african american playwrights


“Venus” by Suzan Lori-Parks

Pershing Square Signature Center, 2017

Starring Hannah Cabell, John Ellison Conlee, Randy Danson, Adam Green, Birgit Huppuch, Zainab Jah, Kevin Mambo, Patrena Murray, Reynaldo Piniella, Julian Rozzell & Tony Torn


“Father Comes Home From the Wars” (Parts 1, 2, & 3) by Suzan-Lori Parks

Public Theater, 2014

Starring Sterling K. Brown, Louis Cancelmi, Peter Jay Fernandez, Jeremie Harris, Russell G. Jones, Jenny Jules, Ken Marks, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tonye Patano, & Julian Rozzell Jr.

HERStory Matters: Pioneering educator Maria Louise Baldwin was born on September 13, 1856.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mary received all of her education in Cambridge’s schools. In 1874, Baldwin graduated from Cambridge High School and went on to graduate from the Cambridge Training School for Teachers.

Baldwin wrote to then-Cambridge School Board member Horace E. Scudder, asking him to help her secure a teaching position. Scudder told her, however, that it seemed to him that it was clearly her duty to go south and work for those with more limited educational opportunities. Unable to land a teaching job in Cambridge, she headed south for Chestertown, Md., where she taught for two years.

Baldwin did not give up the hope that she might one day obtain a teaching post in Cambridge. After discussing the matter with several people, she became convinced that there was work to be done in New England — living down race prejudice and demonstrating that black women could perform good and worthy work wherever they might cast their lot.

Perhaps caving in to pressure applied by the African American community, in 1882 the Cambridge School Department hired Baldwin as a teacher at the Agassiz School, making her the only black public school teacher in Cambridge. In 1889, she became principal of the school, making her the first African-American female principal in Massachusetts and the Northeast. As principal, Baldwin supervised white faculty and a predominantly white student body.

In 1916, as a new Agassiz school was erected to include higher grades and Mary Baldwin was made schoolmaster, supervising twelve teachers and five hundred students. She was one of only two women in the Cambridge school system who held the position of master and the only African-American in New England to hold such a position.

Baldwin ultimately served as master of Agassiz school for forty years. Under her leadership, the school of Agassiz became one of the best in the city, attended by children of Harvard professors and many of the old Cambridge families. She introduced new methods of teaching mathematics and began art classes. She was also the first to introduce the practice of hiring a school nurse. Her school was the only one in the city of Cambridge to establish an “open-air” classroom.

A lifelong learner, Maria took many classes at Harvard University and other colleges. She also was an instructor who taught summer courses for teachers at Hampton Institute in Virginia and the Institute for Colored Youth in Pennsylvania.

She won praises all over the country for her lecture on the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe and presented lectures on presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln as well. Baldwin often gave readings from the works of African-American poet, novelist and playwright Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Her home became the center for various literary activities. There she held weekly readings for African American students attending Harvard.

Maria Baldwin held leadership positions in a number of civic and educational organizations. Not only did she help Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin establish the Woman’s Era Club — a group comprised chiefly of prominent black women who dedicated their efforts to cultural enrichment, charitable work and women’s suffrage — but on Jan. 17, 1894, she became the club’s vice president.

Baldwin belonged to many social and literary clubs, including the Twentieth Century Club, the Cantabrigia Club and the Banneker Club. She was also a member of the “Omar Circle,” a small group of black intellectuals. In 1897, she and Booker T. Washington were elected honorary members of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.

Baldwin volunteered her time raising money for the education of African-American children and young adults. On March 27, 1900, at the Madison Square Garden Concert Hall, she and W. E. B. Du Bois addressed a meeting to raise funds for a free kindergarten for African American children in New York City.

While addressing the council of the Robert Gould Shaw House Association at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, on January 9, 1922, Maria Baldwin collapsed and died suddenly of heart disease.

In her honor, the League of Women for Community Service dedicated the Maria L. Baldwin Memorial Library on Dec. 20, 1923.

