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SPEAKING IN OUR OWN TONGUES:
LANGUAGE AND CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN AFRICAN BASED CREATIVE
THEORY AND WESTERN BASED TRADITIONAL THEORY TOWARDS A
THEORY OF WOMANIST DRAMATIC DISCOURSE
MONICA T. WHITE
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF
FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Monica T. White
This document is dedicated to Ella Mae Patterson, Esther Robinson and Joshua Robinson,
my lifeline. To everyone in my cypher who has contributed to the making of me.
I am grateful to be a part of the Source of all life and to be free to travel my path...
I thank the Creator for All things.
I thank Esther Robinson and Joshua Robinson for their ever-present love and
support during every project I have had an opportunity to participate.
I appreciate all of my family's love and support.
I thank my mentors. I thank Debra Walker King for recognizing and nurturing my
scholar potential and providing my Womanist foundation, which has been instrumental in
the development of this work. I thank Leah Rosenberg for always making herself
available and asking pertinent questions that assisted me in taking the next step as well as
inspiring me to further my knowledge in Caribbean literature, politics and performance. I
thank Mikell Pinkney for mentoring me in directing, performing and scholarship in
African theatre. He has also inspired within me the pursuit of understanding and
articulating spirituality in performance, which is a major aspect of this work. I thank
Ntozake Shange for showing me the power of a creative theorists and the accessibility of
forms of speech. She has led me closer to myself and an aspect of my work that I was
not aware existed. Adrienne Kennedy was kind and patient in her willingness to share
her personal experiences as they relate to the production of her work. Her candid and
sincere spirit is a true testament to the beauty of an artist. Yanci Bukovec has shown me
how to use my voice and my body to convey theoretical meaning. He has taught me the
power of language in performance. Diane Harvey who has inspired me to use movement
as theory and to study dance in terms of movement and theory. James Smethurst was one
of the first professors to see my scholarly potential in undergraduate courses. I appreciate
his sincere approach to studying and teaching African American studies. I thank Samuel
Kimball for being one of the first to introduce the possibility of me pursuing higher
degrees in scholarship. Pam Monteleone first introduced me to August Wilson and a
Shakespeare that was insightful and not intimidating. She awakened within me the power
of performing and directing and presented many opportunities for me to lean more about
myself. Judy Gebre-Hiwet may never know just how much she influenced me by simply
telling me to ask questions. Specificity is clarity and clarity is what I am seeking in my
scholarship. Each of my mentors has led me one step closer and for this I am very
I thank my colleagues in English, theatre and film.
I appreciate the faculty and staff of University of Florida's English Department.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
A B STR A C T ............................................................................... ..................... viii
1 IN TRODU CTION ................................................. ...... .................
2 W OM AN ISM /W OM AN IST ............................................................. ..................... 7
Womanism As a Discourse Between African Philosophy and Western Thought........9
Bantu Philosophy in For Colored Girls ................ ....................... ............... .... 13
Bantu Interpretations in Womanist Dramatic Theoretical Discourse.........................17
3 W O M A N IST D R A M A ..................................................................... ...................19
4 D R A M A T IC TH E O R Y ...................................................................... ..................26
Traditional Theory .................. .................................... ................. 26
C reativ e T h eory ................................................................2 9
5 D IS C O U R S E .....................................................................................................3 5
C all and R esponse.....................................35
What creative and traditional discourse reveals ............................................ 38
The Purple Flower (1928) Marita Bonner .............................. .................... 39
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf
(1975) by N tozake Shange......................................................................... ... ... 42
6 C O N C L U SIO N .......... ......................................................................... ........ .... .. 47
A GLOSSARY .............. ................ ......... ................................ 49
B WOMANIST DRAMATIC DISCOURSE INTERPRETIVE FRAMEWORK.........51
C M IN ST R E L IM A G E ....................................................................... .....................52
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ........................................................................ .. ....................53
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ...................................................................... ..................55
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
SPEAKING IN OUR OWN TONGUES:
LANGUAGE AND CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN AFRICAN BASED CREATIVE
THEORY AND WESTERN BASED TRADITIONAL THEORY IN WOMANIST
DRAMATIC THEORETICAL DISCOURSE
Monica T. White
Chair: Debra Walker King
Major Department: English Department
This analysis offers Womanist Dramatic Discourse as a theoretical framework for
interpreting and discussing academic and creative writing specifically within the
development of African American theater. It is broken into four major parts:
Womanist/Womanism, Womanist Drama, Dramatic Theory, and Discourse to offer a tool
for analysis and interpretation. It also proposes further research in each of these areas
within African American theater development and other areas of African American
culture as well as cultures of people of color around the world.
The analysis begins by offering an interpretation of Womanism and developing
criteria for identifying Womanist texts based on the definition. It addresses the spiritual
components of Womanism, which broadens its scope for empowerment.
The analysis then focuses upon Wole Soyinka's terminology of interior language,
metalanguage and spoken language to explain the origin and usage of creative and
academic texts in African American theater. It identifies Womanist Dramatic Discourse
as an interior language within African American culture. Within this interior language
there is Western thought exemplified in White American culture and African thought
exemplified in Bantu philosophy, which act as metalanguages that inspire speech and
speech patterns. Creative theory (plays, poetry, art forms) and traditional theory (essays,
speeches, academic writing) are the spoken languages or inspired speech. This analysis
engages the differences between creative and traditional theories and proposes an
analysis of the call and response that takes place between the two within African
American theater development.
Overall, this analysis offers Womanist Dramatic Discourse as a theoretical
framework for analyzing and interpreting Womanism within the context of African
American theatre. This work constructs this framework and deconstructs its components
to offer a tool for analyzing and interpreting academic and creative writing as they
interact to enhance old forms and develop new forms of communication that inspire
artistic, political, spiritual and social development and reform.
There is an exchange that takes place between scholars and artists throughout
African American Theatre history. This exchange has been instrumental in developing
new forms and periods of theatrical development. Scholarly and artistic works are
analyzed, in terms of development utilizing different critical terms with scholarly work
considered as a form of high theory and the artistic works may be considered as low
theory if acknowledged as theory at all. Due to the unequal conditions upon which they
are judged, the theory in art is often overlooked or discounted in African American
Theatre analysis. This is problematic because African Americans are a gestalt people
whose interpretation and communication of theory varies in form. Therefore many
theoretical approaches to African American theatre and history have not yet been
identified or analyzed which has led to a gap in chronicling African American Theatre
There needs to be an analysis of this exchange between scholarly work and artistic
work. The exchange consists of languages used to communicate ideas and analyze
concepts. Such languages inspire conversations. Conversation is the movement of
language. It is the exchange of an idea from a speaker to a listener. During this exchange
the idea is altered by interpretation. Such an exchange validates language for the speaker
and the listener because it is acknowledged and allowed to exist within its own space. It
is therefore important to become familiar with language in any study. When one is
unfamiliar with the language one is incapable of participating in the conversation.
Therefore, language and conversation are mutually important. These conversations are
literal and figurative occurring in various forms. For example, conversation in terms of
this work refers to an exchange of language whether it is verbal, written, performed,
heard, interpreted, etc. It is the movement of an idea from source to source and the way
that idea is complicated in its movement that requires analysis. As the idea is exchanged
it continues to develop from its original form into an altered form. This study recognizes
the need for analyzing the site where these conversations take place in the form of call
and response between scholars/traditional theorists and playwrights/creative theorists in
African American Theatre development.
African American Theatre as a discipline is a relatively new field within the
Academy that is establishing its history, chronicling development and attempting to
develop tools for academic and artistic progress. It is also important to note that African
American Theatre developed out of a necessity for entertainment as well as political
empowerment. Therefore, the introduction of tools to enhance the awareness of historical
development of African American theatre cannot be effectively analyzed without also
understanding the theoretical development. Likewise, the theoretical development cannot
be complete without identifying, acknowledging and interpreting the various forms of
theory that appear in African American Theatre.
This analysis offers a interpretive framework that complicates the concept of high
theory by introducing the possibility that black female writers have been writing theory in
prose in response to black male scholars who make claims concerning the use of art as
propaganda, as a weapon against oppression. The framework provides language and an
opportunity to inspire conversations about the exchange and how it has impacted the
development of African American Theatre history and theory.
It is important to identify the possibility of art as theory in terms of African
American theatre because art has been one of the many languages used to articulate the
African American experience nationally and globally. According to Wole Soyinka,
when you go into any culture, I don't care what the culture is, you have to go with
some humility. You have to understand the language, and by that I do not mean
what we speak, you've got to understand the language, the interior language of the
people. You've got to be able to enter their philosophy, their world view. You've
got to speak both the spoken language and the metalanguage of the people. (qtd. in
Harrison xi )
Language is how ideas are communicated and in order to make a sincere attempt to
understand the historical or theoretical development of a people it is necessary to respect
To aid in making this possible I am aiming towards a theory of Womanist Dramatic
Discourse and identifying it as an interior language used in the discussion of African
American artistic, political, economic and social development in America. Womanism is
an important aspect of this interpretive tool because it creates a space where spirituality
and personal perspectives can be addressed on individual and collective terms. Within
this interior language there are metalanguages of African Philosophy exemplified in
Bantu Philosophy and Western Thought exemplified in Euro Philosophical Traditions
which inspires spoken languages1 of creative theory and traditional theory.2 Spoken
languages are in fact languages that articulate multiple individual and collective
1 This is my interpretation of Wole Soyinka's terms introduced in the opening quote of this analysis. I will
continue to interchange these terms accordingly.
2 The diagram in Appendix A offers a visual aid in the construction of Womanist Dramatic Discourse as an
experiences to the larger world through creative and traditional mediums for the purpose
of survival, development and progress. In its consistent appearance and evolution a
theory of Womanist Dramatic Discourse has become a tradition3beginning from the first
period of African American Theatre to present.
There are seven documented historical and theoretical eras/periods of African
American theatrical development, according to Dr. Mikell Pinkney. These eras include:
1) plantation/slave period, 2) Minstrel Era (1840's to 1890's) 3) Harlem Renaissance
(-1917 late 1920's), 4) The Assimilationist period (mid 1930's late 1950's) 5) The
Black Power/Black Arts/ Black Revolutionary Theater (early 1960's mid 1970's) 6)
The Revolutionary-Afrocentric era (mid 1970's late 1980's), and 7) The New-Age
Post- Revolutionary Era (late 1980's to present) (Pinkney 3-5). Each of these eras has
been documented theoretically in relation to historical occurrences, theoretical analysis
and development of works. The development of each era evolves out of discourse
between scholars and artists aiming to use art as propaganda.
