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Contemporary African American Female Playwrights: An Annotated Bibliography. (Book Reviews).

Dana A. Williams. Contemporary African American Female Playwrights: An Annotated Bibliography. Greenwood Press. 1998. 152 pages. Cloth $55.00.

One very initial but essential point that any reader of this book might be interested in at the very outset is the meaning and scope of the first word of the title, "Contemporary." Dana A. Williams has done a much-needed service by compiling and foregrounding the marvelous contributions made by black women dramatists of our times from late 1950s to the late 20th century. Most of the information included in the book was gathered between 1995 and 1996, with updates through 1997 where available. Contemporary African American Female Playwrights is a part of Williams' doctoral research project on African American women dramatists and novelists that she is completing at Howard University. As a result, while containing guiding information about the topic, she keeps the door open for suggestions, corrections, and additions. In general, the book can be recommended without reservation to scholars who are interested in the field of African American women's drama and theatre.

Contemporary African American Female Playwrights opens with a list of recent titles in bibliographies and indexes in Afro-American and African studies. This helps the reader look for references from the very beginning. On every page, the book invites its readers to visit new resources placed in chronological order. Other than the content page, page "iv" is also helpful in assessing the scope and topics that the book covers. Another helpful feature is inclusion of indexes at the end of the book under three different headings, author index, subject index, and title index. Appendix A and Appendix B also list periodicals and journals and some biographical facts about the authors. Such features make Contemporary African American Female Playwrights a useful reference book for researchers and academicians in the area.

Williams divides Contemporary African American Female Playwrights into three important sections. Each section has annotated entries to detail a wide range of works done by African American women dramatists over the span of the last thirty years.

Section I, "Anthologies," refers to selected anthologies, which include one or more plays by African American female playwrights. One can trace numerical details, such as how many anthologies may contain the same or different plays by the same African American female playwright or how many times a playwright has been published. From such details, the reader can deduce how long a playwright has enjoyed published representation or they can compare anthology space devoted to male versus female and American versus African American playwrights. Quite dramatically, the section alludes to the historical negligence faced by black women writers.

Section II, "General Criticism and Reference Works," follows the pattern of Section I for recording entries and contains information about selected general criticism of dramas by African American female playwrights. The entries highlight the dramatists who are featured in the respective works. Williams is quite precise in arranging data, mirrored in phrases such as, "Contains eight chapters on women writers, one of which is..." or "Contains ten chapters of essays, one of which..." Her wording helps readers assess the nature and worth of the anthologies as she explains the purpose of use and consultation. Verbs like highlights, lists, includes, contains, introduces, examines, provides, outlines, cites, help readers decide on their preferences. Williams' comments are helpful even in determining the tone and priorities laid down by certain critical works. For example, about Paul Carter Harrison's The Drama of Nommo, she elaborates: "Centered around the 'Africanness' in American black life, particularly how it is expressed in African American drama." Such comprehensive statements make references to the reference books solidly grounded for the research purposes of her readership.

Section III, "Individual Dramatists," is the longest section and records more specifically the individual African American female dramatists who are citizens or residents of the United States for an extensive period and have at least one drama published since 1959. This section is further divided into sub-sections. The first subsection provides information on published dramas of selected playwrights and notifies the reader about their anthologized as well as their individual publication. Reference is also provided for the journals and magazines where these plays may be found. A short plot summary of the entered play is an additional convenience. In the second sub-section a listing and bibliographic information for the individual dramatist's primary works related to drama are given where necessary and required, while the third sub-section gives details about secondary sources concerning the individual playwrights and their plays. The third sub-section further subdivides into two sections. One of these mentions general critical articles about the plays and playwrights found in popular magazines and newspapers and the other contains a list of literary and critical articles from scholarly journals, chapters and articles from various books, and individual playwright entries in literary dictionaries or reference books. The lists in both these sub-sections go by alphabetical order of the authors' names. In case of multiple citations, reference has been made in the order of chronology.

In Section III, Williams' own comprehensive statements describe the theme and focal interest of the plays and their authors. Her remark about the very first entry in this section defines the spirit of her examination. She writes about Dolores Abramson's The Light. The Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees of Blackness: "The one-act drama examines the proper behavior of black women as seen by God and devil." This one sentence is quite enough for the readers to determine their interest in the text. Simple but solid, such details are a scholarly requirement for those involved in extensive research of this subject area.

Williams' discussion in the Introduction gives an understanding about the marginalization that the African American female playwrights face in struggle to voice their selves. Williams points out that it was not until 1986 when Margaret Wilkerson compiled Nine Plays by Black Women that there was a published collection of plays exclusively by black women. She quotes Sydne Mahone from her anthology Moon Marked and Touched by Sun: Plays by African-American Women (1994): "the tradition of African-American women playwrights can be traced back as far as the late nineteenth century, nevertheless, contemporary women playwrights remain on the edge, scrawling in the margins of today's mainstream theatre." Williams lists African American drama anthologies, which seldom gave attention to female dramatists. In a male-dominated theatre world, black female dramatists and their works face discrimination because it does not represent or reflect the interests of a financially dominant white patriarchal culture. As a result, Afr ican American female playwrights are pushed to the margins of both American as well as African American theatre.

But then like bell hooks, Williams celebrates margin as a "'site of resistance'" to racial and gender oppression and assesses African American female playwrights' position as a point of vantage for raising their voices even amid silence and invisibility. Williams extends and specifies her argument about male domination and discrimination of the female work in the field of theatre and refers to a study of the January 1990 Time magazine issue. The magazine points out that out of the ten "Best of the Decade" plays since 1980 not a single female authored play was selected and that with the exception of one by August Wilson and his powerful Broadway background, all the other plays were written by white males. The displacement of black female writing within a white male theatrical system only emphasizes the jeopardized status and position of most African-American women in society.

Other than the white and black patriarchal constraints that limit the scope of publication and production for African American female playwrights, Williams points out the reliance of African American theatre on government funding and federal sponsor-ship as a significant reason for exclusion and discrimination. She demands economic independence and financial as well as social autonomy for African American theatre and for African American female playwrights, in particular, to ensure their presence and survival. Williams suggests that African American universities and departments need to promote drama. Overall, the "Introduction" of Contemporary African American Female Playwrights reflects not only Williams' mind and thought but also her faith towards winning her goals and objectives.
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Author:Anwar, Waseem
Publication:Studies in the Humanities
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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