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III. America in Black and White

Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: Shaping Identity through Violence

Inmaculada Pineda
p. 173-187


Cet article explore le sujet de la violence comme l’un des facteurs responsables de la formation de l´identité des femmes afro-américaines défavorisées, selon la description qu’en donnent les dramaturges afro-américaines. Deux approches sont considérées, d´un côté la mentalité féministe du peuple noir, et de l’autre, l’éloignement du multiculturalisme vers une perspective plus universaliste puisque la violence paraît constante dans le temps et l´espace. L´article étudie les rapports entre ces théories et les œuvres de Suzan-Lori Parks In the Blood (1999) et de Kia Corthron Breath, Boom (2000). Les théoriciennes féministes Angela Davis et Patricia Hill Collins ont une approche centrée sur l´intersection entre plusieurs formes d´oppression qui sont mises en relation pour éviter que des femmes comme Hester, mère sans ressources dans In the Blood et Prix, chef d´une bande dans Breath, Boom, puissent avoir l´opportunité d’atteindre la reconnaissance personnelle, et finalement, la reconnaissance sociale et la possibilité de s’améliorer. Dans les deux pièces, l´identité des femmes noires se construit sous l’influence de la violence et de la maltraitance. L’élément le plus perturbant dans ces textes, c´est de découvrir que de nos jours des femmes, parmi les moins privilégiées et les plus marginales, peuvent mener des vies similaires à celles décrites dans ces œuvres théâtrales.

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1There are two contending trends within the American Studies field today that analyze and discuss American identity. On the one hand, multiculturalism and pluralist articulations focus on identity formation analyses that study cultural, social, gender sexual and ethnic difference. On the other hand, a more universalist approach focuses on individual choices and possibilities which can be common to other individuals in a global world. The plays to be analyzed in this essay, Suzan-Lori Parks’s In the Blood (1999) and Kia Corthron’s Breath, Boom (2000) are representative of both theoretical frameworks: they could be interpreted as genuinely (and universally) American from a European point of view; and yet, evasively American, because the main characters depicted in both plays are poor black women with little or no education in a violent society, and therefore their individual identities are so specific that they would hardly be representative of a national or at least a more general group identity.

2The current essay analyzes the ways in which black female identity can be shaped by violence, and how the construction of subjectivity can be influenced by adhering to, or consenting certain violent acts. To achieve this I will be using a multidisciplinary conceptual framework: first I will discuss how African Americans suffer social inequality in the U.S.A. regarding violence; then I will comment on some contemporary texts by black women playwrights which portray violence and show how the two plays to be discussed, In the Blood and Breath, Boom, differ from that literary tradition. I will then refer to black feminist thought on identity that engages with issues of gender and sexuality. Finally, I will analyze Parks’ and Corthron’s plays, pointing out the global and universal features that would make them representative of a universalist identity formation process, and also indicating which specific characteristics make them distinctively African American.

African Americans and social inequality regarding violence

3John Michael has recently argued that "identity in the United States has frequently taken shape and shifted in moments of crisis marked by a constitutive conflict between a national promise of justice and those who indicate or embody the injured identities that prove that the nation has failed to make that promise good" (4). American identity has been shaped by power relations and social and racial tensions. In this identity formation process African Americans have suffered historically because they were prevented from obtaining the national promise of justice implied in American identity. Even today, after the Civil Rights movement, after the election of the first African American US president, de jure equality does not coincide with de facto equality.

