Petition posted by Lynn Nottage
First, I want to share this petition shared by Lynn Nottage online this week: http://chng.it/kxhZBysVh7
Please consider signing this petition to change the landscape of plays being performed in the USA by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).
Below is a summary of each play provided by:
Dutchman is a one-act play. Nearly all of the conflict and interactions in the play happen between the two main characters, Lula, a white woman, and Clay, a black man. The scene opens up with the pair in a New York subway. The audience finds Clay, sitting alone reading a magazine, seemingly oblivious to the presence of the woman sitting down the seat next to him eating an apple. Lula accuses Clay of ogling her, an act he vehemently denies. She then proceeds to accuse him of a couple of racial stereotypes, managing in the process to correctly deduce where Clay lives and where he’s heading. Mysteriously, she even seems to know about Warren—Clay’s friend—giving him details like his appearance and manner of speaking; her nearly supernatural comprehension of his past and intimate details of his life shock Clay.
Lula continues to seduce Clay, provoking him sexually. She teasingly places her hand on his leg and suggestively slices her apple, feeding him the portions. Having correctly guessed his destination, she compels Clay to take her along, suggesting that she’d be willing to sleep with him afterward if she were invited. Her constant baiting gets his notice. Although he is receptive to Lula’s provocations, he does not initiate any direct propositioning for sex. Lula, however, wants Clay to be even more aggressive; seeing that he doesn’t seem to be taking the bait, she grows angry. Her mood and approach shift drastically from seduction to abuse.
Lula insults Clay’s accent, saying that he has no right to wear such a fancy suit; then, she proceeds to berate his lineage. Clay’s responses to Lula change drastically as well, becoming apologetic and defensive where they were previously self-assured and masculine. She continues to berate him, criticizing him for being black and unresponsive, and then she starts to dance alluringly and toss her possessions into the aisle of the car. Other riders begin to populate the car where once it was empty.
Lula invites Clay to dance with her, teasing him, challenging him to “do the nasty” with her. Clay opposes her provocations, but eventually, he is fed up. He grabs her and throws her to the floor, slapping her twice while maligning her background and life of ease. He then orders her to leave him be.
Clay now begins a soliloquy, telling the audience of the challenges that a black person must go through. He rants, asserting that white people still maintain distinctions of culture, happily allowing black artists to perform “black dances” and produce “black music” but not the other way around. He also alleges that these so-called “artistic pursuits” are exploitative at their core, keeping blacks preoccupied enough so they remain disinterested with trying to break into the “white world.” Clay continues his passionate tirade.
All the while, Lula listens, seemingly uninterested. After his monologue, Clay readies himself to leave, but Lula suddenly stands up and dispassionately stabs him in the heart twice. She then commands the other passengers to throw his corpse out at the next stop. Towards the end of the play, Lula makes eye contact with yet another young black man who has just entered the subway car. A black train conductor passes through, respectfully tipping his hat to Lula.
Grace and Easley, a white couple, come home one night. They are frustrated that their city is convulsed by riots carried out by the black liberation movement and combatted by soldiers. They become aware that Grace’s ex-husband Walker, the leader of the movement, is in their living room holding a gun. Frightened and annoyed, the couple tries to figure out what Walker is doing there.
Walker provokes Easley in particular, and he accuses Grace of leaving him all alone. She defends herself, saying that she had to leave since he was crazy and spoke of killing white people. Walker says he wants their two daughters and is planning to take them, which horrifies Grace.
Easley criticizes Walker for being a bad poet and intellectual, and Walker admits he is torn between Western culture and the realities of being black in America. He hates Easley, mocks his faux-liberalism, and suggests he is gay, but he also says he would rather debate Easley on politics or poetry than converse with his own officers sometimes.
As Walker grows drunker, he becomes more morose. Easley thinks it is the right time to try to tackle Walker. When he does, Walker bests him, pulls out his gun, and shoots him dead. Easley’s last words are “ritual drama,” which is his way of explaining Walker’s feeble attempts to make meaning for himself.
