A theatre of black women : constructions of black female subjectivity in the dramatic texts of African-American women playwrights in the 1920s and 1970s
This thesis seeks to foreground and analyse black female subjectivity by recourse to dramatic texts by twentieth-century African-American women playwrights, African- American historical narratives, and black and post-structuralist feminist theories. An attempt is made at the outset to re-assess African-American historico-political conditions in the 1920s and 1960s in order to explore the relationship between black political activism and cultural production. Although African-American social upheavals of the 1960s have come to be characterised as "revolutionary", it is necessary to critically re-evaluate the organisational hierarchy and ideological impetus that underpinned the black civil rights organisations, in order to interrogate the intractable relationship between mainstream white institutions and black civil rights organisations. Within this critical framework, the absence of African-American women from historical narratives is particularly marked, despite the fact that black women were also working at the interstices between cultural production and political activism. In contrast, historical narratives of the 1920s and the Harlem renaissance situate the contributions of African-American women alongside those of African-American men. The dramatic works of Georgia Douglas Johnson and Mary Burrill, two prominent figures of the Harlem renaissance,d emonstrateb lack women's efforts to articulate and dramatise the prevailing conditions of racism and sexism at a time when African- Americans' lives continued to be blighted by Jim Crowism. These "maverick" women playwrights are a part of a continuum of black women who seek to challenge mainstream and white patriarchal hegemony. The second half of the thesis attempts to create a link between the plays of the "mother playwrights" and contemporary black women writers who continue the tradition of fusing cultural production and political activism. It's Morning by Shirley Graham and Beloved by Toni Morrison both foreground infanticide as an act of counter-insurgency, under white supremacist ideology. This raises the issue of the ways in which the contemporary black female writer perceives black female subjectivity. On this subject, black feminist scholars write of the multifarious nature of black female subjectivity and as a consequence of this, black feminist epistemologists seek to reflect the multiple dilemmas inherent in black female materiality within white mainstream society. Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf is a seminal example of a black feminist dramatic text (choreopoem) that offers representations of black female subjectivity as multiple, and in process. The final chapter offers a detailed analysis of Shange's choreopoem and this leads me to define the black female subject (referred to as the Coloured body after Shange's "colored girls"/women) as a "shifting subject", (in contradistinction to a unitary subjecthood), that embodies radical possibilities for change. In conclusion, attempts are made to examine the way in which I myself attempt to resist homologisation into a mainstream and white academic institution, offering my own background, as theatre academic as material(ity) for the hypothesis of the "shifting subject".