4According to the 2008 Census Demographic Profile Highlights on poverty, 24.7% of the individuals living below the poverty level in the US were black. The 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Family Violence Statistics, states that between 1998 and 2002 African Americans were 12.1% of the US population but they accounted for 13.6% of all family violence victims. The report also indicates that in 2002 blacks were 12.7% of the American population but 39.9% of all murder victims; this figure increased in 2005 when blacks accounted for 49% of all homicide victims (Black Victims of Violent Crime, 3). Data referring specifically to African American women are even harsher: the 2007 report of the Bureau of Justice Statistics on Intimate Partner Violence in the US explains that domestic victimization for black women was 1.5 times higher than for white women and 6.5 times higher than for white men. Family violence includes aggravated assault, homicide, rape, robbery and simple assault crimes perpetrated by intimate partners. As derived from this data it could be concluded that African American female identity is one of the ‘injured identities’ that John Michael mentions. It has been injured by racial, social and gender oppression, but most literally it has been damaged by violence.

Dramatic portrayals of violence by contemporary African American women playwrights

5The fact that black women are more likely to be victims of violence than any other gender or racial group in the U.S.A. explains why in recent years there has been an increase in the number of plays by African American women that address the issue of violence. From Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964), P.J. Gibson’s Masks, Circles: Healing the Pain (1994), Pearl Cleage’s Flying West (1992), Blues for an Alabama Sky (1994), and Bourbon at the Border (1997), to Cheryl L. West’s Holiday Heart (1993), or Jar the Floor (1997) or Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman (2002), African American women dramatists depict social violence, rape, suicide, domestic violence, racial violence, verbal abuse, child molestation, etc. In most cases black women are the victims of that violence and are portrayed as mere objects in a discourse of domination that black female playwrights challenge. As a clear exception to this tendency, there are some contemporary plays that render female characters whose identity has been shaped by violence but in the process they have evolved from victims to perpetrators. Suzan-Lori Parks’s In the Blood (1999) and Kia Corthron’s Breath, Boom (2000) are examples of this. The main characters in these plays are not presented as mere objects, passive victims who endure subjugation; they are surrounded by brutal behavior and they use violence too. This shift in identification and focus is clearly influenced by the playwrights’ adherence to black feminist thought or what Deborah R. Geis has defined as an attempt to create an Africanist-feminist language (9).

Feminism, Violence and Identity Formation

6In the past, feminist thought focused only on male violence, that is, the type of forceful behavior that some men use to dominate women. According to feminist scholar bell hooks, in this sense feminist thought was acquiescing to:

sexist stereotypes that suggest men are violent, women are not; men are abusers, women are victims. This type of thinking allows us to ignore the extent to which women (with men) in this society accept and perpetuate the idea that it is acceptable for a dominant party or group to maintain power over the dominated using coercive force (hooks 118).

Bell Hooks suggests that violence is not created by the binary opposition of men versus women, where men are the perpetrators and women are the passive victims. She calls for a shift in perspective so that the problem can be addressed from a multiplicity of fronts, so that women and men can work together to analyze the roots of the problem, educate the younger generations and reduce violence. In this sense, Suzan-Lori Parks and Kia Corthron are unveiling a disturbing reality to educate their audiences (men and women) about the damaging effects violence can have on black women’s identities.

  • 1 For reviews on In the Blood see Carboni, Hirschhorn, Shewey and Simon. For reviews of Breath, Boom (...)

7The current paper examines how Hester in In the Blood and Prix in Breath, Boom represent black female identity in a radical and different manner. If identity is the fluctuating set of cultural, religious, social, economic, gender, racial and sexual identifications of an individual or a group, then cultural representations of black female identity call for a polyhedral mirror that can reflect the multiplicity of combinations of all those attributes and positions. Hester and Prix stand for a re-interpretation of violence as an identity-shaping factor in the individual cases of the underprivileged, uneducated, social outcasts. Poor African American women’s experiences and subjectivity are often absent from contemporary cultural representations, particularly in the performing arts. Because they have been traditionally considered the ‘Other’, they are a minority within a minority. This is why most reviewers of the productions of In the Blood and Breath, Boom praise the fact that Corthron and Parks bring the characters’ harsh reality onto the stage.1