A theory of Womanist Dramatic Discourse offers an opportunity to explore these
eras. It is a mutually inclusive interior language that acknowledges the importance of
spoken language and metalanguage for people of color. This is one of the first steps in
equalizing academic and artistic work in terms of theory.
The need for such equalizing develops out of the racial history in America.
Scholars like W.E.B. DuBois and Amiri Baraka developed scholarly works in response to
3 Tradition of Womanist Dramatic theory evolves out of the idea of a consistent evolving artistic theoretical
form meeting similar criteria over a period of time. Examples of the tradition include Marita Bonner's The
Purple Flower (1928), Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro (1962) and Ntozake Shange's For
Colored Girls...(1975). All or which contain similar criteria utilize similar techniques to discuss similar
issues over a period of time.
circumstances created by the fact "Black people in the U.S.A. suffer from a dual
oppression then, not only as part of a multinational working class exploited by capitalism
(the private ownership of the means of production, but also as an oppressed Afro-
American nation, struggling against imperialism for liberation and self-determination"
especially in terms of language and speech (Baraka, "Not Just Survival" 31). When
looking at the site of exchange it becomes clear that historically black male scholars
utilize traditional forms to conceptualize.
Black female playwrights have historically conceptualized in the form of prose. In
analyzing the site of call and response it becomes apparent that artists like Marita Bonner,
Adrienne Kennedy and Ntozake Shange offer works that explain "for black women, and
women of other oppressed nationalities in the United States, there is finally a triple
oppression, not only class and national oppression, but also oppression because of their"
gender not to mention sexuality and/or religious and spiritual practices (Baraka, "Not Just
Survival" 31). These black female creative writers complicate the issues addressed in
traditional theory by using a creative form and altering the original idea based on their
perceptions resulting from multiple oppression.
A theory of Womanist Dramatic Discourse therefore provides languages to discuss
oppression and empowerment through creative theory and traditional theory provides an
opportunity for analyzing the exchange and alteration of ideas as they are communicated
back and forth using different forms.
This analysis deconstructs Womanist Dramatic Discourse into four major parts
Womanist/Womanism, Womanist Drama, Dramatic Theory and Discourse in order to
better understand the necessity of an analysis of the site of exchange between traditional
and creative theorists. A brief analysis of such exchanges occurs in some sections yet the
primary purpose of this study is to develop a framework so that such analyses can occur
more frequently and in greater detail.
In summary, this analysis encourages the understanding of African American
theatre in theory and practice as language. It is applicable to people of color in all parts
of the world who utilize varying means of expression to resist oppression but I am
focusing specifically upon the African American experience at this time. It is a critical
site of analysis of the exchange between African American theatre theorists and
playwrights as a tradition and a discourse for the empowerment of oppressed people as
individuals and a collective group. Simply stated, art can again be used more effectively
as propaganda if we utilize the discourse between two theoretical forms.
Womanist 1. From womanish. (Opp. of "girlish," i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not
serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of
mothers to female children, "you acting womanish," i.e., like a woman. Usually
referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to
know more and in greater depth than is considered good for one. Interested in
grown-up doings. Acting grownup. Being grown up. Interchangeable with
another black folk expression: "You trying to be grown." Responsible. In charge.
Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates
and prefers women's culture, women's emotional flexibility (values tears as natural
counterbalance of laughter, and women's strength. Sometimes loves individual
men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire
people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.
Traditionally universalist, as in: "Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and
our cousins are white beige and black?" Ans.: "Well, you know the colored race is
just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented." Traditionally
capable, as in: "Mama, I'm walking to Canada and I'm taking you and bunch of
other slaves with me." Reply: "It wouldn't be the first time."
Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and
food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender.1
A tradition of womanist dramatic development can be observed beginning with
Alice Walker's introduction of the term Womanism/Womanist2. It is important to note
1 Definition of a "Womanist" from In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose, 1983 by Alice
Walker, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company in Katie's Canon: Womanism and the Soul
of the Black Community by Katie Cannon.
2 Womanism accounts for the spiritual side of African Americans, which is often ignored or discounted
when using Western forms of knowledge. Use of Bantu terms provides an alternative, which accounts for
that spiritual awareness. Use of Bantu with Western concepts is also important for African Americans
because the reality is that we are no longer living in pre-colonial Africa yet we must not deny our roots or
our present condition. Such a concept is achieved in Womanism, which marries the two traditionally
oppositional modes of discourse.
here that Womanist Dramatic Discourse is not simply a regurgitation of Womanism, it is
an expansion of the concept into a theoretical framework for African American theatre
The structure and content of the definition are pertinent in understanding the
significance of Womanist Dramatic Discourse. The likelihood of acceptance of a
theoretical concept is often based on its structure and content. For example, if a
theoretical concept does not follow Western structure and is not comprised of content that
is clearly relevant to Western ideas, it becomes invalid. In resistance to such a fate,
Walker constructs the concept of Womanism using a typically Western definition
structure, which names the term and numbers it meanings. Yet she uses prose in the
content of the definition to account for elements that do not rely on a Western perspective
but instead incorporates non-Western ideals such as spirituality. She is therefore able to
construct a definition that merges two traditionally opposing discourses. Likewise,
Womanist Dramatic Discourse explains how this is possible.
Womanist Dramatic Discourse creates a space where interaction between opposing
discourses can be examined. For example, by using the foundation ofWomanism, a
discourse between an African philosophical tradition represented by Bantu and a Western
philosophical tradition represented by Feminism. Within womanism there is an exchange
between these two traditions that aid in assisting African Americans in articulating
experiences. Such discourse is an example of a method that allows African Americans to
express our selves without denying any part of ourselves. To explore this concept
further, let us look more closely at Bantu as a philosophy and its relationship with
Feminism within Womanism.
Womanism As a Discourse Between African Philosophy and Western Thought
The Bantu of Ruanda speak the language Kinyuruanda which is a language of
classification where "the substantives are not divided into grammatical genders but are
grouped into kinds or categories" (Jahn 99). "In simplified form the four basic concepts"
applicable to this analysis include:
Muntu = human being (plural: Bantu);
Kintu = thing (plural: Bintu);
Hantu = place and time;
Kuntu = modality. (Jahn 100).3
According to these categories "all being in all essence, in whatever form it is conceived
can be subsumed under one of these categories. Nothing can be conceived outside them"
this approach is all-inclusive and prevents any element of society from being excluded
These four categories work within Womanism to explain the spiritual elements of
the interior languages within African American culture, which are not as easily explained
in Western terms. By understanding the categories and their meaning and identifying
them within the definition we find more expansive ways of communicating a vision of
3 These terms provide an understanding of the way Africans, the Bantu specifically, viewed the world prior
to colonial intervention. This is important because as African Americans we have been forced and coerced
into articulating our experiences based on colonial intervention and its results. By incorporating Bantu
philosophy as an alternative to our forced Westernization we are freeing ourselves from "the master's
language" (however briefly) and speaking a language we choose for ourselves. In essence, this leads to us
speaking in our own tongues.
When I use the terms they are not simply used as a matter of exchanging a Bantu term for an english word.
It is an act of resistance and empowerment that gives me an additional choice of how to use the languages
applicable to my state of being. I find these words validate the spiritual essence of my interpretation more
clearly than simply using English or Western concepts and terms.
the world and our position in it that does not rely solely on the tools provided by those
who enslaved us.
Womanism, by combining Feminism and Bantu, places woman at the center by
explaining her categorical repositioning in terms of empowerment and oppression. For
example, Womanism and Feminism agree that women have been objectified, placed in
the Kintu category. Through Feminist and Womanist discourse we attempt to reposition
ourselves in the category Muntu as a human being, having the right and responsibility of
self-definition and self-determination. The definition of Womanism addresses this using
identifiable Bantu characteristics4. In the definition of womanism woman is named as
Muntu, "a force endowed with intelligence, or better: Muntu is an entity, which is a force
which has control over Nommo" the spoken word and the power by which one influences
all of the other categories (Jahn 99-100). African Americans can use tools of
empowerment from African and Western backgrounds by utilizing spoken languages and
metalanguages as speech power/language. For example, the term Womanism is Nommo
in its self-defining and self-realizing approach. By taking the initiative to develop a name
that does not rely on Feminism for its meaning, Womanism creates its own independent
space that acknowledges kinship to Feminism but does not rely on it for its meaning, such
is the power of utilizing Bantu as an additional form of speech.
For the Bantu, speech is an action and actions are speech. Likewise, Womanism is
a speech action that distinguishes difference in methods and approaches to empowerment
4 Such characteristics include terms consistent with the Four categories (Muntu, Kintu, Hantu and Kuntu).
Also refers to NTU, which is the universal power that contains the workings of all of the categories together
and the concept of Nommo: word power. Refer to glossary for more detailed definitions of each.
yet embraces sameness in terms of the Feminist agenda. For instance, Womanist speech
acts are carried out in the performative aspects of the definition: loves, appreciates and
prefers. All are indicative of the power ofNommo (Jahn 124). Within Womanism,
Bantu is also modified using Feminism. In Bantu "man has the power of the word"
whereas in Womanism the Feminist ideology of placing woman at the center gives her
the power over the word. This is one of many ways in which both philosophies influence
the other within Womanism. The relevance of this influence lies in their recognition of
an African sensibility and access to a language that can more clearly articulate those
sensibilities in a way that does not rely on Western terminology or acceptance of the
Other Bantu characteristics appearing in the Womanist definition include the
concept of Kintu. By placing woman in a position of Muntu, the definition indirectly
address the need to endow woman with Nommo, the ability to perform these speech acts
instead of being acted upon. For example, a Womanist is a woman who loves other
Muntu such as the Spirit, other women and individual men, and in doing so respects them
as beings and not things. In other words, a womanist defines herself in her capacity to
love rather than being defined by those who love her. Rather than positioning people as
objects, womanism categorically positions inanimate objects in the category of Kintu
where they belong such as the moon, food, roundness and struggle (Walker ix). Hantu,
which refers to place and time, is indicated in the term: Regardless. This term defies the
concept of time in its lack of specificity. She in turn has the power to influence her
position with the power of her perception. If she loves herself in every situation this is
the only thing that matters, place and time are suspended (Walker ix). Kuntu is
exemplified in women's culture, women's emotional flexibility and women's strength,
such are modes of reality in which woman determines her positioning in her existence
(Walker ix). In essence, Womanism positions woman in a role of agency capable of
influencing other people, objects, place and time and altering reality, a position
traditionally denied to women. As a gestalt people, African Americans must have access
to multiple theoretical discourses for individual and collective consciousness
development without having to rely upon purely Western concepts to articulate ideas that
may stem from our African ancestry.
