Book Review, Current Issue, Vol. 31 No.3

In Search of Our Warrior Mothers: Women Dramatists of the Black Arts Movement

In Search of Our Warrior Mothers: Women Dramatists of the Black Arts Movement. La Donna L. Forsgren. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2018; Pp. 200.

A crucial contribution to the historiography of the Black Arts Movement, La Donna L. Forsgren’s In Search of Our Warrior Mothers: Women Dramatists of the Black Arts Movement makes the original argument that black women dramatists played an invaluable role in the movement (1965-76). Forsgren employs a black feminist historiography with a ferocity that is both innovative and rigorous in an effort to revive a history that has been overlooked, misconstrued, and at worst erased. Each of the four chapters focuses on a single dramatist: Barbara Ann Teer, Martie Evans-Charles, Sonia Sanchez, and J.e. Franklin. In Search of Our Warrior Mothers is primarily a recuperative undertaking. As such, Forsgren’s methodology “foregrounds the sociopolitical factors that have led to the marginalization of black women’s culture and literary tradition” (3). In an effort to shed light on how and why black women dramatists were systematically excluded from the archives of the movement, Forsgren conducted oral histories to supplement the scant archives of her subjects. Her argument is made as much in the absences and gaps in memory and material as it is in the presence of tangible artifacts.

In the first chapter, Forsgren claims Barbara Ann Teer as an unrecognized theorist of the Black Arts Movement. Forsgren focuses on Teer’s ritual performance theories, critical essays, ritualistic revival performance techniques, and the early work of the National Black Theatre (NBT), which Teer founded in 1968. In a departure from a typical literature review, Forsgren models a critique of historical and critical erasure that she continues in each subsequent chapter. In addition to highlighting existing literature on Barbara Ann Teer (there is one book-length biography on her life and work), Forsgren illuminates epistemological gaps. Forsgren suggests that Teer’s work is undervalued and as a result unpublished and in turn undervalued—a self-contained system of historical erasure. For the most part, the chapter is concerned with historicizing Teer as a theorist of the Black Arts Movement and concretizing her legacy as a pioneer in black theatre. Forsgren finds Teer’s theoretical origins in her theory of acting, “Five Cycles of Evolution.” Since Teer died in 2006, Forsgren conducted interviews with Barbara “Sade” Lythcott, Teer’s daughter and the current president of the NBT. Lythcott’s contextualization of her mother’s work serves to historicize Teer’s lasting impact on black performance beyond the Black Arts Movement.

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