Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

African-American Literary Movements
Twentieth-century African-American literature has been characterized by two important literary movements: the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. The Harlem Renaissance, also referred to as the New Negro Movement, designates a period during the 1920s in which African-American literature flourished among a group of writers concentrated in the Harlem section of New York City. Important writers of the Harlem Renaissance include James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912); Claude McKay, who wrote the bestselling novel Home to Harlem (1928); Langston Hughes, who wrote the poetry collection The Weary Blues (1926); and Wallace Thurman, who wrote the novel The Blacker the Berry (1929). This period of incredible literary output diminished when the Great Depression of the 1930s affected the financial status of many African-American writers. The Black Arts Movement, also referred to as the Black Aesthetic Movement flourished during the 1960s and 70s, and embodied values derived from black nationalism and promoted politically and socially significant works, often written in Black English vernacular. Important writers of the Black Arts Movement include Imamu Amiri Baraka (also known as LeRoi Jones), Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison.

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Black Theater
Dramatic works by African-American writers in the nineteenth century include King Shotaway (1823), by William Henry Brown, the first known play by an African-American writer; The Escape: or, A Leap for Freedom (1858), by William Wells Brown, the first play by an African-American writer to be published; and Rachel (1916), by Anglina W. Grimke, the first successful stage play by an African- American writer. Important literary movements, such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, influenced dramatic works and stage productions by African Americans in the twentieth century. The development of Black Theater in the first half of the twentieth century was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, and included the establishment of theaters devoted to black productions in major cities throughout the United States. The most prominent black theaters by mid-century were the American Negro Theater and the Negro Playwrights’ Company. In the post-World War II era, black theater became more overtly political and more specifically focused on celebrating African-American culture. One of the most prominent works to emerge from this period was the 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. The Black Arts Movement, which emerged in the 1960s, led to the establishment in 1965 of the Repertory Theater of Harlem, initiated by Amiri Baraka (still LeRoi Jones at that time). Baraka’s award-winning 1964 play, The Dutchman, is among the most celebrated dramatic works of this period. Ntozake Shange’s 1977, for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf, utilized an experimental dramatic format to address issues facing African-American women. In the 1980s, August Wilson emerged as an important African-American playwright with his Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1985), about a blues singer and her band, set in Chicago in the 1920s.in Chicago in the 1920s.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497

Staging
Baldwin wrote this play with a very specific stage set in mind. The two main parts of the set are the church and the adjoining apartment. The positioning of the church in relation to the apartment is symbolic of the role of the church in the life of the family. The stage notes indicate that ‘‘The church is on a level above the apartment and should give the impression of dominating the family’s living quarters.’’ This is meant to...

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