In order to clarify the necessity of African Americans having additional speech
options, I would like to offer an interpretation ofNtozake Shange's For Colored Girls ...
in order to exhibit the power of using Bantu as a metalanguage within the interior
language of Womanist Dramatic Discourse.5 Using Bantu to interpret the play allows us
an alternative speech that liberates us from having to rely on Western perceptions of the
world in order to articulate our position within it. Bantu Philosophy within Womanism
provides an opportunity to use art as propaganda.
For Colored Girls ... is a collection of poems performed by seven women of color
who articulate their individual and collective experience as Black women in America.
Although the women move between varying emotional states they find solace in song and
dance as they celebrate and grieve simultaneously. The play begins with distress as each
woman silently freezes into a pose and it ends with victory as each woman chants and
5 Such an interpretation is also possible with Marita Bonner's The Purple Flower and with Adrienne
Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro but I do not have the time or space to adequately include an
interpretation of each. I am certain, however, that the example provided will be sufficient in proving the
dances. It is a story about surviving, healing, connecting and empowering. It is not
about bashing black men, it is simply about making emotional sense for black women
who have been historically ignored in struggles against oppression. In the end it is the
understanding of their relationship with god, each woman's self, and one another that
gives them what they need.
Bantu Philosophy in For Colored Girls ...
The elements of Bantu Philosophy exemplified in this text begin with the ladies
recognition of society's attempt to categorize them as Kintu as they "have given their
love unconditionally to men [and communities] who degrade and abuse them" (Hatch and
Shine, Recent 363). As Kintu, these women are the property of the men who hurt them
and the society in which they live. Each woman is Kintu in her individual bondage but
collectively they are Bintu (plural form of Kintu). This reveals the individuals and
community of oppressed women of color. These ideas culminate throughout the text.
They show how each woman identifies herself as Kintu, Bintu and becomes Muntu,
As Bintu, of men these women are subject to violence without the protection of the
law. For example,
lady in red these men friends of ours
who smile nice
and take us out to dinner
lady in purple lock the door behind you
lady in blue with fist in face to fuck
lady in red who make elaborate Mediterranean dinners
& let the art ensemble carry all ethical burdens
while they invite a couple friends over to have you
are suffering from latent rapist bravado
& we are left wit the scars (Shange 18-19).
In this context the women acknowledge their position in society and also acknowledge
the damage that such a position does to the soul. They are not simply physically scarred,
their spirits are in danger of being broken.
It is through the power of Nommo that these women attempt to heal the scars and
become Muntu individually and Bantu collectively. Recognizing the confinements of
language the lady in orange professes "i don't wanna write/in english or spanish/i wanna
sing make you dance/like the bata dance scream..." The ladies respond:
lady in yellow we gotta dance to keep from cryin
lady in brown we gotta dance to keep from dyin
lady in red so come on
The women recognize the spoken, written and body movement as word power that can
change their condition. Understanding the significance ofNommo here is its ability to
create magic within them that aid in altering their exterior circumstances. This tells us
that there is no separation between the sacred and the secular, an African notion of reality
that is rejected or discounted in Western society.
The entire choreopoem is therefore Nommo in its ability to reposition Kintu (Bintu)
into the category of Muntu (Bantu). Individually each woman tells her story, which
expresses her frustration with her current condition. In "a nite wid beau willie brown"
the lady in red shares her pain with the other ladies which is a direct result of beau
willie's. James Hatch and Ted Shine offer an excellent summary and interpretation of the
text that details the significance of this:
This poem is the most dramatic and controversial piece in the choreopoem. It is the
graphic and moving story of an African American man who murders his children as
their mother implores him for mercy. His powerful characterization makes him a
prototype for African American males and a dangerous stereotype for
unknowledgeable whites who want to believe that all Black men are like beau
willie. He is the product of the system in which he lives; a system where he has
been disenfranchised socially, politically, and economically. He was a school
dropout because he found nothing there relevant to him or his needs. He was
forced to fight a war to liberate the Vietnamese while his brothers and sisters back
home were fighting to liberate themselves from America's racial oppression. He
cannot find a job that will allow him to support his family or afford him some
dignity. He is forced into a corner by racism and has no self-esteem. His
frustrations mount and are relieved through drink and drugs. His need for crystal,
the mother of his children-his love for her, his masculinity, is defined through his
strength, that is, through his violence. Shange does not ask us to forgive beau
willie but she does want us to understand and judge him in terms of the conditions
that shaped him (Recent 364)
The conditions that shaped him are the same conditions that weigh upon the lady in red.
His pain became her pain and in this section of the choreopoem she shares it with the
other ladies by telling beau willie's story in conjunction with her own. In the section
following this piece her individual pain becomes a collective lament:
lady in red I was mission something
lady in purple something so important
lady in orange something promised
lady in blue a layin on of hands [.. ]
lady in blue all the gods coming into me
layin me open to myself [ ... ]
They become a community of mourners here. Their lament becomes a chant, a way
of using Nommo for spiritual empowerment as they repeat over and over "i found god in
myself and i loved her fiercely" (Shange 63). By realizing the power of their language in
conversation and exaltation the women use Nommo to reposition themselves as Muntu on
an individual level and as Bantu collectively.
They create a space and time where this is possible and carry it out from the very
beginning to the end. When the performance begins
the stage is in darkness. Harsh music is heard as dim blue lights come up. One
after another, seven women run onto the stage from each of the exits. They all
freeze in positions of distress. The follow spot picks up the lady in brown. She
comes to life and looks around at the other ladies. All of the others are still. She
walks over to the lady in red and calls to her. The lady in red makes no response
In the beginning they are suspended in an fixed state, frozen by distress. By the end of
the performance, "all of the ladies repeat to /thei,'\ 'e\ softly the lines foundd god in
myself & i loved her. It soon becomes a song ofjoy, started by the lady in blue. The
ladies singfirst to each other, then gradually to the audience. After songpeaks the ladies
enter into a closed tight circle" (Shange 63). By the end of the play the ladies have
unfixed their locked state and are finally able to move which indicates a resurgence of
time. They use their Nommo throughout the play to reach this state, conjuring Hantu for
the benefit of their healing. They created a time and space for their own empowerment.
The space for empowerment is the Kuntu, reality or mode they reach in their
realization of divinity. Such realization is "a reflection and an objectification of the
concepts of the African continuum" which upholds "the belief in the fundamental
spiritual nature of the universe [NTU], as well as the attendant belief that man [and
woman are] essentially spirit, and as such basically irreducible" (Jackson ix). For
Colored Girls offers this reality as truth.
Using Bantu interpretation we see that Shange has created a drama "that has, as its
ultimate purpose to reveal and invoke the reality of the particular mode that it has
ritualized. This theater style depends on power and power invocation" (Jackson xi). This
interpretation is an example of the ways in which Bantu philosophy provides terms and
ideologies that adhere to the spiritual order of the world, which is also an important
aspect of theorizing. Unfortunately, such ways of theorizing are often overlooked or
discounted which is why Womanism, as a concept opens the door for such interpretations
within the theory of Womanist Dramatic Discourse.
Bantu Interpretations in Womanist Dramatic Theoretical Discourse
Such use of Bantu to interpret this play frees me from having to use Western
terminology to articulate what I identify as an African sensibility. It is a small step using
general terms from a rich culture. But it is a profound advance in the direction of
developing a method of communication and measurement that broadens my audience to
include: other people of color who are also seeking methods of expression that are not
founded upon Western ideas and language. As well as, those who seek sincere
understanding of the many cultures within the African Diaspora.
As a neo-Africanism6 Womanism achieves the possibility of multiple discourses
and consciousness. Womanisms ability to combine call and response between creative
theorists and traditional theorists and African Philosophy (Bantu) and Western Thought
(Euro Philosophical Traditions) has aided in the development of African American
Theatre as each discourse inspires the other. It creates a space where traditional theory
and creative theory coexist and engage one another on multiple levels. This aids in
individual and collective development. This development is unique for every person and
6 A neo-Africanism incorporates "a tradition seen rationally, whose values are made explicit and renewed,
[ ... assimilating] those European elements which modem times demand; and this is the process the
European elements are so transformed and adapted that a modem, viable African culture arises out of the
whole" (Jahn 16).
must be deconstructed and re-defined at the core in order to achieve the purpose of
empowerment. A theory of Womanism Dramatic Discourse is therefore "a genuine
Renaissance, which does not remain a merely formal renewal and imitation of the past,
but permits something new to emerge" (Jahn 16). It emerges as a new language that
synthesizes multiple cultural backgrounds for the purpose of articulation of the damage of
silence, oppression and need for empowerment.
Throughout this analysis the various elements of this definition7 are exemplified
and clarified in the traditional and creative theories. These example texts fit definitions
of Womanism and criteria outlining Womanist Drama as artistic propaganda.
Refers to the African and Euro Philosophical ideas and concepts inherent in the description of the term.
Womanist Drama does not simply refer to dramatic texts written by black women.
Womanist Drama includes text that:
1. consists of one or more aspects of Alice Walker's definition of Womanist
2. places and/or acknowledges woman as the center of the discourse directly or
indirectly by empowering woman in addressing her concerns and perceptions
3. acknowledges and respects community
4. addresses issues that includes the concerns of people of color
5. provides testimonials f characters' realities which are impacted by oppression.
Adrienne Kennedy resists confining herself or her work to additional labeling yet
she openly acknowledges the significance of the preceding criteria in her work (Kennedy,
Lecture). She acknowledges Funnyhouse of a Negro as one of her most important works.
It addresses issues and viewpoints that can be considered Womanist.
