Class of 2023
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Majors: Theater Studies and African & African American Studies
Mellon Project: The Making of Eden: An Exploration of the Black Theatrical and Political Climate of Steve Carter’s Pan-African Romeo & Juliet
The establishment of the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) as repertory company dedicated to the training of black playwrights, actors, and technicians in 1967 transformed the landscape of American theater. The company’s commitment to producing plays that offered authentic portrayals of the black experience largely depended upon new works written by black dramatists. One of these dramatists, Steve Carter, brought novelty to the American theater by tackling intraracial tensions among black people living in New York City in his Caribbean Trilogy. Eden, the first play in the trilogy, was first produced by NEC in 1976 and received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Set in Manhattan, the play follows the love story between a Southern black American young man and West Indian-born teenage girl whose father attempts to force the two apart in the name of racial purity. Eden distinguishes itself from the two other plays in the trilogy as Carter provides a political foundation for the intraracial conflict—Garveyism. During its world premiere, NEC promoted Eden as a black Romeo & Juliet. I maintain that this marketing tactic led some critics to reduce Eden to a play about “black-on-black racism” and ignore the significance of black nationalism in the play. Consequently, some critics challenged the actions of Carter’s characters in the play’s final moments. Through close readings of Eden and its reviews, I aim to justify the actions of Carter’s characters and position Eden within a tradition of black political dramas.
Research Interests: modern black drama, diasporic connections in black dramatic literature