8The postcolonial construction of identity through difference, through the opposition of ‘self’ and ‘the other’ has given rise to generalizations and quasi-prescriptive definitions of racial, social, cultural, and gender identities. From a white supremacist perspective black people have been considered as ‘the other’, lacking the ‘summum bonum of the bourgeois order’ (Kovel 61). However recent cultural representations by African American women, and in particular the two plays discussed in this paper, call for a reconfiguration of identity formation as an ever-changing amalgamation of identifications rather than as a primary affirmation of difference. This means that the main characters in these texts shape their individual and group identities under extreme social circumstances of poverty, unemployment and crime, through the (de)forming pressure of violence. It is violence that determines their coherent sense of self, their subjectivity and by the end of each play violence is part of their self. Thus, the texts must be analyzed from a dual perspective, one that takes into consideration their particular circumstances and the aspects that influence their identities such as gender, race, social status, etc. and a second perspective that understands that "any prescribed identity has salient characteristics that are incommensurable to the realities of material existence or the contingencies of individual agency in an increasingly cosmopolitan economic or social world" (Michael 4). I argue that it is precisely violence that provides a universal and global frame to the characters’ identities.

9According to Lola Young, defining identity as an opposition between ‘self’ and ‘other’ perpetuates racial discrimination, homophobia and misogyny (177). She argues that there is the risk of "maintaining absolutist notions of ethnicity and racial authenticity and the feelings of belongingness which develop as a result of these group identifications may well be illusory since individual identities are not necessarily fixed or consistent" (178). This is probably why Hester and Prix, women who are on the margins of society, are presented as the main characters in their texts. In their peripheral worlds they are the protagonists, and I take this fact as an indication that their identities are not defined through difference, through the self-other opposition but as a more complex process which places them both in the center and on the margin of human experience, providing an opportunity for the spectator/reader to paradoxically feel both estrangement from them and at the same time discomfort and even sympathy.

In the Blood

10In In the Blood, Hester is both a victim and a killer. She is abused by all the adult characters in the play. Her friend La Gringa, uses Hester for a sexual show, in a monologic discourse she describes the sexual encounter(s) that result in rape:

Amiga Gringa: I let her ride my knees.
She made sounds like an animal.
She put her hand between my legs.
one day some of the guys took advantage.
Ah, what do you expect in a society based on Capitalizm. (Parks 72)

La Gringa has commodified their bodies and turned them into sexual products that she can sell, and when they are raped she rejects any responsibility and blames it on the capitalist systemic violence. Welfare, a black social worker, also uses Hester for her sexual pleasure: she lies to Hester making her think that she is going to help her if she consents to engage in sexual interaction with Welfare and her husband, but in the end she claims no responsibility and feels no sympathy for her (Parks 60-2). Reverend D and Doctor also use her as a sexual object. In a controversial scene Hester goes down on her knees and practices fellatio on Reverend D who has coerced her to do it:

Reverend D: Suck me off
Hester: No
Reverend D: Itll only take a minute. Im halfway there. Please. (Parks 77)

The combination of social, economic, physical, verbal and sexual violence pushes Hester towards the final explosion of long-contained rage and she batters her favorite son to death (Parks 106). Hester is rejected, manipulated and abused by all of the adult characters, none of them listen to her pleas, none of them try to truly help her. Despite all the difficulties, Hester tries to be a good mother to all her five children, she provides food, love and teaches them manners, but all her efforts are fruitless, the violence and coercion that the adult characters exert on her, even the social violence that she suffers, shape her character and influence her choices, and when she decides to keep the club that her children stole from a policeman "for protection" (Parks 38), she is accepting that she might need to use it in the future. Her subjectivity has been influenced by violence, and it is normal for her to carry a club around in case of (violent) need. Once violence is established onstage as a part of Hester’s everyday life, the spectator/reader does not question her choice to keep the club for self-defense.

