Joseph A. Walker Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Joseph A. Walker’s reputation rests almost exclusively on his dramatic works, but he has made numerous successful forays into the television and film industries. Primarily a stage dramatist, he expanded his literary horizons during the 1970’s and the 1980’s by regularly contributing essays to The New York Times, including “Broadway’s Vitality” (1973), “The Hiss” (1978), “Black Magnificence” (1980), and “Themes of the Black Struggle” (1982). In 1976, he rewrote his three-act play The River Niger into a screenplay for New Line Cinema. The resulting film, starring Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones, received considerable critical acclaim both at the time and in subsequent years.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Joseph A. Walker began his association with the stage as an actor in theater productions of The Believers, Cities of Beziques, Once in a Lifetime, A Raisin in the Sun, and Purlie Victorious; then appeared on the screen in April Fools (1969) and Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971); and acted in the television series N.Y.P.D. The lessons he learned as an actor helped him understand the fundamentals of dramatic production. In 1969, Walker became playwright, director, and choreographer for the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City. He served as playwright-in-residence for Yale University for 1970-1971 and as an instructor of advanced acting and playwriting for Howard University.

Walker has won a number of prestigious awards, many of them for his The River Niger, which was recognized with an Obie Award (1973), an Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award (1973), the Dramatist Guild’s Elizabeth Hull-Kate Award (1973), the first Annual Audelco Award (1973), a John Gassner Award from Outer Circle (1973), a Drama Desk Award (1973), and the Black Rose Award (1973). This remarkable outpouring of critical approval culminated, also in 1973, with Walker being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Also, in recognition for his years of work in drama, Walker was granted a Rockefeller Foundation grant (1979).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Barthelemy, Anthony. “Mother, Sister, Wife: A Dramatic Perspective.” Southern Review 21, no. 3 (Summer, 1985): 770-789. Barthelemy compares and analyzes the dysfunctions of man-woman relationships in three of Walker’s plays. He presents Walker’s repetitive use of stereotypical women’s roles in defining the positions and roles forced on black women by both their families and society in general.

Clurman, Harold. “Theater: The River Niger.” The Nation 215, no. 21 (December 25, 1972): 668. Although Clurman praises Walker’s technique in The River Niger, he finds fault with Walker’s use of symbolism in Ododo. He suggests that Walker is not sure which historical truths about black-white relationships he wants to tell, so he tries to make the play tell them all. This lack of focus, Clurman states, distorts and creates internal contradiction within both plays.

Kauffmann, Stanley. “Theater: The River Niger.” The New Republic 169, no. 12 (September 29, 1973): 22. Kauffmann criticizes many of Walker’s techniques in The River Niger, in particular his lack of subtlety with character motivations and dialogue, but appreciates both the real affection his characters show for one another and the recognition with which black audiences have responded to the play.

Lee, Dorothy. “Three Black Plays: Alienation and Paths to Recovery.” Modern Drama 19, no. 4 (December, 1975): 397-404. Lee argues that the alienation theme, when addressed in the context of African American concerns, is also a metaphor for the human condition. Describes Walker as seeking definitions of a sense of community or its telling absence, both uniquely black and universally relevant.