Every year on March 27, World Theatre Day is celebrated globally. First established in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute, the day was created to celebrate stage performances that have made a lasting impact on audiences for years.
Black women have been instrumental in creating plays that have spoken to the unique, layered experience of being Black in America. From tragedies to comedies, Black women playwrights’ contributions to the theatre are undeniable, though many names and stage play titles go unknown to many of us.
In celebration of World Theatre Day and Women’s History Month, check out these Black women playwrights.
In 2011, Katori Hall’s critically acclaimed play, The Mountaintop came to Broadway. The play follows the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Hall is a native of Memphis, Tennessee and was educated at the prestigious Juilliard School. She is also the creator and writer of the hit show P-Valley.
Black historical comedy writer Sigrid Gilmer has received praise for her work including Harry and the Thief which imagines a world where someone travels back in time to provide Harriet Tubman with modern weapons. Gilmer is a James Irving Foundation Fellow, and won the Map Fund Creative Exploration Grant.
In addition to being a playwright, Suzan-Lori Parks is also a novelist and screenwriter. She made history in 2002 as the first Black woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her work Topdog/Underdog. Parks is credited for writing the screenplay for the 2021 biographical film The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
Known for her roles in Black Panther and The Walking Dead, actress Danai Gurira is also a Tony Award-winning playwright. Her play Eclipsed made history as the first Broadway premiere to have an all Black and all female cast.
In 1959, playwright Lorraine Hansberry made history as the first Black woman to have her work produced on Broadway. Her best known work, A Raisin in the Sun, was performed on stage and developed into two movies, one released in 1961 and the other in 2008. Hansberry was a native of Chicago, Illinois and was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She died in 1965 at the age of 34.
Playwright and poet Ntozake Shange is known for her 1975 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf. Shange’s work won an Obie Award and received critical acclaim for its artistic narrative of Black feminism, race, and power.
She died in 2018 at the age of 70.
Marita Bonner was a playwright, essayist, and writer. She was born in 1899 and educated at Radcliffe College and also helped found the Boston-area chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Her essay “On Being Young – A Woman – And Colored” was published in the December 1925 issue of The Crisis Magazine. Her work covered the complexities of Black life in Chicago. Her plays, The Purple Flower and The Pot Maker contributed to her induction to the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame in 2017. Bonner passed away in 1971.
Born in 1899 in Washington, D.C. May Miller was a playwright and poet who made major contributions to the Harlem Renaissance. A 1920 graduate of Howard University, Miller discussed race in her work including her 1929 play Scratches and Stragglers in the Dust written the following year. Miller also wrote historical plays that followed the lives of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. She was a teacher and published seven volumes of poetry before her death in 1955.
Named as an American Theatre Magazine’s rising artist, Christina Anderson’s work has garnered acclaim. Her plays Good Goods and Inked Baby are among her best known works. Anderson earned a master’s of fine arts from Yale University and has received the Lorraine Hansberry Award as well as two Playwrights of New York (PoNY) awards.
Radha Blank is a playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, and actress. Blank is a native of New York and won the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Screenplay and NAACP Image Award for her work The 40-Year-Old Version. Blank also has several plays to her name including Seed, Kenya, Reverb, and Casket Sharp. She has also written for Empire, and The Get Down.
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