Immanu Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) is an African-American playwright whose writing encompasses be-bop poetry and black nationalist plays. His plays Dutchman and The Slave Ship (1966) are important examples of black nationalist writing. Wilson produced all of Baraka’s plays when he was working at the Black Horizons Theater.
Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman (1949) is one of the most famous plays of the twentieth century. This Pulitzer Prize-winning drama exemplifies the ‘‘well-made’’ play of the realist tradition, in which escalating tensions concentrated around the central protagonist unfold neatly scene by scene before reaching a dramatic conclusion. In this case, the central protagonist is the failed sales- and family man, Willy Loman, whose sons Biff and Happy are unable to fulfill his thwarted dreams. Wilson’s play Fences has been compared to Death of A Salesman, although Wilson has stated that he is not familiar with it.
Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) depicts the bitter family tensions that originate in failed marriages, repressed sexuality, and the desire to control a southern plantation. The play is an excellent example of American naturalism.
Booker T. Washington’s classic autobiography Up from Slavery (1901) defined a generation. Washington was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation; freed at fifteen, he taught himself to read, then walked almost 500 miles to attend a vocational training institute. He was later selected to head the Tuskegee Insitute in Alabama. Although Washington was criticized in his own time and later for his cautious approach to race issues, at the time he was the black community’s most well-known and influential leader.
Langston Hughes was one of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance the flowering of African-American creativity in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Hughes’s superb poetry collection, The Weary Blues (1926), which includes the famous poem ‘‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers,’’ launched his career and introduced audiences to a new style of poetry that was based on jazz rhythms and black idiom. The first volume of his autobiography, The Big Sea (1940), provides a fascinating insight into his life in America and Europe during the 1920s.
Frederick Douglass, a nineteenth-century African-American abolitionist, published his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845. It describes his life as a slave and his escape to freedom. Douglass agitated for the abolitionist cause, organized black garrisons during the Civil War, and served his people in public office during the Reconstruction period.