Funnyhouse is a version of "the tragic mulatto." The main character, Sarah, is
trapped in her psyche symbolized by the "funnyhouse." She roams the rooms talking to
her alter-egos symbolized by the Duchess of Hapsburg, Queen Victoria Regina, Jesus,
Patrice Lumumba, all of which are one of herselves. Sarah's landlady, Raymond (her
Jewish lover), and The Mother are also prominent figures in the play. The main issues
addressed in the play are issues of race and color, the racism of lighter skinned blacks
against dark-skinned blacks (colorisms). It also addresses racism inherent in hair texture
and issues of classism. The play addresses the concerns of a mulatto woman in her
communities and the overall society.
Adrienne Kennedy exhibits unctuousness, willful behavior in her decision to tell
Sarah's story in Funnyhouse, which was criticized as "a laundering of 'dirty linen'
because the racism of lighter Blacks against dark African Americans should not be aired
in public" (Hatch and Shine, Recent 334). Although she acknowledges that she is more
pre-occupied with race than gender, Kennedy has created a text that reveals that she is
"committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people male and female" in her
depiction of Sarah and her Father specifically in Funnyhouse. Both of them wrestle with
the "madhouse" of racism as Kennedy attempts to help them make emotional sense of
their anguish. The play consistently returns to the anguish of Sarah and her father:
As for myself, I long to become even a more pallid Negro than I am now; pallid
like Negroes on the covers of American Negro magazines; soulless, educated, and
irreligious. I want to possess no moral value, particularly value as to my being. I
want not to be. I ask nothing except anonymity... My friends will be white. I need
them as an embankment to keep me from reflecting too much upon the fact that I
am a Negro. For, like all educated Negroes-out of life-and-death essential I find
it necessary to maintain a stark fortress against recognition of myself. My white
friends, like myself, will be shrewd, intellectual, and anxious for death. Anyone's
death. I will mistrust them, as I do myself, waver in their opinion of me, as I waver
in the opinion of myself. (Kennedy, Funnyhouse 336)
Sarah's father exhibits a similar self-loathing:
He tried to hang himself once. After my mother went to the asylum he had
hallucinations, his mother threw a dead chicken at him, his father laughed and said
the race was no damn good, my mother appeared in her nightgown screaming she
had trapped herself in Blackness. No white doves flew. He had left Africa and was
again in New York. He lived in Harlem and no white doves flew. Sarah, Sarah, he
would say to me, the soldiers are coming and a cross they are placing high on a tree
and are dragging me through the grass and nailing me upon the cross. My blood is
gushing. I wanted to live in Genesis in the midst of golden savannas, nim and
white frankopenny trees and white stallions roaming under a blue sky. I wanted to
walk with a white dove. I wanted to be a Christian. Now I am Judas. I betrayed
my mother. I sent your mother to the asylum. I created a yellow child who hates
me. And he tried to hang himself in a Harlem hotel,
Sarah says of her father who shares her obsession of race that is caused by the racist
society they inhabit. (Kennedy, Funnyhouse 340) Neither of them are able to escape the
madness that it causes within them or around them. Her father plead as "He put out his
hand to her, tried to take her in his arms, crying out --- Forgiveness, Sarah, is it that you
never will forgive me for being Black? Sarah, I know you were a child of torment. But
forgiveness" (Kennedy, Funnyhouse 340). The repetitious imagery of the Father
returning to Sarah, putting out his hands to her reveals his inability to be complete
without the forgiveness of his daughter. Likewise, Sarah explains "they told me my
father was God but my father is Black. He is my father. I am tied to a black Negro ... I
am bound to him unless, of course he should die" (Kennedy, Funnyhouse 342). Sarah is
also incomplete without her father, whom she loathes. Their wholeness is dependant
upon one another. These are two examples of how the commits to survival and
wholeness of males and females wrestling with racism.
Funnyhouse literally places woman at the center of the play. For instance, "the
play is placed in the girl Sarah's room. The center of the stage works well as her room,
allowing the rest of the stage as the place for herselves [ .. ] When she is placed in her
room with her belongings, then the director is free to let the rest of the play happen
around her" (Kennedy, Funnyhouse 335) By suggesting the staging of this play in such a
way as this, Kennedy arranges for Sarah's concerns and perceptions to be central to the
overall meaning of the play. Also, the fact that three (Funnyhouse Landlady, Funnyhouse
Man and The Mother) out of eight characters are not one of herselves. This indicates that
the play is all about Sarah and her internal conflicts, which prevent her from escaping the
Community is acknowledged and respected in character interaction in Funnyhouse.
Every member of the community, funnyhouse, takes part in Sarah's reconciliation
process as each borrows and shares a common language represented in the repetitious
monologues and chants. For example, each of herselves shares a monologue about hair
Man: It begins with the disaster of my hair. I awaken. My hair has fallen out, not
all of it, but a mass from the crown of my head that lies on the center of my white
pillow. I arise and in the greyish winter morning light of my room I stand staring at
my hair, dazed by sleeplessness, still shaken by nightmares of my mother. Is it
true? Yes. It is my hair. In the mirror I see that, although my hair remains on both
sides, clearly on the crown and at my temples my scalp is bare. And in my sleep I
had been visited by my bald crazy mother who comes to me crying, calling me to
her bedside. She lies on the bed watching the strands of her own hair fall out. Her
hair fell out after she married, and she spent her days lying on the bed watching the
strands fall from her scalp, covering the bedspread until she was bald and admitted
to the hospital. Black man, my mother says, I never should have let a Black man
put his hands on me ... That is the beginning (Kennedy, Funnyhouse 338).
This excerpt is a very profound piece singularly and the way it is used collectively within
the text. Similar monologues within the text presented by different characters
consistently reiterate the damage of racist thinking using hair as a metaphor. The
constant reference to the hair addresses the colorism/racism by which she is trapped.
With hair as a marker for race the loss of her hair exhibits her loss of identity. When the
White mother allowed the Black father to touch her the White mother lost her European
identity. The hair symbolizes this belief. She passes the belief to Sarah who forms a
community, amongst herselves, in order to deal with that loss. Each member repeats the
story and in doing so validates Sarah while educating the audience (reader/spectator) as a
community on the damage of racism on physical and emotional levels. In addressing this
issue in this way Kennedy acknowledges community formation and necessity in identity
Kennedy also addresses the impact of internalized racism in Funnyhouse. The play
addresses external hegemony from an internal perspective from an outsider within
location. Such a position, according to Patricia Hill Collins consists of "social locations
or border spaces marking the boundaries between groups of unequal power. Individuals
acquire identities as 'outsiders-within' by their placement in these social locations"
(Collins 279). This takes place with Sarah, the main character, by virtue of her color, as a
mulatto, she neither belongs in a black community or a white community and becomes
internally undone in trying to reconcile her identity.
The play is a story of a woman fragmented by displacement. "Her mother is light,
her father black and African; her mother had status, her father none," the Negro Sarah is
conflicted in terms of race and class hegemony (Hatch and Shine, Recent 333). Her
condition of marginality within and outside of multiple communities causes her to
experience a mental breakdown during which she attempts to reconcile her multiple
selves. "Her loyalty to her European heritage, represented by [ ... the characters] Queen
Victoria and the Duchess of Hapsburg, forces her to deny her African heritage, forces her
to murder her father, much as the Europeans murdered Patrice Lumumba because he
threatened European dominance," such internal tensions exemplify the intersections of
race, class and nationality. Her body and her mind becomes the site where the historical
tensions between racial lines, class lines, and nationality intersect (Hatch and Shine,
Recent 333). She attempts to reconcile the history of hegemonic domination in all
institutions within herself.
The play is a testimonial1 In this text, Kennedy takes the opportunity to tell the
truth from her perspective without shame or guilt. The story is Sarah's testimony. She
reveals her position, expresses her anguish and attempts to reconcile her internal conflicts
in the presence of herselves, the three other people, and the audience as reader or
spectator. Kennedy presents this set up to the audience via repetitious monologues and in
doing so "has carefully forged an emotional bridge that one cannot avoid crossing,
regardless of race, age or sex" (Hatch and Shine, Recent 334) She has provided audiences
with a detailed account of the impact of racism upon an individual.
Even though Kennedy does not adopt Womanism as a label, she admits that her
work does meet the criteria. "If you are a daughter or have children you could be
womanist," she explains when addressing the label (Kennedy, Lecture). She believes
these roles inspire sensibilities that make production of work that follows Womanist
Dramatic criteria possible.2
As a creative theorist, Kennedy is a part of a tradition of Black female playwrights
who use art as propaganda and meet Womanist Dramatic criteria. Traditional theorists
and other creative theorists' textual conversations inspire the production of such works.
Like these other playwrights, Kennedy develops a unique theoretical approach in creative
1 Testimony is an important element of spiritual growth, particularly in the black church. It involves
standing before everyone and telling ones story. In the storytelling the speaker admits to strength,
weaknesses, challenges and victories. It is a form of release that empowers the spirit in the presence of the
2 Bonner and Shange's works exhibit these sensibilities and meet the criteria. But there is not enough space
in this analysis to provide as detailed an interpretation as the one that appears here. However, I am
confident that the interpretations of these texts in other sections of this analysis will offer a consistent
interpretation that accesses these criteria even though they are addressing other aspects of Womanist
form by which to empower oppressed individuals and groups. Such an approach leads to
another important aspect of a theory of Womanist Dramatic Discourse.
There are two types of Dramatic Theory, spoken languages, apparent in the
development of African American Theatre, which directly relates to social, political and
economic development in the Black community.
Traditional theory involves essays, speeches and other traditional forms of writing
that offer a theoretical approach to improving the conditions in which African Americans
practice art and which impacts the way we live in America.
W.E.B. DuBois initiated the first conversations concerning the development of
African American Theatre. He was "an activist, historian, economist, novelist, poet, and
playwright, as well as founder of a drama company, the KRIGWA players, which
performed Black plays" (Baraka, "Not Just Survival" 39). He developed some of his
most compelling arguments in the form of speeches, essays and articles that "advocated
'a drama written by Negroes, produced by Negroes and supported by Negroes,' a true
national theater" (Baraka, "Not Just Survival" 39). DuBois founded his argument on the
How Males fit Into Womanism
All of the traditional theorists I refer to in this analysis are male yet they exhibit womanist ideas.
