awards, including the Outer Drama Critics Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award. The play also received a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

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