In The Development of Black Theater in America, Leslie Sanders examines the work of the American black theater’s five most productive playwrights: Willis Richardson, Randolph Edmonds, Langston Hughes, LeRoi Jones, and Ed Bullins.
Sanders sees the history of black theater as the process of creating a “black stage reality” while at the same time transforming conventions borrowed from white European culture into forms appropriate to black artists and audiences. The author argues that only when these things were accomplished could the aim of black playwrights, often articulated as “the realistic portrayal of the Negro,” be fully realized. This study also examines the changing nature of the dialogue black playwrights have held with the dominant tradition and how that dialogue has shaped their imaginations.
Sanders’ discussion of Richardson, Edmonds, Hughes, Jones, and Bullins provides a context for approaching the work of other black playwrights, such as James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Owen Dodson. And her argument provides a concrete way of understanding how the context of a dominant culture influences the artistic imagination of writers not of that culture, who must come to terms with its influences and transform it into a vehicle of their own.
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