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American Women Playwrights (July 2022): Key Sources not Exclusively American

By Martha Schmoyer LoMonaco

Key Sources not Exclusively American

Many authors consider all English-language playwrights in their studies. The following titles offer rich source materials on American playwrights but also on their counterparts abroad.

Women Writing Plays: Three Decades of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, edited by Alexis Greene, covers thirty years of prize winners and the concurrent development of women’s playwrighting on both sides of the Atlantic. The Blackburn Prize is awarded annually, as the front matter of the book states, “to women who deserve recognition for writing works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theater. The aim of the prize is to extend the creative influence of women in the theater, to encourage them to write for the theater, and to recognize excellence in the works of those who do.” Greene’s study extends to the many finalists each year from 1979 through 2006, a rich trove of playwrights, many of whom are not covered in other studies.

Lynda Hart’s Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre features essays on subjects rarely entertained elsewhere, including the largely overlooked and undersung women of El Teatro Campesino; the emergence of Japanese American Women Playwrights Momoko Iko, Wakako Yamauchi, Karen Yamashita, and Velina Houston; and “mass culture and metaphors of menace in Joan Schenkar’s Plays.” Contemporary Women Playwrights: Into the Twenty-First Century, edited by Penny Farfan and Lesley Ferris, places American women within the larger context of world writers. The volume includes essays on Latina theater; Asian American women writers, including Young Jean Lee, Julia Cho, and Diana Son; feminist history plays of Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage, and Anna Deavere Smith,  “affect and performance” (focusing on Deb Margolin, Robbie McCauley, and Peggy Shaw); and Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, which imagines the last hours of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Helen Keyssar’s Feminist Theatre: An Introduction to Plays of Contemporary British and American Women is particularly valuable for its chapter devoted to Megan Terry, whom Keyssar credits as the mother of American feminist drama. Her chapter “Foothills,” which surveys the precursors of feminist drama, is also a valuable foundational study.

Female Playwrights of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Adrienne Scullion, is an anthology of mostly British plays but includes Alan’s Wife, cowritten by Florence Bell and the American-born Elizabeth Robins, who spent most of her professional life in England. The only other American profiled is Anna Cora Mowatt, whose play Fashion (1845), the first hit play written by an American woman playwright, is included. Although Scullion focuses on foreign-born playwrights writing for the London stage, many of these women (among them Fanny Kemble) enjoyed transatlantic careers. Scullion’s introductory biographies are fascinating reading, as is “The Playwrights and Their Critics,” which illuminates the reception the plays’ received by male critics. She also includes an excellent chronology of the playwrights’ lives and times, situating these women within a larger socio-political context.