11The fact that In the Blood is a play and it creates and expects certain reactions from the audience is very significant, firstly because Parks has chosen to show physical and verbal violence on stage, but has purposely avoided most instances of sexual coercion, rape and sexual abuse, which occur offstage. The audience is aware of them because each adult character in a monologue or "confession" explains how they used Hester. The theatrical character of the text is also important because audiences are presented with a character that could be "the Other" in their lives but Parks’s writing demands that the reader/spectator feel some sympathy for Hester, or at least witness how her subjectivity has been reduced and altered because of violence. As Carol Schafer has indicated:

the audience is expected to identify with the chorus as representatives of the approved public response to Hester in the opening of the play, but conversely, the audience is asked to question their identification with each of the [adult] characters and their confessions. The nature of these confessions highlights the audience’s position as voyeurs. It is in these confessions that Parks critiques the objectification of the African American female body as the location of desire (189).

I argue that it is precisely this objectification that defines Hester’s choices and reactions and can explain why she kills her son in the end. In In the Blood, Hester is attacked verbally from the first scene, when the chorus introduces her and comments on her lifestyle by calling her a "slut" (7). Even before she has a chance to speak, the audience will read the word “slut” written on the wall of her home under the bridge (9), a word that is present all through the play. Hester/La Negrita is unaware of her own social objectification and categorization because she cannot read the scrawl, but after Reverend D refuses to help her and calls her a "slut" (103) and Jabber, her oldest son, deciphers the scrawl on the wall for her (104) she realizes in a moment of anagnorisis or recognition that she will always be considered a "slut", no matter how hard she tries to be a good mother.

12In In the Blood, violence, abuse and rape erode Hester’s determination to get a ‘leg up’ (22) and provide a better future for her children. In discussing rape, Angela Davis argues that the fact that "working class women are more intensely exploited than their men adds to their vulnerability to sexual abuse, while sexual coercion simultaneously reinforces their vulnerability to economic exploitation" (62). She also adds that "the proliferation of sexual violence is the brutal face of a generalized intensification of the sexism which necessarily accompanies this economic assault" (63). In all the instances in which Hester is purported to have engaged willingly in sexual interaction there is another coercive factor pressing her to accept, she is promised money, or a job, or food, or in the case of Reverend D his acknowledgment that he is the father of one of Hester’s children, Baby. Just as Amiga Gringa had indicated (Parks 72), sexual coercion is intrinsically linked to systemic capitalist violence as it has been described by Zizek: "therein resides the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism, much more uncanny than any direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their ‘evil’ intentions, but it is purely ‘objective’, systemic, anonymous" (11). And this is precisely what Parks is denouncing: that Hester’s objectification is systemic.

  • 2 For more detailed discussions on Parks revision of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, see "It’s an Obe (...)

13Suzan-Lori Parks rewrites The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne from a black feminist perspective2, particularly by revising specific concepts discussed in the canonical text such as adultery, social ostracism and single-parenting. Parks purposely transforms Hawthorne’s novel by creating a hyperbolic case of victimization in which Hester’s subjugation to social oppressors is accentuated and her choices are limited. Park’s Hester suffers violence not only physically or verbally, but also in the lack of empathy from the adult characters in the play and from society in general. She receives no real help from any other human being. Clearly, Parks’s intention in this feminist revision of The Scarlet Letter is to ignite some reaction from the audience. To do that she goes beyond denouncing all the oppressing factors that are combined in the social, physical, and verbal violence that Hester suffers, towards a more complex plot development that engages the reader/spectator and draws on the common human traits that Hester shares with the audience. Parks uses several theatrical devices to achieve her political and social intentions: first she combines her text with several elements typical of a Greek tragedy, as defined by Aristotle in his Poetics:

Tragedy, then, is a process of imitating an action which has serious implications, is complete, and possesses magnitude; by means of language which has been made sensuously attractive, with each of its varieties found separately in the parts; enacted by the persons themselves and not presented through narrative; through a course of pity and fear completing the purification of such emotions (25).

  • 3 An example of this could be:
    Hester (Parks 16).

