Honoring African American Contributions: Playwrights - National Council of Teachers of English
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Honoring African American Contributions: Playwrights

African American History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in US history. This week we will look at the legacy of African American playwrights.

A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry that tells the story of a Black family’s experiences in the Washington Park Subdivision of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood as they attempt to “better” themselves. With A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry was the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. This lesson from ReadWriteThink.org invites students to explore the things relevant to a character from Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, such as Mama’s plant, to unlock the drama’s underlying symbolism and themes. Students explore character traits and participate in active learning as they work with the play. Students use an interactive drama map to explore character and conflict, and then write and share character-item poems.

Another African American playwright, August Wilson, won critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, for his play Fences. It’s currently a major motion picture directed by Denzel Washington, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Students can read Fences, then watch the film and compare the two.

Another August Wilson play, The Piano Lesson, invites students to ask a number of questions—big and small—about the characters, setting, conflict, and symbols in the work. After reading the first act, students learn how to create effective discussion questions and then put them to use in student-led seminar discussions after Act 1 and again at the end of the play. Read more in the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan, “Facilitating Student-Led Seminar Discussions with The Piano Lesson.”

This collection from the Library of Congress presents ten plays written by Zora Neale Hurston, author, anthropologist, and folklorist. Read more about those plays from this blog post. In Zora Neale Hurston in the Classroom, a book in the NCTE High School Literature Series, readers will discover new ways to share the work of this important author with students. The book offers a practical approach to Hurston using a range of student-centered activities for teaching Hurston’s nonfiction, short stories, and the print and film versions of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Interested in musical theater? Read this blog post from the Library of Congress for some fascinating details about historical Black musical theater.


Curious about the NCTE and Library of Congress connection? Through a grant announced recently by NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE is engaged in new ongoing work with the Library of Congress, and “will connect the ELA community with the Library of Congress to expand the use of primary sources in teaching.” Stay tuned for more throughout the year!

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