For example DuBois and Baraka's artistic solutions contain elements of Kuntu Drama as outlined by Paul
Carter Harrison. Kuntu Drama can be closely linked to Womanism because of its spiritual content. Kuntu
drama as a definition fits part 3 of the womanist definition. All of the traditional theorists address
womanist concerns, but most importantly they inspire the womanist drama production that places woman at
the center and addresses the same concerns discussed by the men from a female perspective.
premise of the negative implications of Minstrel shows,2 which evolved out of White
American's distorted perceptions of Black Americans. DuBois believed that Black
citizens must take charge of the ways we are perceived by writing, producing and
supporting our own work.
DuBois wrote several articles and gave many speeches for developing strageties for
a Negro Theatre ethic. In February 1926 he published a questionnaire3 regarding the long
controversy "within and without the Negro race as to just how the Negro should be
treated in art-how he should be pictured by writers and portrayed by artists" (DuBois,
"Questionnaire" 165). In this publication, the question arises in response to the myths
created about African Americans by White Americans which have "contended that while
the individual portraits may be true and artistic, the net result to American Literature to
date is to picture twelve million Americans as prostitutes, thieves and fools and that such
'freedom' in art is miserably unfair" (DuBois, "Questionnaire" 165). DuBois argues that
such incessant negative depictions "is the kind of thing, indeed which might be effective
in preventing many excellent Negro writers from speaking any truth which might be
2 For a visual of minstrel images refer to Appendix C. Other texts that provide additional information on
blackface minstrelsy include: The ghost walks : a chronological history of Blacks in show business, 1865-
1910 1988 by Henry T. Sampson or Inside the minstrel mask : readings in nineteenth-century blackface
minstrelsy 1996 edited by Annemarie Bean, James V. Hatch, and Brooks McNamara.
3 The specific questions asked in the questionnaire include: 1) When the artist, black or white, portrays
Negro characters is he under any obligations or limitations as to the sort of character he will portray? 2)
Can any author be criticized for painting the worst or the best characters of the group? 3) Can publishers
be criticized for refusing to handle novels that portray Negroes of education and accomplishment, on the
ground that these characters are no different from white folk and therefore not interesting? 4) What are
Negroes to do when they are continually painted at their worst and judged by the public as they are
painted? 5) Does the situation of the educated Negro in America with its pathos, humiliation and tragedy
call for artistic treatment at least as sincere and sympathetic as Poi n received? 6) Is not the continual
portrayal of the sordid, foolish and criminal among Negroes convincing the world that this and this alone is
really and essentially Negroid, and preventing white artists from knowing any other types and preventing
black artists from daring to paint them? 7) Is there not a real danger that young colored writers will be
tempted to follow the popular trend in portraying Negro character in the underworld rather than seeking to
considered unpleasant" (Van Vecten qtd in DuBois, "Questionnaire" 165). Such a
prospect would be detrimental to Negroes according to DuBois. In his 1926 speech,
"Criteria of Negro Art", he explains that "...as artists we face our own past as a people
[ ... ] a realization of that past, of which for long years we have been ashamed, for which
we have apologized [ .. ] this same past is taking on form, reality and in a half shame-
faced way we are beginning to be proud of it" (DuBois, "Criteria" 292). Baraka
encourages artists to use this past as inspiration and not as a source of shame. He
... it is the bounden duty of black America to begin this great work of the creation
of Beauty, of the preservation of Beauty, of the realization of Beauty, and we must
use in this work all the methods that men have used before [ ... ] he has used the
Truth not for the sake of truth, not as a scientist seeking truth, but as one upon
whom Truth eternally thrusts itself as the highest handmaid of imagination, [ .. ]
Goodness goodness in all its aspects of justice, honor and right" (emphasis mine,
DuBois, ("Criteria" 296).
DuBois argues that by using Beauty, Truth and Goodness Negro artists can use Art as
propaganda that inspires these sensibilities within the community and convince the White
America of the humanity of Black Americans. He expresses that:
... all Art is propaganda and ever must be. I stand in utter shamelessness and say
that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for
gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art
that is not used for propaganda (DuBois, "Criteria" 296).
This example exhibits the ways in which artistic and cultural development is theorized in
the medium of a speech/article. This form of theory is more widely accepted because of
its Western structure of theorizing and has proven to be acknowledged as a powerful tool
in developing African American Theatre.
paint the truth about themselves and their own social class? DuBois, W.E.B., "Questionnaire" Crisis.
Womanist Dramatic Discourse initiates an analysis of traditional theorists like
DuBois and uncovering the call and response he engages with creative theorists like
Marita Bonner leads us to identifying existing weapons and creating new ones to assist us
in the ever-present war for the right to self-determination artistically and politically. We
will investigate this exchange in more detail following an analysis of creative theory.
Creative theory involves artistic forms of expressing ideas such as playwriting,
poetry, song, dance, etc. These mediums of expression offer a theoretical approach to
improving the conditions in which African Americans practice art and advance politically
Creative theory is rooted in African Philosophy in which the message is
traditionally performed using song, dance, storytelling, art, etc. Traditional theory rooted
in Western thought dictates the message in the form of speech, essay, articles, etc.
Creative theory expects audience participation whereas traditional theory expects the
audience to remain silent until the speech is over. Neither theoretical approach is wrong
or bad but I find that creative theory and its African roots and the site of the exchange
between the two theories are a profoundly interesting area for further research.
One example of a creative theory is Marita Bonner's The Purple Flower, which
tells the story of a community of working-class people, the Us, and their pursuit for a
higher status. The community is divided into groups based on gender, age, color and
belief. The women are the foundation of the community but the men speak for the
community. The young are distrustful of the old, feeling that the old have failed them in
the past. Their divisions amongst one another prevent them from fighting the White
Devils, the ones who oppress them. It is not until they collectively recognize their
oppressor that they are able to unite and empower themselves by returning to an African
tool of empowerment, conjuring, which inspires action: bloody revolution. At the end of
the play the oppressed group, the Us, are listening for the opportunity to revolt against the
White Devils as viciously as they have been attacked and oppressed.
As a creative theory The Purple Flower artistically identifies and interprets
hegemonic domination in society. She identifies a dominant class in the Sundry White
Devils and a subordinate class in the US's (Bonner 207). She describes the White Devils
explaining, "they must be artful little things with soft wide eyes as you would expect to
find in an angel. Soft hair that flops around their horns. Their horns glow red all the
time-now with blood-now with eternal fire-now with deceit-now with unholy
desire [ .. ] they are artful little things full of artful movements and artful tricks [ .. ]
Sometimes they dance as if they were men-with dignity-erect [ .. ] they are artful
dancers on the Thin-.\kin-of-Civilization" (Bonner 207). The White Devils present
themselves as a more civilized culture and therefore have the rights to hold the position
of higher class. She describes the US's explaining that "they can be as white as the
White Devils, as brown as the earth, as black as the center of a poppy. They may look as
if they were something or nothing" (Bonner 207). The US can only be described in
comparison to the White Devils who are so splendid in their "civilization" the US are
unfairly disproportionate in their ability to measure up. Such a description offers an
excellent interpretation of racist ideology in America with the White Devils representing
White America as the dominant class and the US representing Black America as a
Bonner identifies the impact racism has had upon the subordinate class by
acknowledging colorisms amongst the US. She offers color-coded descriptions of the
US. For example, "There comes up the road, a middle-aged well-browned man, a
lighter-browned middle-aged woman, a medium light brown girl, beautiful as a browned
peach and a slender, tall, bronzy brown youth who walks i i/h his head high." The color
references in describing the US indicate that there is a hierarchy based on color as the
lighter browned girl is described more desirably than any of the others (Bonner 208).
This exhibits an internalized racism.
Another prevalent internal division within the US is generational. Each us is
described as Old, Young or Middle-Aged and their opinions on how to get up the Hill
vary depending upon their age. The following excerpt is an exchange between OLD US,
YOUNG US and CORNERSTONE who is a Middle-Aged US.
OLD MAN I want to tell you all something! The Us can't get up the road unless
we work! [ .. ]
A YOUNG US You had better sit down before someone knocks you down! They
told us that when your beard was sprouting.
CORNERSTONE (to YOUTH) Do not be so stupid! Speak as if you had respect
for that beard!
A YOUNG US We have! But we get tired of hearing "you must work" when we
know the Old Us build practically every inch of that hill and are yet Nowhere [ .]
CORNERSTONE It was not time then.
OLD MAN Here comes a Young Us who has been reading in the books! He'll
tell us what the books say about getting Somewhere [ ]
YOUNG MAN I'm through! I do not need these things! They're no good! [. .
There isn't anything in one of these books that tells Black US how to get around
OLD MAN I thought the books would tell us how!
YOUNG MAN No! The White Devils wrote the books themselves. You know
they aren't going to put anything like that in there! (Bonner 209)
The US, coming from different generations and perspectives are unable to agree on how
to best get up the Hill. The young are distrustful of the old and they middle-aged
basically referees the exchanges. The generational division prevents them from getting
up the Hill.
The setting of the play identifies the physicality of racism in class division. "The
stage is divided horizontally into two sections, upper and lower, by a thin board" or the
Thin-Skin-of-Civilization (Bonner 207). The upper section represents the upper class
(Whites, in racist/racial terms) while the lower section represents the lower class, Blacks.
The thin board is the color line that divides us. She explains that "the main action takes
place on the upper stage.. The light is never quite clear on the lower stage but its is
bright enough for you to perceive that sometimes the action that takes place on the upper
stage in duplicated on the lm1, ei/" (Bonner 207). This indicates that the racist ideals
expressed and performed within White America have become imitated within Black
culture, which is again exemplified in terms of colorism/racism.
As the play opens the conflict between the US and the White Devils, and they
way the US deal with that conflict is revealed. The story begins as
the US's are having a siesta beside a brook that runs down the Middle of the valley.
As usual they rest with their backs toward Nowhere and their faces toward
Somewhere. The WHITE DEVILS are seen in the distance on the hillside. As you
see them, a song is borne faintly to your ears from the hillside.
The WHITE DEVILS are saying:
You stay where you are!
We don't want you up here!
If you come you'll be on par
With all we hold dear.
Yes stay where you are!
A LITTLE RUNTY US Hear that, don't you?
ANOTHER US (lolling over on his back and chewing a piece of grass) I ain't
studying 'bout them devils. When I get ready to go up that hill-I'm going! (he
rolls over on his side and exposes a slender brown body to the sun) Right now, I'm
going to sleep (and he forthwith snores) (Bonner 208).