Parks follows this model in her use of the stasimons or chorus, in the rawness of the language, and in the magnitude of the abuses performed or described. Intertwined with these are other elements that are part of Parks’s African American literary heritage such as music, the distinct rhythm of the language, repetition and reduplication, and what Parks calls "spells" or pauses in which the intensity of the emotions requires no dialogue. 3

14Spells are discussed by Parks in the prologue to the printed version of the play as: "an elongated and heightened (Rest). Denoted by repetition of figures’ names with no dialogue […] This is a place where the figures experience their pure true simple state" (ix). In my opinion they serve both actors and spectators/readers as a call for attention to the degree of intensity of the emotions that are being expressed in that particular scene without needing to convey it with words. This repetitive inclusion of spells also contributes to the audience’s paradoxical perception of Hester both as pariah and victim.

15Repetition in In the Blood is at the same time structural, textual and theatrical. On the structural level, there are two interventions of the stasimons or chorus, first at the beginning and then at the end of the play. Apart from this, the rest of the play includes two types of narration: dialogue and monologue, or what Parks defines as ‘confessions’. These confessions are repeated throughout the play to establish a specific pattern of abusive behavior that all adult characters follow. Structural repetition is directly connected with textual repetition and verbal violence: there are certain phrases and words that are repeated by different characters, particularly those that refer to her sexual subjugation, as for instance when Doctor describes Hester as "one of my neediest cases for several years now" and yet he takes advantage of her (Parks 44); or when Reverend D adds "she had four kids asking me what to do. She had a look in her eye that invites liaisons" (78). Textual repetition is also part of Hester’s speech, for example when she calls her children her "treasures" her "joys" (Parks 7, 12, 21, 22, 23, 50), or when she explains that she is determined to improve her situation or to have a "leg up" (Parks, 12, 22, 23, 28, 8, 66).

16Theatrical repetition is clearly indicated in the first stage direction, identifying those actors playing the adult characters that also perform the children (Parks, 3), thus linking each child with its father and at the same time providing a personification of the feature conveyed in their names: Bully, Trouble, Beauty, Jabber, Baby. Through this theatrical device they become specific and anonymous at the same time.

  • 4 Examples of past productions of In the Blood are: the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington DC (2000-2 (...)

17It is this combination of classical and universal elements together with distinctively African American features that places In the Blood in the center of the current debate regarding the definition of American identity. Despite the fact that the central character, a poor uneducated African American welfare mother, is representative of a small portion of the U.S. population, Parks manages to make her a reflection of American identity in the polyhedral mirror mentioned above. This would explain her Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2000, and also why In the Blood has continued to be produced not only in the U.S.A. but also in Europe ever since it premiered in 19994.

Breath, Boom

18Like Hester in In the Blood, Prix is defined by violence from the very beginning of Breath, Boom: she is the leader of a women’s gang who, in the first scene of the play, orders Angel and Malika to beat Comet up, to prevent her from leaving the group. Even if violence is part of her ever-changing set of cultural, religious, social, economic, gender, racial and sexual identifications, she is aware of the danger of violence and reminds her subordinates: "Don’t kill her" (Act 1, scene 1, p. 2). From then on, violence is presented as an intrinsic part of these women’s everyday life.

19Breath, Boom renders an insider’s view of a female gang, and as Debbie Jackson indicates in her review of the Washington DC production of the play "Breath, Boom provides a rare opportunity to be immersed in the real deal behind the headlines" (1). Since the play unfolds some fifteen years in the life of the gang leader, the spectator/reader can witness Prix’s identity formation process, and see how violence plays a central role in it. One of the most striking scenes in the play is when Prix and Angel meet in the waiting room at the prison holding Prix’s mother and Angel’s sister. Angel has a scrapbook with many newspaper clippings and she starts discussing their high school friends who appear in the newspaper:

Tony, my ex. You went to his funeral, right? His had the best music. Oh! This whole spread, centerfold and next eight pages, all my big brother, all Vince. His football stuff, honor roll stuff. ‘Athlete honor student killed by stray bullet.’ That’s Terri, Trish’s little sister. She was eight, she got it in the head, hopscotchin’ when a drive-by come flyin’ through, remember? That’s Lenny. (Corthron 15).

