Have there been important black women playwrights in America?

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Answered by: Elaine, An Expert in the Playwrights Category
There have been many successful black women playwrights in America. In 1950, Vinette Carroll was one of the first African-Americans to enter the one-person show arena with her play, "A Black Woman Speaks"; she went on to write many plays including "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God," co written with Micki Grant and Alex Bradford. Anna Deavere Smith burst onto the national scene with "Fires in the Mirror" in 1992, in which she depicts 26 different victims of the Crown Heights race riots; her work is based on intense interviews she has held with the people. Deavere has written many "documentary theater" pieces since then, most recently "Let Me Down Easy" (2008).Alice Childress helped found the American Negro Theater in Harlem; of her many plays, she has written, "I write about those who come in second, or not at all..." Her first play, "Florence," a one-act drama written in 1949, drew heavily on the frustration and prejudice Childress encountered as a black actress. When the lead character is finally cast in a Broadway play, she is relegated to the part of a maid--a marginalized role that Florence herself plays in the real world of the play.

In the 1970s Ntzake Shange play, "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf," hit the theater world like a storm. Often called a "choreopoem it uses seven of Shange's poems to dramatize black women's encounters with men. Pearl Cleage play "Flyin' West" (1992) and Cheryl L. West's "Jar the Floor" (1991) are both regional theater favorites.Unique among black women playwrights, Adrienne Kennedy uses a surrealistic theatrical approach to address the dilemma of identity in a racist and sexist society. In "Funnyhouse of a Negro" (1962), which won an Obie award, Kennedy deals with the search for identity by examining the inner workings of the central character's mind. Born in 1963, three decades after Kennedy, Suzan-Lori Parks has followed in the footsteps of surrealism. In her Obie-winning play "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole World" (1990), she explores America's prejudice toward African-Americans through the portrayal of stereotypical black characters created by the white man.

Perhaps the most celebrated black American playwright today is the late Lorraine Hansberry, whose stunning play "A Raisin in the Sun" (1958) "did its part in helping to fuel the civil rights struggle, and opened up the world of black drama in the USA, stimulating the development of new writing for the theatre as well as creating a new black audience," according to theater historian Mary Remnant. The story concerns the plight of the Youngers, a black family whose various members are struggling to find their place in society. Hansberry herself sees the play as a depiction of what happens to people when they endure "a dream deferred", a direct reference to the Langston Hughes's poem, "Montage of a Dream Deferred": “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?"

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