In this excerpt Bonner critiques the consent to domination that the Us display. Each us
individually desires to get up the Hill but none, to that point had actively pursued it. She
suggests as the play continues that in order for oppressed individuals to change their
condition it takes a collective will.
Bonner offers the possibility of collective will occurring by identifying a mutual
enemy. After many years of trying to elevate in status using every available legal means
the US's finally unite to target one particular White Devil which implies a revolt against
all White Devils (Bonner 211-212). This identifying a common enemy inspires a new
movement that calls for a bloody revolution.
Bonner acknowledges that this change will come from many influences. This is
exhibited in "the US toiled to give dust for the body, books to guide the body, gold to
clothe the body. Now they need blood" (Bonner 212). In her text, Bonner theorizes that
oppressed people must use all of the accessible tools to dismantle oppressive institutions.
She also explains in her text that a bloody revolution is necessary in cases where violence
and economic exploitation work together to subjugate oppressed people. She theorizes
that blood is required retribution when blood has been shed.
The Purple Flower is not simply a surrealistic interesting story about the conflicts
between two opposing groups. It offers solutions for dismantling racist systems of
oppression using an artistic form. Such is a creative theory.4
Each of these plays interpreted in this analysis uses surrealism to address issues
related to oppression and offers solutions of empowerment that alters the physical and
spiritual essence individually and collectively. In the next section I will discuss
traditional theory and creative theory together and explain how even though they may be
talking about different subjects on the surface, they work together to create a space where
they discuss similar subjects beneath the surface. Such interaction creates a space where
4 Each play could be interpreted in such detail to discuss its relevance as creative theory but there is not
enough space or time to provide as an involved analysis as the one presented here. Yet the creative theory
in each play is apparent in the interpretations I provide for each in other sections.
Call and Response
Call and Response is an important aspect of African-American cultural
communication. It is a practice commonly observed in musical styles and expressions
developing out of African audience traditions1 (Hatch, "Here Comes Everybody" 152).
According to Hatch, "African religious ritual and Afro-American gospel tradition share
three attributes: communally active participation (congregation/audience); collective
improvisational performance within the ritual; and shared belief that the ritual
(ceremony/performance) will legitimate realities that are individually and socially
efficacious. These three attributes are found in the Afro-American church and later in
their theatre," such is the nature of call and response between African American theatre
theorists and African American artists (Hatch, "Here Comes Everybody" 152). In this
analysis of call and response the theorists are calling out to the artists (audience) to create
art for social change. The audience or artist responds by developing works that explain
which social changes are necessary and how to achieve them. They both interact
1 By audience tradition I am referring to the ways in which people practice viewing a performance. There
are specific cultural differences in audience response to performance. For example, European audiences
tend to view performance from a distance, in silence until a noticeable break or the end of the performance
at which time they acknowledge acceptance or rejection of the message by clapping or walking out.
African audiences on the other hand participate in the performance by singing along or talking back. They
often do not wait for a noticeable break before interjecting. The participation of the audience is expected in
African performance patterns. Such an audience tradition has been documented with African American
audiences, which shows the survival of yet another African cultural practice.
simultaneously, overlapping in speech and ideas similarly to the African audience
Therefore, call and response is the fundamental communication amongst traditional
and creative theorists to create myths and realities for the benefit of African American
artistic and political development2 on one level. It is an exchange and validation process
that connects multiple discourses3 on another level, all of which agree that there is power
in words and images.
Such a concept is eloquently articulated in DuBois 1926 speech to the NAACP and
Amiri Baraka's 1965 manifesto as both outline the potential in using art as propaganda.
Each work makes a call for active communal participation, collective improvisational
performance and a belief that art will legitimate Negroes/Blacks as a people and create a
space in which blackness becomes holy and no longer derogatory. The creative theorists
respond to these respective calls and thereby participate in a Womanist dramatic
tradition. The relationship between the two theoretical styles has been instrumental in
developing the myths and realities that empower and inspires people of color on many
2 In addressing artistic and political development I must refer back to the historical eras outlined previously.
The seven documented eras of African American Theatre history can be documented in terms of :1) linear
timeline of what happened first, 2) the political struggle of people of color as they are artistically portrayed
over a period of time, 3) the content of the work produced during that time which document the impact
these portrayals had on the social development of Black people 4) the ways Black people resisted or
assimilated in artistic endeavors revealing their acceptance or rejection in mainstream America. I find that
each era not only gives a historical account of the art produced, it is a telling indication of what occurs
politically during the time the works are produced. Therefore, the call and response between traditional
and creative theorists is a fundamental form of communication on an artistic and political level.
3 By multiple discourses I am referring to what I call the spoken languages (creative theory and traditional
theory) and the metalanguages (Bantu and Euro Philosophical Traditions) within the interior language
(Womanist Dramatic Discourse). All of these elements provide the tools needed to discuss a broader range
of concerns. The conversations are occurring in these separate areas but they are also occurring
amongst/between these areas. All of which, in varying ways address the power of images in discussing the
concerns of a specific community.
levels. The merging of these two forms of theory create a space in which Womanist
Dramatic Discourse takes place.4
Just as Womanism is the intersection where Feminism, Black Liberation, Labor and
Gay Rights movements meet Womanist Dramatic Discourse is the intersection where
creative theory and traditional theory meet as a critical site for theorizing. For example,
Womanism is the space where these intersections can be deconstructed and re-defined in
order to dismantle patriarchy and empower oppressed individuals and marginal groups.
It begins with the individual which is sometimes necessary in order to establish the
function of the collective (Collins 280). Such empowerment comes with self-definition
and self-realization as "naming oneself and defining ideas that count as truth are
empowering acts" for those damaged by years of silencing (Collins 237). Its relevance
and power in developing African American Theatre lies in its ability to engage multiple
discourses. Likewise, Womanist Dramatic Discourse is a space where
conversations/intersections can be de-constructed and re-defined in order to dismantle the
use of images (theatrical images specifically) as a tool for oppression and use those
images as tools of empowerment individually and collectively. Just as Womanism begins
with the individual to establish a collective function, Womanist Dramatic Discourse
begins with the analysis of individual parts of the discourse, which eventually leads to the
overall discourses. This approach is empowering because it addresses the historical
marginalization of non-Western ideas. For example Womanist Dramatic Discourse
4 Both theories address similar issues but they use different mediums of expression. Traditional theorists
address the need for political development and introduce artistic criteria as a method of spreading the idea
and achieving the goal. Creative theorists on the other hand use this artistic criteria as guidelines in
developing art forms and spread the ideas to audiences by indirectly referring to ideas expressed by
traditional theorists and developing strategies of their own regarding social and political development.
allows for interpretations of text using African Philosophy with or without Western
Thought. African Philosophy, specifically Bantu Philosophy, has credence in Womanist
Dramatic Discourse without needing validation from institutions founded upon Euro
Philosophical principles. This leads to the self-realization and self-determination
Womanism inspires within individuals which can inspire African American Theatre
development in theory and practice as an entire body of knowledge. Therefore, the
nature of call and response in Womanist Dramatic Discourse is a critical site for
theorizing for the purpose of developing African American Theatre as a more effective
form of art as propaganda.
What creative and traditional discourse reveals
A theory of Womanist Dramatic Discourse between creative and traditional theory
also reveals how the use of multiple discourse has been instrumental in the development
of African American art and the community. Marita Bonner's The Purple Flower (1928),
Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro (1962), and Ntozake Shange's For Colored
Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf (1975) perform
Womanist Dramatic Discourse by engaging spoken languages and metalanguages that
empower oppressed individuals and groups. Call and response between creative and
traditional theorists have been instrumental in African American theatre development.
The Purple Flower (1928) Marita Bonner5
Motivated by the lingering negativity of the Minstrel image W.E. B. DuBois made
a speech in 1926 to the NAACP.6 DuBois realized the impact of the Minstrel image
upon the perceptions and expectations of Negroes. Minstrel shows portrayed Negroes as
culturally dependent, incompetent, ignorant, lazy, and unworthy of basic human rights.
Such perceptions influenced legislation, which impeded the progress of Black Americans
in various arenas.
DuBois 1926 speech to the NAACP called for the use of art as propaganda in
opposition to the minstrel image and its negative results. Marita Bonner responded with
The Purple Flower (1928). DuBois claims that "we who are dark can see America in a
way that white Americans can not" (DuBois, "Criteria" 290). Marita Bonner displays
this vision in a surrealistic portrayal of race and class and various internal group divisions
in The Purple Flower. Such divisions include the WHITE DEVILS in Somewhere vs. the
US's who are Nowhere (class), OLD US vs. YOUNG US (generational), and internal
color hierarchies suggested by light, brown and dark US (racism/colorism) (Bonner 208).
These divisions display the deep impact of oppression from various angles. They prevent
the US from progressing but not from dreaming as "we have within us as a race new
5 The Purple Flower tells the story of a community of working-class people, the Us, and their pursuit for a
higher status. The community is divided into groups based on gender, age, color and belief. The women
are the foundation of the community but the men speak for the community. The young are distrustful of
the old, feeling that the old have failed them in the past. Their divisions amongst one another prevent them
from fighting the White Devils, the ones who oppress them. It is not until they collectively recognize their
oppressor that they are able to unite and empower themselves by returning to an African tool of
empowerment, conjuring, which inspires action: bloody revolution. At the end of the play the oppressed
group, the Us, are listening for the opportunity to revolt against the White Devils as viciously as they have
been attacked and oppressed.
6 In this speech, titled "Criteria of Negro Art" DuBois basically outlined the ways in which images had
been used against Negroes up to that point. He encouraged the production of Truthful art that showed the
humanity of Negroes displaying all faults and perfection. He urged artists not to be afraid to tell the truth,
for it is the only way to truly fight the negativity of the lingering minstrel.
stirring; stirring of the beginning of a new appreciation of joy, of a new desire to create,
of a new will to be" according to DuBois ("Criteria" 292). Bonner acknowledges these
new stirring as restlessness represented in the US's futile attempt to leave Nowhere (the
valley) to get to Somewhere (highest hill) having "started out by merely asking
permission to go up. They tilled the valley; they cultivated it and made it as beautiful as
it is. They built roads and houses even for the WHITE DEVILS. They let them build the
houses then they were knocked back down into the valley" (Bonner 208). This is one
such example of the type of hegemonic domination that DuBois refers to in his 1926
NAACP speech and Marita Bonner responds to in The Purple Flower 1928.