  • 5 There are several sociological studies that analyze how street gangs provide both emotional and mat (...)

Angel’s conversation is nonchalant and her tone is truly interested in her description as if she was providing details of the clothing, the music, the events of their high school graduation prom. Only she is discussing their friends’ funerals. In a short paragraph she mentions six teenagers they knew who have been violently killed. This scrapbook with all their deceased friends is like their high school yearbook, but instead of mentioning their academic and social achievements, it describes how they were killed. This subtext is an indicator of how deeply rooted violence is for these women. Prix, and Angel have learnt to live in a violent society, but it is Prix’s choice to use violence to gain respect and approval from her peers that is representative of hooks’ black feminist interpretation of violence. bell hooks indicates that even in a subordinate position (black) women can make some choices even if they are very limited. In the case of Prix she could choose not to use violence, but the play stages the reasons why she takes violent behavior as an acceptable way of life. Prix was raised in a violent home, where Jerome, her father figure, beat her mother and molested her from an early age (11). Belonging to a female gang may provide her with a sense of belonging, of identification with other women who are suffering in a similarly violent environment. Thus, violence becomes the restrictive force that limits their safety and their opportunities, and at the same time, and because of the gang, violence becomes a tool with which they can achieve a sense of power and sisterhood that could not be easily achieved otherwise. Prix may choose to lead a violent life because of her practical impossibility to reach capitalistic and materialistic goals without belonging to a gang. It is a twisted way of gaining some kind of power in an otherwise powerless situation. After being raped by her step-father at age five, Prix later adheres to what Brownmiller calls the “subculture of violence” to obtain some recognition, some power among her peers. The gang provides a realm where gang members can bond with each other, trust and support each other.5 In a sense it is a twisted misconception of feminist sisterhood or at least of female bonding. Because the values that foster bonding are imposed by the organization, it is the gang leaders who decide if a member is to be punished violently if she intends to leave the organization "now, stupid, gotcher ass kicked and here’s the big punishment: you stay" (Corthron 7). Loyalty is forged through coercive behavior and fear, rather than through commitment and trust. This illustrates bell hook’s description of violence, and how women, along with men, under specific circumstances understand that it is acceptable to use violence to gain power over a dominated group (118). Within the gang culture, violence becomes a social convention that every member has to accept in order to be part of the group. With Breath, Boom Kia Corthron denounces the way in which, at the beginning of the twenty first century, social, racial and sexual and physical violence can shape the identities of some black women who choose to follow the social conventions of the gang culture in the same way that their nineteenth century ancestors decided to comply with Victorian notions of True Womanhood.

20Prix’s development throughout the play is again representative of a dual articulation regarding American identity. On the one hand, the audience is presented with the process of identity formation of a tortured, poor black teenage woman. In this sense, Corthron’s black feminist standpoint exposes the interlocking oppressive factors that make violence part of Prix’s life and subjectivity. This is achieved by combining certain typically African American theatrical devices such as the use of slang and African American Vernacular English, repetition, and pauses or what Corthron calls "beats." The following excerpt includes a combination of all these elements:

Cat: I hear’em! Cryin’ on the phone, ‘My honey, my honey,’ ‘I miss my friends.’ Most of’em’s honeys was kickin’ the shit out of’em daily and their friends? Their best girlfriend’s on the outside and so’s their honey guess what one plus one is equalin’? (Beat) Could be worse. See them ugly green one-piece they make the women wear? Least adolescents, we wear our own shit. (Beat). (17)

Cat, who has been imprisoned for her gang activities, describes the complaints other inmates have, and exposes the contradiction of missing a boyfriend or husband who was abusive and adulterous. The use of unconventional syntax, repetition and pauses only accentuates her arguments and provides a more accurate recreation of gang life.

