Evolution of Blackness in American Theatre: Reconciling Amiri Baraka and Suzan-Lori Parks

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Linh Trang My Pham/ Wesleyan College

"Why Baraka and Parks?" one may ask. Certainly, both are gifted playwrights, whose works can be considered the most influential of their generations. Nonetheless, besides the fact they are both African Americans, there seems to be little connection between the two artists. One, albeit brilliant, is a notoriously extreme Black nationalist and the other, a free-spirited, Oberammergau-loving genius. Simply put, as artists, they pursue different things. Therefore, it is hard to make an adequate comparison between them. Still, as I will explain later in this paper, there are points where their paths cross and certain aspects where their visions of theatre would come into direct confrontation. There is a need for a strategic analysis that would compare, contrast, and acknowledge the existing conflict between the representations of blackness in the works of these two playwrights. However, it would be too easy and superficial to simply define their differences. The goal here is also to point out the commonalities and to eventually stimulate reconciliation between Baraka's blackness and Park's blackness. It is only then can we fully examine the transformation, the evolution of black identity in American theatre.