Grace is distraught and begs Walker to leave. She also begs him not to take the girls. A massive explosion rocks the house and Grace is badly hurt. She asks Walker how their children are and Walker tells her matter-of-factly that they are dead. Grace dies.
Walker leaves the house amid the explosions. A child’s voice is heard yelling upstairs.
Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoi Jones; October 7, 1934 – January 9, 2014), previously known as LeRoi Jones and Imamu Amear Baraka, was an American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music criticism. He was the author of numerous books of poetry and taught at several universities, including the State University of New York at Buffalo and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He received the PEN/Beyond Margins Award in 2008 for Tales of the Out and the Gone.
Baraka's career spanned nearly 50 years, and his themes range from black liberation to white racism. Some poems that are always associated with him are "The Music: Reflection on Jazz and Blues", "The Book of Monk", and "New Music, New Poetry", works that draw on topics from the worlds of society, music, and literature. Baraka's poetry and writing have attracted both high praise and condemnation. In the African-American community, some compare Baraka to James Baldwin and recognize him as one of the most respected and most widely published black writers of his generation. Others have said his work is an expression of violence, misogyny, and homophobia. Regardless of one's viewpoint, Baraka's plays, poetry, and essays have been defining texts for African-American culture.
Baraka's brief tenure as Poet Laureate of New Jersey (2002–2003) involved controversy over a public reading of his poem "Somebody Blew Up America?", which resulted in accusations of anti-Semitism and negative attention from critics and politicians.
Poet, writer, teacher, and political activist Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University and Howard University, spent three years in the U.S. Air Force, and returned to New York City to attend Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. Baraka was well known for his strident social criticism, often writing in an incendiary style that made it difficult for some audiences and critics to respond with objectivity to his works. Throughout most of his career his method in poetry, drama, fiction, and essays was confrontational, calculated to shock and awaken audiences to the political concerns of black Americans. For decades, Baraka was one of the most prominent voices in the world of American literature.
Baraka’s own political stance changed several times, thus dividing his oeuvre into periods: as a member of the avant-garde during the 1950s, Baraka—writing as Leroi Jones—was associated with Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; in the ‘60s, he moved to Harlem and became a Black Nationalist; in the ‘70s, he was involved in third-world liberation movements and identified as a Marxist. More recently, Baraka was accused of anti-Semitism for his poem “Somebody Blew up America,” written in response to the September 11 attacks.
Baraka incited controversy throughout his career. He was praised for speaking out against oppression as well as accused of fostering hate. Critical opinion has been sharply divided between those who agree, with Dissent contributor Stanley Kaufman, that Baraka’s race and political moment have created his celebrity, and those who feel that Baraka stands among the most important writers of the twentieth century. In the American Book Review, Arnold Rampersad counted Baraka with Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison “as one of the eight figures . . . who have significantly affected the course of African-American literary culture.”
Baraka did not always identify with radical politics, nor did his writing always court controversy. During the 1950s Baraka lived in Greenwich Village, befriending Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and Gilbert Sorrentino. The white avant-garde—primarily Ginsberg, O’Hara, and leader of the Black Mountain poets Charles Olson—and Baraka believed in poetry as a process of discovery rather than an exercise in fulfilling traditional expectations. Baraka, like the projectivist poets, believed that a poem’s form should follow the shape determined by the poet’s own breath and intensity of feeling. In 1958 Baraka founded Yugen magazine and Totem Press, important forums for new verse. He was married to his co-editor, Hettie Cohen, from 1960 to 1965. His first play, A Good Girl Is Hard to Find, was produced at Sterington House in Montclair, New Jersey, that same year. Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, Baraka’s first published collection of poems appeared in 1961. M.L. Rosenthal wrote in The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II that these poems show Baraka’s “natural gift for quick, vivid imagery and spontaneous humor.” Rosenthal also praised the “sardonic or sensuous or slangily knowledgeable passages” that fill the early poems. While the cadence of blues and many allusions to black culture are found in the poems, the subject of blackness does not predominate. Throughout, rather, the poet shows his integrated, Bohemian social roots. The book’s last line is “You are / as any other sad man here / american.”