  • 6 Past productions of Breath, Boom include: the Royal Court, London (2000); the MCC Theatre, NYC (200 (...)

21At the same time, Prix’s identity presents some universal characteristics that could pose her as a representative of American identity. Prix needs to come to terms with her own past, she needs to excel, she needs recognition and support and she needs to survive in a hostile environment. To achieve these somewhat global goals she needs to become violent. Breath, Boom is again an example of American identity formation process, in which the character’s development is both multicultural and universal, and this explains why it continues to be produced in the US and abroad6.


22Violence is a shaping element regarding identity in recent plays by African American playwrights. The main characters in In the Blood and Breath Boom constitute what John Michael calls "injured identities" because there is this a clear conflict between the American Dream of justice, equality and opportunities and the constraints in terms of race, class, gender and sexuality that these women face. These women’s choices and ascriptions are heavily influenced by the social violence that affects their lives. However, a dual interpretation of the plays, both from a black feminist standpoint and a more universalist perspective, explains that once binary oppositions regarding identity formation are left behind, and there is a multifocal interpretation of the intersection of the different types of violence shaping their identities, it becomes clear that Hester, and particularly Prix could make different choices, and maybe not adhere to a subculture of violence. The results of using violence instead of accepting victimization are different for each woman. In the case of Prix, violence makes her a leader in her group of peers; she becomes more powerful. In the case of Hester, however, she loses her son, is put in prison and sterilized. However, neither of them manages to improve their lives by using violence; this shift from being victims to becoming perpetrators does not fulfill the expected outcome: they are both miserable and ‘injured’ by the end of the plays. Since the plays denounce the futility of violence regardless of who is the enforcer and who is the victim, a reconfiguration of theoretical approaches such as black feminism or more global standpoints is needed as a framework to study violence as a shaping element in identity formation processes.

23Just as black feminist critics, such as Davis or Higginbothan, denounce the intersection of different social factors, namely race, sexuality and class, that determine discrimination against black women, I would add that it is the combination of different types of violence exerted on women like Hester or Prix that erodes, limits and finally shapes their choices, ascriptions and ultimately their identity.

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Zizek, Slavoj, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, London: Profile Books, 2008.

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1 For reviews on In the Blood see Carboni, Hirschhorn, Shewey and Simon. For reviews of Breath, Boom see Feingold, Fitzgerald, Hellingas, Jackson, Mondello or Zibart.

2 For more detailed discussions on Parks revision of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, see "It’s an Oberammergau Thing: An Interview with Suzan-Lori Parks" by Kevin Wetmore and "Parks and the Traumas of Childhood" by Christina Woodworth.

3 An example of this could be:
Hester (Parks 16).

4 Examples of past productions of In the Blood are: the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington DC (2000-2001) Finnborough Theatre, London (2010).

5 There are several sociological studies that analyze how street gangs provide both emotional and material support to their members: Decker and Van Winkle (251), and Klein (67) identify both the supportive elements that gangs offer and the violent acts they perform.

6 Past productions of Breath, Boom include: the Royal Court, London (2000); the MCC Theatre, NYC (2001); the Playwrights Horizon Studio, NYC (2001); the Synchronicity Theatre, Atlanta (2002); the Huntington Theatre, Boston (2003); Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (2004); the Peruvian production in Spanish at Universidad de Lima, Perú (2009).

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Bibliographical reference

Inmaculada Pineda, « Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: Shaping Identity through Violence », Caliban, 31 | 2012, 173-187.

Electronic reference

Inmaculada Pineda, « Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: Shaping Identity through Violence », Caliban [Online], 31 | 2012, Online since 16 March 2015, connection on 25 February 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Inmaculada Pineda

University of Málaga.

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Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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