In 1976, the Maria Baldwin House was named a National Historic Landmark. It is located at 196 Prospect Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. A private home, it is not open for tours.

On February 12, 2004, Agassiz School was officially renamed the Maria L. Baldwin School as a result of a campaign initiated by an eighth-grade student at the school and actively supported by other students and the principal of the school.

It’s possible to get very far along in life and have unfinished business with people. Every book ends, and you feel something is resolved, but life can be weird. Relationships warp people, and they carry that to new people. Being alive is about trying not to be too warped and staying yourself as much as you can.
—  – Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, African-American playwright (b.1985), in New York Times’ Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Is, and Is Not, Writing About Race, Nov. 23, 2014

Useless Tonys trivia ahead!

  • Let’s address the elephant in the room first–Hamilton has now become the record-setting show. With 16 nominations, the most of any production in Tonys history, it narrowly beat out the previous record-holders of The Producers (2001) and Billy Elliot (2009). Both shows went on to win Best Musical, just as Hamilton is poised to. What’s worth noting, however, is that unlike both The Producers and Billy Elliot, Hamilton received at least one nomination in every category possible for a musical–all thirteen of them.
  • #YayHamlet indeed–with its sixteen nominations, Hamilton now has more than double nominations to its name than every production of Hamlet that’s been considered for the Tonys (between 1964 and 2010, it’s gotten only six nominations and only two wins–once for Hume Cronyn as 1964′s Best Featured Actor in a Play and once for Ralph Fiennes as 1995′s Best Leading Actor in a Play).
  • George Washington (played by Featured Actor/Musical nominee Christopher Jackson in Hamilton) and Thomas Jefferson (played by Featured Actor/Musical nominee Daveed Diggs, also in Hamilton) have both become the newest presidents to receive Tony nominations. The others are Abraham Lincoln (played by 1994 Leading Actor/Play nominee Sam Waterston in Abe Lincoln in Illinois), Franklin D. Roosevelt (played by 1958 Leading Actor/Play winner Ralph Bellamy in Sunrise at Campobello), Lyndon B. Johnson (played by 2014 Leading Actor/Play winner Bryan Cranston in All the Way), and Richard Nixon (played by 2007 Leading Actor/Play winner Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon). For his portrayal of John Adams in 1776 (1969), William Daniels was nominated for Featured Actor in a Musical, but in true Adams fashion, he declined the nomination.
  • If Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed wins Best Play, she will become the first African-American woman playwright to win that award. She joins the illustrious company of Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun, 1960), Ntozake Shange (For Colored Girls…, 1977), Anna Deavere Smith (Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, 1994), and Pulitzer Prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, 2002).
  • Young blood: all four of the playwrights nominated in Best Play–Danai Gurira, Florian Zeller, Stephen Karam, and Mike Bartlett–are making their Broadway debuts with their nominated plays. They are also all under 40.
  • Two women have joined the ranks of female Best Score nominees: Edie Brickell (Bright Star) and Sara Bareilles (Waitress). They become the 34th and 35th female composers/lyricists in the category’s history. (I was planning on posting a longer list, but it got unwieldy)
  • By my count, fifteen actors of color are nominated this year. The only all-white acting categories are Leading and Featured Actor in a Play.
  • It’s the first time at the rodeo for a handful of nominated actors this year! Only sixteen of the forty actors nominated have been nominated before. This year’s newest family members are Pascale Armand, Alex Brightman, Danielle Brooks, Bill Camp, Carmen Cusack, Daveed Diggs, Cynthia Erivo, David Furr, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Richard Goulding, Megan Hilty, Christopher Jackson, Jessica Lange, Zachary Levi, Lupita Nyong’o, Leslie Odom, Jr., Tim Pigott-Smith, Saycon Sengbloh, Michael Shannon, Jennifer Simard, Phillipa Soo, Mark Strong, Adrienne Warren, and Michelle Williams.