With the rise of the civil rights movement Baraka’s works took on a more militant tone. His trip to Cuba in 1959 marked an important turning point in his life. His view of his role as a writer, the purpose of art, and the degree to which ethnic awareness deserved to be his subject changed dramatically. In Cuba he met writers and artists from third world countries whose political concerns included the fight against poverty, famine, and oppressive governments. In Home: Social Essays (1966), Baraka explains how he tried to defend himself against their accusations of self-indulgence, and was further challenged by Jaime Shelley, a Mexican poet, who said, “‘In that ugliness you live in, you want to cultivate your soul? Well, we’ve got millions of starving people to feed, and that moves me enough to make poems out of.’” Soon Baraka began to identify with third world writers and to write poems and plays with strong political messages.
Dutchman, a play of entrapment in which a white woman and a middle-class black man both express their murderous hatred on a subway, was first performed Off-Broadway in 1964. While other dramatists of the time were wedded to naturalism, Baraka used symbolism and other experimental techniques to enhance the play’s emotional impact. The play established Baraka’s reputation as a playwright and has been often anthologized and performed. It won the Village Voice Obie Award in 1964 and was later made into a film. The plays and poems following Dutchman expressed Baraka’s increasing disappointment with white America and his growing need to separate from it. Critics observed that as Baraka’s poems became more politically intense, they left behind some of the flawless technique of the earlier poems. Richard Howard wrote of The Dead Lecturer (1964) in the Nation: “These are the agonized poems of a man writing to save his skin, or at least to settle in it, and so urgent is their purpose that not one of them can trouble to be perfect.”
To make a clean break with the Beat influence, Baraka turned to writing fiction in the mid-1960s, penning The System of Dante’s Hell (1965), a novel, and Tales (1967), a collection of short stories. The stories are “‘fugitive narratives’ that describe the harried flight of an intensely self-conscious Afro-American artist/intellectual from neo-slavery of blinding, neutralizing whiteness, where the area of struggle is basically within the mind,” Robert Elliot Fox wrote in Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. The role of violent action in achieving political change is more prominent in these stories, as is the role of music in black life.
In addition to his poems, novels and politically-charged essays, Baraka is a noted writer of music criticism. His classic history Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963) traces black music from slavery to contemporary jazz. Finding indigenous black art forms was important to Baraka in the ‘60s, as he was searching for a more authentic voice for his own poetry. Baraka became known as an articulate jazz critic and a perceptive observer of social change. As Clyde Taylor stated in Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, “The connection he nailed down between the many faces of black music, the sociological sets that nurtured them, and their symbolic evolutions through socio-economic changes, in Blues People, is his most durable conception, as well as probably the one most indispensable thing said about black music.” Baraka also published the important studies Black Music (1968) and The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues (1987). Lloyd W. Brown commented in Amiri Baraka that Baraka’s essays on music are flawless: “As historian, musicological analyst, or as a journalist covering a particular performance Baraka always commands attention because of his obvious knowledge of the subject and because of a style that is engaging and persuasive even when the sentiments are questionable and controversial.”
After Black Muslim leader Malcolm X was killed in 1965, Baraka moved to Harlem and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. The Black Arts Movement helped develop a new aesthetic for black art and Baraka was its primary theorist. Black American artists should follow “black,” not “white” standards of beauty and value, he maintained, and should stop looking to white culture for validation. The black artist’s role, he wrote in Home: Social Essays (1966), is to “aid in the destruction of America as he knows it.” Foremost in this endeavor was the imperative to portray society and its ills faithfully so that the portrayal would move people to take necessary corrective action. He married his second wife, Amina, in 1967. In that same year, Baraka published the poetry collection Black Magic, which chronicles his separation from white culture and values while displaying his mastery of poetic technique. There was no doubt that Baraka’s political concerns superseded his just claims to literary excellence, and critics struggled to respond to the political content of the works. Some felt the best art must be apolitical and dismissed Baraka’s newer work as “a loss to literature.” Kenneth Rexroth wrote in With Eye and Ear that Baraka “has succumbed to the temptation to become a professional Race Man of the most irresponsible sort. . . . His loss to literature is more serious than any literary casualty of the Second War.” In 1966 Bakara moved back to Newark, New Jersey, and a year later changed his name to the Bantuized Muslim appellation Imamu (“spiritual leader,” later dropped) Ameer (later Amiri, “prince”) Baraka (“blessing”).