Another issue that DuBois addresses in his 1926 speech is the internal division
within the black community, which Bonner identifies and explains in The Purple Flower.
For example, she Bonner addresses generational division among the Us in response to
DuBois' observations. DuBois mentions the growing awareness of the Negro youth
which is "a different kind of Youth, because in some new way it bears this mighty
prophecy on its breast, with a new realization of itself, with new determination for all
mankind" (DuBois, "Criteria" 292). As a member of this youth, Bonner acknowledges
the difference in each generation's approach to racial and class progression symbolized by
the internal conflicts within the Us between the Old Us and the Young Us mediated by
the Middle Aged Woman Us who is called CORNERSTONE. This concept is
exemplified in the following passage:
OLD MAN I want to tell you all something! The Us can't get up the road unless
we work! [ .. ]
A YOUNG US You had better sit down before someone knocks you down! They
told us that when your beard was sprouting.
CORNERSTONE (to YOUTH) Do not be so stupid! Speak as if you had respect
for that beard!
A YOUNG US We have! But we get tired of hearing "you must work" when we
know the Old Us build practically every inch of that hill and are yet Nowhere [ .]
CORNERSTONE It was not time then. (Bonner 209)
In revealing these internal communal conflicts Bonner displays "a realization of that past,
of which for long years we have been ashamed, for which we have apologized" (DuBois,
"Criteria" 292). Instead of offering an apology Marita Bonner offers a solution.
Bonner denounces the need for apology and instead makes a call of her own in the
text. DuBois claims "it is the bounden duty of black America to begin this great work of
the creation of beauty, of the preservation of Beauty, of the realization of Beauty, and we
must use in this work all the methods that men have used before" (DuBois, "Criteria"
296). Thus Bonner calls for "dust from which all things came [ ... ] books that Men
learn by. Gold that Men live by. Blood that lets men live" (Bonner 211). In this call and
response Bonner acknowledges the necessity of the work encouraged by Booker T.
Washington and education encouraged by W.E.B. DuBois. But she also acknowledges
that it will take more than elevated financial status to make social progress. She, in fact,
calls for a revolution of blood. In the text she claims that
a New Man must be born for the New Day. Blood is needed for birth. Blood is
needed for the birth. Come out, White Devil. [ ... ] It may be my blood it may
be your blood but everything has been given. The Us toiled to give dust for the
body, books to guide the body, gold to clothe the body. Now they need blood for
birth so the New Man can live. You have taken blood. You must give blood
Using art as propaganda as DuBois suggests, Bonner makes a bold call by ending
the play with all of the characters listening to determine if it is time for a revolution
(Bonner 212). The interchange of call and response between DuBois and Bonner indicate
the beginning of the time of revolution as the Womanist Dramatic tradition developed out
of this movement. DuBois was the first to publicly address the use of art as propaganda
and Bonner was the first to use a play as a call for social revolution without the subtlety
of social protest popular at the time. Womanist Dramatic tradition develops out of this
idea of revolution rather than protest.7
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf (1975)
by Ntozake Shange8
Similarly an exchange between Amiri Baraka and Ntozake Shange can be
identified and interpreted as a pivotal influence in the development of Womanist
Dramatic Theoretical Tradition within African American Theatre as part of a Womanist
Dramatic Theoretical Discourse. Amiri Baraka, formerly known as Leroi Jones, wrote a
1965 manifesto, titled "The Black Revolutionary Theatre,"9 which sparked the movement
that changed black art forever (Pinkney 141). This manifesto was a response to every
artistic and political call made up to that historical moment. It was also a call to all
people who shared Baraka's view of integration and assimilation as an attack against
blackness. His call led to diverse responses from those who agreed that it was time for
7 Social Protest deals mainly with expressing discomfort with conditions in subtle ways. The poetry of the
Harlem Renaissance provides excellent examples of social protest. Social Revolution, on the other hand,
not only expresses discomfort, it demands results. Poetry of the Black Arts/Black Power era provides
excellent examples of social revolution. For further info see Dr. Mikell Pinkney's text: The Theoretical
Development of African American Theatre and Drama.
8 For Colored Girls is a collection of poems performed by seven women of color who articulate their
individual and collective experience as Black women in America. Although the women move between
varying emotional states they find solace in song and dance as they celebrate and grieve simultaneously.
The play begins with distress as each woman silently freezes into a pose and it ends with victory as each
woman chants and dances. It is a story about surviving, healing, connecting and empowering. It is not
about bashing black men, it is simply about making emotional sense for black women who have been
historically ignored in struggles against oppression. In the end it is the understanding of their relationship
with god, each woman's self, and one another that gives them what they need.
9 In this essay Baraka basically attacks White America's refusal to acknowledge how deeply embedded
racism is within the society. He also outlines new politically militant criteria for Black art which includes:
Blacks to fight back in the development of a theatre that "must accuse and attack because
it is a theatre of victims" which was predominated by Black men's attack of white men in
an artistic arena (Baraka, "Black Revolutionary 4). Such a male-centered attack limited
female voices in the Black Revolutionary theatre but inspired a Womanist revolutionary
theatre documented by Ntozake Shange's response in For Colored Girls ... (1975). Even
though Womanist theatre appears to pre-exist this period it can be clearly documented in
this era, specifically in Shange's choreopoem. Although this text is not a direct response
to Baraka's 1965 manifesto its creation is definitely influenced by Baraka's call for a
Black Revolutionary theatre therefore marking yet another influential moment in African
American theatre development.
Baraka's manifesto "outlined new politically militant criteria for African-American
Drama" which included the four fundamentals prescribed by DuBoiso1 in the Harlem
Renaissance (Pinkney 141). Shange's work practices this criteria in a way that shifts the
gaze from the tensions between black men and white men as the center of the revolution
and places "colored" women directly in the center of the discourse from which they were
previously excluded. This Womanist approach succeeded in the continued development
of a Revolutionary Theatre within an African American tradition.
Baraka claimed "the Revolutionary Theatre should force change, it should be
change...' on all levels but directly focused on the social status and conditions of Black
10 DuBois Four Fundamental Principles for Negro Art: 1) About us. That is, they must have plots which
reveal Negro life as it is. 2) By us. This is, they must be written by Negro authors who understand from
birth and continual association just what it means to be a Negro today. 3) For us. That is, the theatre must
cater primarily to Negro audiences and be supported and sustained by their entertainment and approval. 4)
Near us. The theatre must be in a Negro neighborhood near the mass of ordinary Negro people. (Pinkney
Americans" (Baraka, "Black Revolutionary" 4). For Colored Girls forced change by
establishing a new form called "the choreopoem, exploring the mean realities of life for
seven African American women who have given their love unconditionally to men who
degrade and abuse them" giving agency to previously silenced Black female voices
(Hatch & Shine, Recent 363). This form expanded Baraka's concept by including a black
female perspective. Baraka's approach was an attempt to "'EXPOSE' the racial ills of
Western society and teach Whites the ramifications of hatred and denial of 'the
Supremacy of the Spirit'" (Baraka, "Black Revolutionary" 4). Shange's approach
exposed the impact of these racial ills upon the black community and attempted to teach
Black men as well as Western society the ramifications of hatred and denial black women
experience in being the cornerstone of the community. This is exemplified in the
i am really colored & really sad sometimes and you hurt me
more than i ever danced outta/ into oblivion isnt far enuf to get outta this/
i am ready to die like a lily in the desert/ & i cdnt let you in on it cuz i didn't know/
here is what i have/ poems/ big thighs/ lil tits/ & so much love/ will you take it
from me this one time/ please this is for you [ ... ] /I'm finally bein real/ no longer
symmetrical & impervious to pain (Shange 44).
This excerpt speaks to the impact of hegemonic domination upon black women in
attempting to articulate the depth of their pain to black men and Western society. This
aspect of oppression was previously overlooked, understated, or one-sided in
explanations voiced in earlier Revolutionary works.
Shange's metalanguage11 and spoken language is powerful and follows the protocol
of the 1965 manifesto. Baraka explained that "the language will be anybody's, but
" Addressed metalanguage in terms of Bantu in the Womanist/Womanism section.
tightened by the poets backbone. And even the language must show what the facts are in
this consciousness epic. We will talk about the world, and the preciseness with which we
are able to summon the world, will be our art" (Baraka, "Black Revolutionary 5). It is
with such language and preciseness that Shange constructs For Colored Girls. .. as a
poem including various regional dialects, accents, and languages to engage Shange's
discourse with Baraka and the world (Hatch & Shine, Recent 363). "We must take
dreams and give them reality," according to Baraka and Shange appears to agree as she
structures For Colored Girls ... as a collective dream with seven women representative
of the colors red, purple, yellow, orange, brown, blue, and green (Baraka, "Black
Revolutionary 4). None of the women have names outside of their color. This is also
symptomatic of colorisms as Black women tend to be judged by their complexions. This
strategy is similar to the symbolic names used by Marita Bonner and Adrienne Kennedy
to represent multiple members of the community and multiple consciousnesses within the
self. The women are so connected in the delivery and stories of the choreopoem that it is
difficult to tell if they are individual women or are multiple consciousness of the same
woman bearing different marks upon her soul. It is through this dreams reconciliation of
reality that Shange makes emotional sense for the woman/women in her text.
Baraka called the revolutionary theater a theatre of victims by which everyone
would see through the eyes of the victimized (Baraka, "Black Revolutionary" 5). For
Colored Girls ... consists of a chorus of victims each singing her song of oppression
"they decry their condition, pleading for the respect that is their due" (Hatch & Shine,
Recent 363). The stories in the text accomplish Baraka's protocol,
What we show must cause the blood to rush, so that pre-Revolutionary
temperaments will be bathed in this blood, and it will cause their deepest souls to
move, and they find themselves tensed and clenched, even ready to die, at what the
soul has been taught. We will scream and cry, murder, run through the streets in
agony, if it means some soul will be moved, moved to actual life understanding of
what the world is, and what it ought to be. We are preaching virtue and feeling,
and a natural sense of the self in the world" Baraka demands in his manifesto,
calling to action all who will hear (Baraka, "Black Revolutionary" 5).
