“My book looks at societal representations of the mixed-race character as ‘insane,’ ‘tragic’ and ‘torn between two worlds,’” Hodges Persley said. “But if you dig deeper, that’s not necessarily the case.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-05-14 15:40Z by Steven

“My book [Not Tragic: Fredi Washington and the Improvisation of Radical Black Performance Traditions] looks at societal representations of the mixed-race character as ‘insane,’ ‘tragic’ and ‘torn between two worlds,’” [Nicole] Hodges Persley said. “But if you dig deeper, that’s not necessarily the case. [Adrienne] Kennedy says it’s not necessarily the mixing of two races that produces psychosis but the predominant narrative of whiteness that people of color are forced to consume, but that they can never fulfill; they can never live up to it. She asks why blackness is portrayed as evil and not seen for its positive contributions to the world.”

Rick Hellman, “‘Funnyhouse of a Negro’ gets under character’s skin,” KU Today, May 1, 2019. https://today.ku.edu/2019/04/30/funnyhouse-negro-gets-under-characters-skin.

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‘Funnyhouse of a Negro’ gets under character’s skin

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-05-14 15:12Z by Steven

‘Funnyhouse of a Negro’ gets under character’s skin

KU Today
The University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas 66045
2019-05-01

Rick Hellman, KU News Service
Telephone: 785-864-8852

LAWRENCE – More than one white politician has landed in hot water this year after old photographs of them dressed in blackface surfaced. Clearly, racial stereotypes are still a touchy subject. So is it OK for minorities to dress in whiteface? What if it’s meant to represent an inner conflict among people of mixed-race identity?

“This question implies that there is such a thing as reverse racism, and I don’t think we can even ask that without discussing the systemic inequality and racial hierarchies that result in internalized racism experienced by historically underrepresented groups,” said Nicole Hodges Persley, University of Kansas associate professor of theatre.

Melting Pot Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, goes there this month when Hodges Persley directs an avant-garde play from 1964 titled “Funnyhouse of a Negro” by Adrienne Kennedy. The play, which opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 3, for a two-week run, is part of Hodges Persley’s exploration of the ways 20th-century black artists undermined racial and mixed-race stereotypes in their creative work.

For the past couple of years, Hodges Persley has been working on the first major biography of actress Fredi Washington (1903-1994), a woman of mixed racial background who fought against the racial stereotyping of her day while also working for black empowerment…

Read the entire article here.

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Passed Over: The Tragic Mulatta and (Dis)Integration of Identity in Adrienne Kennedy’s Plays

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2011-10-25 21:18Z by Steven

Passed Over: The Tragic Mulatta and (Dis)Integration of Identity in Adrienne Kennedy’s Plays

African American Review
Volume 35, Number 2 (Summer, 2001)
pages 281-295

E. Barnsley Brown

Much recent interest in the drama of Adrienne Kennedy has been spawned by the publication of her innovative autobiography People Who Led to My Plays (1987), the 1992 Great Lakes festival devoted to her work, and the recent productions of her plays by the Signature Theatre Company, which devoted an entire season to her work. Yet Kennedy has yet to receive the widespread critical attention she deserves as one of the most unique and innovative twentieth-century American playwrights. [1] Compared to August Wilson, who has garnered many accolades and is fast replacing Lorraine Hansberry as the African American playwright whose work is anthologized, taught, and critiqued, Kennedy’s work is still relatively unknown by the average theatergoer, and even by some academics. And while critics praise August Wilson’s use of African beliefs in the supernatural and the presence of the ancestors, these very elements are present in Kennedy’s earliest plays from the 1960s. Wilson’s characteristic themes—the inexorable legacy of history, the tenuous line between dream and reality, memory as a (re)constructive process, and the conflicting forces in identity formation—were addressed by Kennedy over a decade earlier. It bears asking, then, why Kennedy’s work has been largely ignored until recently, and her message, a message grounded in the politics of oppression, often overlooked.

Kennedy ascribes her limited critical success to the fact that her plays are “abstract poems” (Diamond, “Interview” 157) and thus do not easily fit into an American theatrical tradition dominated by realistic plays such as those of Alice Childress and Hansberry. I contend, however, that Kennedy’s lack of widespread popularity can be more accurately attributed to her uncanny ability to make audiences feel ill at ease through her dramatization of the politics of identity and, in particular, of miscegenation. As she admits at the end of her interview with Elin Diamond, “My plays make people uncomfortable so I’ve never had a play done in Cleveland [her hometown], never” (157). The volatile content of Kennedy’s plays-her (not so) standard theme of a history of racial and sexual abuse leading to fragmentation and even death-does not make her plays either light viewing or reading. In effect, Kennedy’s painful exploration of miscegenation through a fragmented, postmodern form challenges and even assaults her audienc e, revealing both her riveting power as a writer as well as the grounds upon which her work has been passed over by her contemporaries, critics, and scholars alike.

By tackling the taboo topic of miscegenation and representing it in both the form and content of her plays, Kennedy represents the African American struggle against both external and internal oppression. In her plays, which she has described as “states of mind” (qtd. in Cohn 108), Kennedy shows the self in dialogue not only with society but also with the fragmentary vestiges of otherness within the self, those internalized markers of oppression. Kennedy thus creates psychic landscapes in which the ongoing battle between conflicting discourses and mythologies is made manifest through symbols, composite characters, and a plurality of voices, all of which reveal the violent struggle between whiteness and blackness within as well as outside the self…

…If the reading or viewing audience cannot locate Sarah, then who can? Kennedy brings home the impossibility of fixing Sarah’s identity and forces the viewer to confront his or her own displacement within the phantasmagoric world of the play.

As the tragic mulatta, caught between races, caught between “room” that do not offer a home or a place to belong, Sarah represents (t)races of an unattainable, stable, and unified subjectivity and identity. In actuality, Sarah and herselves are at once black and white, male and female, English and African (American), contemporary and historical. These traces of identity pass by the spectator in ephemeral moments, reflected, refracted, and distorted, as in a funnyhouse mirror. Kennedy seems to be suggesting that not only is the lack of a unified self a human condition, but it is also a subaltern condition, aggravated by racial animosity. By conveying Sarah’s internal struggle through traces of multiple selves, Kennedy thus underscores the racial hatred that has long characterized American society and effectively revises the family drama to reveal the tragic effects of racial hatred on an individual as well as collective level.

Kennedy embodies the racial polarization that has long characterized American society in Sarah’s fragmented consciousness by emphasizing colors–white, black, and yellow, the “color” of the mulatto. The colors themselves take on a life of their own as Sarah talks about how her statue of Queen Victoria is “a thing of astonishing whiteness” and “black is evil and has been from the beginning” (5). Sarah’s struggle to integrate her warring heritages is embodied throughout by a relentless repetition of “white” and “black” on every page of the play’s dialogue. Even the stage directions emphasize the colors of costumes, lights, and props—for example, “a white nightgown” (2,4), “white light” (2), “an ebony mask” (7), “a black shirt and black trousers” (9). “a black and white marble floor” (16), “a dark brightness” (20)—all of which point to Sarah’s internal struggle. Yet the images of whiteness in the stage directions far outnumber those of blackness, demonstrating Sarah’s obsession with white culture and her desire to pass for white.

In actuality, Sarah desires to repudiate her black heritage, symbolized by her black father, whose persistent knocking is heard throughout the play, thus suggesting that Sarah’s black heritage cannot be ignored. Kennedy makes Sarah’s desire to pass most evident in the following monologue, in which Sarah speaks of her desire for much more than integration into white society:

As for myself I long to become even a more pallid Negro than I am now; pallid like Negroes on the covers of American Negro magazines; soulless, educated and irreligious. I want to possess no moral value, particularly value as to my being. I want not to be. I ask nothing except anonymity…. It is my dream to live in rooms with European antiques and my Queen Victoria, photographs of Roman ruins, walls of books, a piano, oriental carpets and to eat my meals on a white glass table. I will visit my friends’ apartments which will contain books, photographs of Roman ruins, pianos and oriental carpets. My friends will be white.

I need them as an embankment to keep me from reflecting too much upon the fact that I am a Negro. For like all educated Negroes… I find it necessary to maintain a stark fortress against recognition of myself. (6)

Educated in a Eurocentric tradition and “soulless,” stripped of pride in her blackness or “soul,” Sarah desires complete assimilation, as shown in her reverence for the symbols and trappings of Eurocentric civilization–European antiques, books, oriental carpets, photographs of Roman ruins, and so forth.

Kennedy shows that Sarah has absorbed white racist ideology so fully that she and herselves repeatedly refer to her father as “a wild black beast” (5). Sarah also believes he raped her mother, thus adhering to the mythical idea of the black rapist. [5] As Rosemary Curb argues, “Sarah experiences the racial warfare within herself by consciously identifying with the White oppressor self against the Black oppressed sell” (“Fragmented” 181). In fact, Sarah and herselves identify so completely with the white oppressor that her final disintegration of selfhood, her tragic hanging at the end of the play by either murder or suicide, is best read as the death of her Negro self (yes)….

Read the entire article here.

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An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black-White Contacts in the Old World and the New

Posted in Anthologies, Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery on 2010-08-10 04:14Z by Steven

An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black-White Contacts in the Old World and the New

New York University Press
2004-02-01
675 pages
Cloth ISBN: 9780814781432
Paperback ISBN: 9780814781449

Edited by

Werner Sollors, Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and Professor of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

A white knight meets his half-black half-brother in battle. A black hero marries a white woman. A slave mother kills her child by a rapist-master. A white-looking person of partly African ancestry passes for white. A master and a slave change places for a single night. An interracial marriage turns sour. The birth of a child brings a crisis. Such are some of the story lines to be found within the pages of An Anthology of Interracial Literature.

This is the first anthology to explore the literary theme of black-white encounters, of love and family stories that cross—or are crossed by—what came to be considered racial boundaries. The anthology extends from Cleobolus’ ancient Greek riddle to tormented encounters in the modern United States, visiting along the way a German medieval chivalric romance, excerpts from Arabian Nights and Italian Renaissance novellas, scenes and plays from Spain, Denmark, England, and the United States, as well as essays, autobiographical sketches, and numerous poems. The authors of the selections include some of the great names of world literature interspersed with lesser-known writers. Themes of interracial love and family relations, passing, and the figure of the Mulatto are threaded through the volume.

An Anthology of Interracial Literature allows scholars, students, and general readers to grapple with the extraordinary diversity in world literature. As multi-racial identification becomes more widespread the ethnic and cultural roots of world literature takes on new meaning.

Contributors include: Hans Christian Andersen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles W. Chesnutt, Lydia Maria Child, Kate Chopin, Countee Cullen, Caroline Bond Day, Rita Dove, Alexandre Dumas, Olaudah Equiano, Langston Hughes, Victor Hugo, Charles Johnson, Adrienne Kennedy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Guy de Maupassant, Claude McKay, Eugene O’Neill, Alexander Pushkin, and Jean Toomer.

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