By the early 1970s Baraka was recognized as an influential African-American writer. Randall noted in Black World that younger black poets Nikki Giovanni and Don L. Lee (later Haki R. Madhubuti) were “learning from LeRoi Jones, a man versed in German philosophy, conscious of literary tradition . . . who uses the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy in his System of Dante’s Hell and the punctuation, spelling and line divisions of sophisticated contemporary poets.” More importantly, Arnold Rampersad wrote in the American Book Review, “More than any other black poet . . . he taught younger black poets of the generation past how to respond poetically to their lived experience, rather than to depend as artists on embalmed reputations and outmoded rhetorical strategies derived from a culture often substantially different from their own.”
After coming to see Black Nationalism as a destructive form of racism, Baraka denounced it in 1974 and became a third world socialist. He produced a number of Marxist poetry collections and plays in the 1970s that reflected his newly adopted political goals. Critics contended that works like the essays collected in Daggers and Javelins (1984) lack the emotional power of the works from his Black Nationalist period. However, Joe Weixlmann, in Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, argued against the tendency to categorize the radical Baraka instead of analyze him: “At the very least, dismissing someone with a label does not make for very satisfactory scholarship. Initially, Baraka’s reputation as a writer and thinker derived from a recognition of the talents with which he is so obviously endowed. The subsequent assaults on that reputation have, too frequently, derived from concerns which should be extrinsic to informed criticism.”
In more recent years, recognition of Baraka’s impact on late 20th century American culture has resulted in the publication of several anthologies of his literary oeuvre. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (1999) presents a thorough overview of the writer’s development, covering the period from 1957 to 1983. The volume presents Baraka’s work from four different periods and emphasizes lesser-known works rather than the author’s most famous writings. Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995), published in 1995, was hailed by Daniel L. Guillory in Library Journal as “critically important.” And Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commended the “lyric boldness of this passionate collection.” Kamau Brathwaite described Baraka’s 2004 collection, Somebody Blew up America & Other Poems, as “one more mark in modern Black radical and revolutionary cultural reconstruction.” The book contains Baraka’s controversial poem of the same name, which he wrote as New Jersey’s poet laureate. After the poem’s publication, public outcry became so great that the governor of New Jersey took action to abolish the position. Baraka sued, though the United States Court of Appeals eventually ruled that state officials were immune from such charges.
Baraka’s legacy as a major poet of the second half of the 20th century remains matched by his importance as a cultural and political leader. His influence on younger writers has been significant and widespread, and as a leader of the Black Arts movement of the 1960s Baraka did much to define and support black literature’s mission into the next century. His experimental fiction of the 1960s is considered some of the most significant African-American fiction since that of Jean Toomer. Writers from other ethnic groups have credited Baraka with opening “tightly guarded doors” in the white publishing establishment, noted Maurice Kenney in Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, who added: “We’d all still be waiting the invitation from the New Yorker without him. He taught us how to claim it and take it.”
Baraka was recognized for his work through a PEN/Faulkner Award, a Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, and the Langston Hughes Award from City College of New York. He was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He died in 2014.
Somebody Blew Up America by Amiri Baraka
The script for Dutchman has been made available for free on this website:
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Tiffany Gilly (she/her) is doing what she can to be an advocate and ally to Black People and People of Color through her art. She is an actor who seeks to support theatre and stories by Black Playwrights and Playwrights of Color, so she started this play-reading group to increase the knowledge of plays by non-White Playwrights as a starting point or a stepping stone for further exploration as artists.