Alice Childress’s playwriting career spanned four decades, an achievement in itself. Even more important, she broke with tradition followed by both male and female playwrights, which held that significant African American drama dealt with sensational topics such as lynching and focused on male concerns such as the disenfranchisement of the black man. Childress chose instead to write about the concerns of black women. A major theme is the female psychological journey; it applies equally to her domestics such as Mildred in Like One of the Family and disappointed artists such as Wiletta Mayer in Trouble in Mind.
Childress addressed issues of gender and race through her black female characters. She worked against stereotypes prevalent in both black and white American literature to present ordinary women—strong, searching for their identities, and standing up to prejudices based on class, gender, and race. Even when she wrote about controversial topics such as miscegenation, her characters and the situations mere realistic and believable. Her explorations laid the groundwork for later African American women playwrights such as Ntozake Shange and Sonia Sanchez.
Childress’s unwillingness to compromise her principles or play to white audience cost her in terms of production and visibility. However, she attracted the attention of feminist scholars in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and she has always had the attention of African American theater people. Elizabeth Brown-Guillory calls her the mother of African American professional theater, and the debt that those who followed her owe to her pioneering work in presenting realistic and complex black women characters supports that title.
Trouble in Mind
Childress uses two tried and true theatrical devices in Trouble in Mind—a...
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