Ntozake Shange hears and produces a work bathed in blood speaking directly about
the violence inflicted upon the black female body under the guise of love via rape,
abortion, and ever-present threat of pending violence (Shange 17-23). In this work she
created a manifesto that denounced this violence and offered an internal remedy in the
women's chant in the end "i found god in myself and i loved her fiercely/i loved her
fiercely." This inspires a powerful sense of worth and dignity among black women and
within the black community. In her response to Baraka's call for a theater of victims,
Shange creates a theater of victors. She promotes the realization that we do not have to
look outside of ourselves to find peace and progress that we must, in fact, look within and
first find love of self and amongst each other by returning to the Spirit. Such an approach
is the heart of Womanist dramatic tradition.
The call and response between these theorists exemplify the power of language and
conversation in African American culture, specifically in terms of theatre. Using
different approaches each theorist contributes valuable ideas and strategies for the benefit
of African American cultural development. Together they create a space where theory
and practice coexist. It begins with the theory of what should be done, continues with the
production of that theory in the form playwriting, and then leads to the reality of that idea
in the performing of the work.
Analysis of this site where theory and practice work together is an excellent area
for further research.
It is my hopes that introducing a theory of Womanist Dramatic Discourse will
create a space where new possibilities of theorizing emerge. By dissecting the theoretical
framework into parts I aim to show how its components make use of existing theories and
theoretical frameworks like Feminism, and traditional theory and identified Bantu and
creative theory as valid tools of interpretation. Womanist Dramatic Discourse also leaves
room to enhance these existing theories by finding ways of making them more accessible
to a larger audience.
In this analysis I am also advocating further research in the areas of Womanism, to
inspire those who may or may not view Womanism as a valid concept. I am in favor of
finding ways of interpreting literature and theory using womanism that are applicable to
diverse understandings. I find that Womanism is capable of being used in this way and
should be used more effectively.
I am also advocating further research in the areas of Womanist Drama using the
criteria outlined in that section of this analysis. By using the criteria and analyzing texts
it would be interesting to discover the conversations occurring between creative theorists
in these texts. I am certain that there is a wealth of knowledge to be discovered in such
conversations as well as a wealth of knowledge that can be created by conversing in this
Further research in the area of Dramatic theory would outline and validate the
difference in theoretical forms used by people of color. It would address the gestalt
nature of African Americans, specifically and provide a framework for discussing the
ways we use our interior languages to express ourselves. In this section we begin to
understand how our forms of expression have evolved and how to better recognize theory
in diverse forms. It expands our expectations and ability to receive theory in every
I am profoundly interested in seeing further research in the area of Discourse, the
call and response between traditional theorists and creative theorists. I am convinced that
the exchange between the two has been the foundation of African American Theatre
development and is the way to the future. We must uncover the treasures in this area in
order to enrich our knowledge and understanding of ourselves and our culture.
In this analysis I have developed a theoretical framework, described its parts, its
function and provided examples of why I think it is necessary. Overall this analysis
offers Womanist Dramatic Discourse as an interior language encompassing spoken
languages (traditional and creative theory) and metalanguages (African Philosophy and
Western Thought) which inspire speech. It is my belief that we cannot be silenced if we
recognize our access to possibilities in multiple forms of speech and create spaces
through conversation where that speech is validated.
"Possibility is what moves us," and Womanist Dramatic Discourse creates a
multitude of possibilities for theoretical development in old and new forms, spoken and
metlanguage and conversation (Baraka "In Search of'). It provides us with possibilities
where we can speak in our own tongues and not fear persecution or rejection for doing
African Philosophy African systems of thought developed in Non-Western
environments. (Examples in this text include Bantu Philosophy)
Artistic Work refers to creative theory.
Bantu Philosophy used in this paper in general terms as way of using a pre-colonial
world-perception to exemplify an African Philosophy. Basically broken into Four
Categories: Muntu (plural Bantu), Kintu (plural, Bintu), Hantu and Kuntu. The
four categories are encompassed in NTU which can be equated to Western
perceptions of God and the Universe, but a major difference lies in the connected
ness of all things within NTU. Ways of moving between the four categories is
called Nommo, word power. For a more detailed description of the terms refer to
Jaheinz Jahn's Muntu and other ethno-philosophical texts that explain African
religious principals. (this is a basic interpretation of Jahn's description of Bantu in
Black (African American) Theatre Theorists (traditional theorists)- intellectuals
developing theories for social/political/artistic progress in the form of traditional
essays/speeches. (Examples in this text include: W.E. B. DuBois, Amiri Baraka)
Colorism an interiorized color consciousness that enables us to see the various shades
of our complexion, hair texture, and physical features as others see us. (Canon 71)
For more info see Kathy Russell Midge Wilson and Ronald Hall, The Color
Complex (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992).
Creative Theory theory in artistic form. (examples : The Purple Flower, Funnyhouse of
a Negro, For Colored Girls .. )
Hantu time and place (Bantu term)
Interior language the overall languages of the people, includes spoken language and
metalanguage. (my interpretation of a term used by Wole Soyinka)
Kintu (plural Bintu) things, the property of Muntu (Bantu term)
Kuntu reality or mode (Bantu term)
Metalanguage the subtle language, what typically inspires the direction of the spoken
language, represents the sensibilities that inspire the thought that incite the speech.
Examples in text includes: African Philosophy exhibited in Bantu and Western
Thought exhibited in Feminism). I find that African metalanguage typically
inspires creative theory whereas Western metalanguage typically inspires
traditional theory. This also inspires how we hear and perceive speech. (my
interpretation of a term used by Wole Soyinka)
Muntu (plural Bantu) man, human being, the only category endowed with the power
of speech (Bantu term)
Nommo word magic, speech power, speech action, the spoken word which is endowed
with the power of moving the universe (or moving within NTU) in order to effect
all other categories. (Bantu term)
NTU universe, God, the Source of all life (Bantu term)
Playwrights (creative theorists) artists (artistic intellectuals) who create dramatic
literature in various structures in an attempt to develop theoretical concepts in
artistic form rather than a traditional theoretical form. (Examples in this text
include: Alice Walker, Marita Bonner, Adrienne Kennedy, Lorraine Hansberry,
Pragmatic functional art form an art form that could express the internal anger and
frustrations of African-Americans while at the same time utilizing their energies to
create imaginative positive change. (Pinkney 110)
Scholarly Work refers to traditional theory.
Spoken language the surface language, what is typically spoken and heard aurally (on
the surface). Examples in this analysis include: traditional theory and creative
theory. (my interpretation of a term used by Soyinka)
Traditional Theory theory in traditional essay or speech form. (Examples: DuBois
1926 Speech "Criteria of Negro Art," Baraka's 1965 Manifesto "The Revolutionary
Western Thought- Western systems of thought developed in Western environments.
(Examples in this text include American and European approaches to analysis)
Womanist Dramatic Discourse inspired by Alice Walker's term Womanism; a theory
of call and response between traditional theory and creative theory which
incorporates Western and Non-Western theoretical and cultural evolution through
literature and performance.
WOMANIST DRAMATIC DISCOURSE INTERPRETIVE FRAMEWORK
Theory of Womanist
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Sampson, Henry T. The ghost walks : a chronological history of Blacks in show
business, 1865-1910. Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1988
LIST OF REFERENCES
Baraka, Amiri. "Not Just Survival: Revolution (Some Historical Notes on Afro-
American Drama)." Daggers and Javelins Essays 1974-1979. New York: William
Morrow and Company, Inc., 1984.
---(Jones, Leroi). "The Revolutionary Theatre." The Liberator. July 1965: 4-6.
Bonner, Marita. "The Purple Flower." Black Theatre USA: Revised and Expanded
Edition Plays By African Americans The Early Period 1847-1938. Eds. James V.
Hatch and Ted Shine. New York: The Free Press, 1996. 206-212.
Cannon, Katie. Katie's Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. New
York: Continuum, 1995.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Fighting words: Black Women & The Search For Justice.
Minneapolis: University Minnesota, 1998.
DuBois, W. E. B. "Criteria of Negro Art: Address to the Annual Meeting of the NAACP,
June 1926 Chicago." The Crisis Vol.32 Oct. 1926: 290-297.
---" A Questionnaire." The Crisis Feb. 1926: 165.
Harrison, Paul Carter, ed. "MOTHER/WORD: Black Theatre in the African Continuum:
Word/Song as Method." Introduction. Totem Voices: Plays From the Black World
Repertory. Ed. New York: Grove Press, 1989.
Hatch, James V. "Here Comes Everybody: Scholarship and Black Theatre History."
Interpreting the Theatrical Past: Essays in Historiography of Performance. Eds.
Thomas Postlewaite and Bruce A. McConachie. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press
Hatch, James V. and Shine, Ted. eds. Black Theatre USA: Revised and Expanded Edition
Plays by African Americans The Early Period 1847-1938. New York: The Free
--. Black Theatre USA: Revised and Expanded Edition Plays by African Americans The
Recent Period 1935-Today. New York: The Free Press, 1996.
Jackson, Oliver. Preface. Kuntu Drama. Ed. Paul Carter Harrison. New York: Grove
Press, Inc., 1974.
Jahn, Jaheinz. MUNTU African Culture and the Western World. New York: Grove Press,
Kennedy, Adrienne. "Funnyhouse of a Negro." Black Theatre USA: Revised and
Expanded Edition Plays by African Americans The Recent Period 1935-Today.
Eds. James V. Hatch and Ted Shine. New York: The Free Press, 1996. 335-343.
---Lecture. Bowman Theatre, Department of Theatre. Ohio State University, 12 June
Pinkney, Mikell. The Theoretical Development of African American Theatre and Drama.
Gainesville: Custom Copies and Textbooks, 2002.
Sampson, Henry T. The Ghost Walks : a Chronological History of Blacks in Show
Business, 1865-1910. Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1988
Shange, Ntozake. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is
Enuf. New York: Scribner Poetry, 1975.
Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother's Gardens. New York: Harcourt Brace &
Monica T. White began her educational career at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in French from the University of
North Florida. She is completing her Master of Arts in English focusing on Postcolonial
Theory and African Diaspora Literature. She teaches Expository and Argumentative
writing and Writing About Images and Identity in Literature in the English Department at
University of Florida. She has directed several plays including August Wilson's Joe
Turner's Come and Gone and was Assistant Director for the world premier of Ntozake
Shange's most recent megapoem lavender lizards and lilac landmines: Layla's Dream.
She will pursue a Ph.D. with a focus in theatre and performance studies within a
This work is the first step in the direction of knocking down the barriers between
theory and practice, material and spiritual understanding, and academic and creative