  • Some roles that have received several nominations over the years, including this year: Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye (Danny Burstein) received his fifth nomination; James (Gabriel Byrne) and Mary (Jessica Lange) of Long Day’s Journey Into Night and A View from the Bridge’s Eddie Carbone (Mark Strong) all received their fourth nominations; Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo) of The Crucible, Brooke Ashton (Megan Hilty) of Noises Off, and James Tyrone, Jr. (Michael Shannon) of Long Day’s Journey Into Night all received their third nominations.
  • Some old Tonys favorites (7+ nominations) who received even more nominations this year are: Andrew Lloyd Webber, who received his 23rd and 24th nominations this year for Best Musical and Best Score for School of Rock; George C. Wolfe, receiving his 21st and 22nd nominations this year for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Book for Shuffle Along; lighting designer Jules Fisher, receiving his 21st nomination for Shuffle Along; costume designer Jane Greenwood, receiving her 19th nomination for Long Day’s Journey Into Night; scenic designer Santo Loquasto, receiving his 19th nomination for Shuffle Along; lighting designer Natasha Katz, receiving her 12th nomination for Long Day’s Journey Into Night; lighting designer Peggy Eisenhauer, receiving her 9th nomination for Shuffle Along; director Scott Ellis, receiving his 8th nomination for She Loves Me; scenic designer Gregg Barnes, receiving his 7th nomination for Tuck Everlasting; orchestrator Larry Hochman, receiving his 7th nomination for She Loves Me; actor Frank Langella, receiving his 7th nomination for The Father; actor/director Joe Mantello, receiving his 7th nomination for directing The Humans
  • Phillipa Soo has joined the (unfortunately) short list of Asian Tony nominees that includes Ken Watanabe, Ruthie Ann Miles, Joohee Choi, Lou Diamond Phillips, Miyoshi Umeki, B.D. Wong, June Angela, Mako, Isao Sato, Loretta Ables Sayre, and Lea Salonga.
  • This year, Best Musical has five nominees, only the fourth time this has happened in Tonys history. The other times were in 1955 (when The Pajama Game beat Fanny, Peter Pan, Plain and Fancy, and Silk Stockings), in 1958 when The Music Man beat West Side Story, New Girl in Town, Oh, Captain!, and Jamaica), and 1960 (when Fiorello! and The Sound of Music tied to beat Gypsy, Once Upon a Mattress, and Take Me Along). 
  • A couple of shows have seriously bumped up their total nomination haul with today’s announcements. Since it’s original 1964 production, She Loves Me has received a total of 22 nominations, with two wins, and eight pending. Fiddler on the Roof also can now claim 22 total nominations since it first shook Broadway in 1965, with ten wins and three pending. A View from the Bridge has 19 nominations to its name since its original production in 1956, with three wins and five pending. Meanwhile, Death of a Salesman has lost its title of Most Nominated Play–its 21 nominations has been outdone by Long Day’s Journey Into Night’s 24 total nominations since its original production in 1957. Spring Awakening can now claim 14 nominations, with eight wins and three pending, and fellow Revival of a Musical nominee The Color Purple has 15 nominations to its name, with one win and four pending. An updated version of this post will come soon!

That’s all I got for now. Happy nomination day!

GSWS professors stay busy over the summer. Check out this publication Dr. Lomax just released!

Womanist and Black Feminst Responses to Tyler Perry’s Productions

African American playwright, actor, television producer and filmmaker Tyler Perry is an American cultural phenomenon. Perry has made over half a billion dollars through the development of films, plays, and television series that center storylines about bla ck women, black communities and black religion. The success of a Tyler Perry Production, coupled with Perry’s participation in a range of media and in multiple roles as creator and actor, position him as a significant site of black religious and cultural e xpression, and thus critical inquiry and reflection. Womanist and Black Feminist Responses to Tyler Perry’s Productions examines Perry’s works from interdisciplinary perspectives and provides a necessary response to Perry’s current prominence regarding black representation, black religion and black cultural production.

LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant is Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College, USA. Tamura A. Lomax is Visiting Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA.

Carol B. Duncan is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada.