My research focuses on the “insertion” work of black women in literature, particularly theatre. Carroll is a “first” that probably a lot of people do not know about, not just theatre but Broadway.
Today on her birthday, I re-member Vinnette Justine Carroll who was the “first” black woman to direct a play on Broadway, with her 1972 production of the musical Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. In addition, until 2016, Carroll was the only black woman to have received a Tony Award nomination for direction. That is 44 years, four decades, that passed before Tony consideration was given for a black woman director on Broadway. And just to do the math, when Carroll made history directing this musical, Broadway had been producing theatre for approximately 115 years.
Carroll was also an actor and playwright. She is known for the reinvention of song-play, the expression of identity through gospel music in the African-American theatre experience. Not surprising, Carroll was into creating and directing new works that positively and artistically presented people of color in theater and art. Her primary interest was giving voice to African Americans and other minority communities that have been culturally and artistically silenced.
Happy birthday to Tony Award nominated director, Vinnette Justine Carroll! Add her name to your name of black women being properly “inserted” and recognized for her artistic contributions in theatre.
Wait, whose birthday is it? Danai Gurira, from “The Walking Dead” and “Black Panther”:
On my research journey, I am documenting and inserting any significant absence of information on women in theatre. See, not only is Gurira an amazing and versatile actress, she is also a playwright. Her play, “Eclipse” was the first play to premiere on Broadway with an all female and black cast and creative team. (Yes, after all these years, we are still creating “firsts” for black people!) The play is set in war-torn Liberia and focuses on three women who are living as sex slaves to a rebel commander, and is about how they deal with this difficult situation. The play was inspired by a photograph of female fighters and their tale of survival.
And as you can see the play starred the beautiful and talented, Lupita Nyong’o.
So today I salute Danai Gurira and encourage you to learn more about her and buy tickets to “Eclipse” if it comes to your city. I saw a production of it here in Atlanta and the story creates suspense and chills!
Stunning! Danai Gurira
May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965
Artists can be inspired by the simple things. The sudden swarm of birds on branches to a nostalgic smell of perfume or cologne. When I abandon concerns of the world, I am able to be inspired by almost anything because my senses are without judgement and I can apply optimism to everything! Perhaps this was the process Lorraine Hansberry encountered when she created the timeless theatrical masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun.
She was inspired by the poem entitled, Harlem, by Langston Hughes. This was one of the first poems I memorized and one of the first I made my nephews memorize! This poem inspired her to write the play that put her in the history books. With her play, Raisin in the Sun, she became the first African American woman to write a play performed on Broadway and the youngest and fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. The success of this play led to it being translated in 35 different languages and inspired the talented Nina Simone to write her song, To Be Young, Gifted and Black. After Hansberry’s death, her husband was inspired to adapt a remaining collection of her work into a play with the same name of Simone’s song.
Art is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy… The origin of art derives from the antiquity of documenting life or scribing so it is not surprising that this string of inspirations are connected. Some days I feel like Lorraine Hansberry when I pick up a pen and begin to write after hearing a song or note on from a saxophone or analogy from a poem. I get inspired by people and situations around me and of course I hope I will leave inspiration to others.