Readying the Revolution

African American Theater and Performance from Post-World War II to the Black Arts Movement

Subjects: Theater and Performance, African American Studies, American Studies
Paperback : 9780472057184, 200 pages, 11 photographs, 6 x 9, January 2025
Hardcover : 9780472077182, 200 pages, 11 photographs, 6 x 9, January 2025
Open Access : 9780472904808, 200 pages, 11 photographs, 6 x 9, January 2025
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A critical history of Black culture post-World War II that helped cultivate the spirit of Black revolutionary theater

Table of contents

Chapter One - More Than ‘Guts Enough’: Jackie Robinson’s Performances of Integration and Resistance
Chapter Two - Staging Collective Black Resistance, 1948-54
Chapter Three - Before We Knew Beah: The Revolutionary Performance Praxis of Beulah Richardson
Chapter Four - Snatching the Bull Whip: Purlie Victorious as Proto-revolutionary Comedy
Chapter Five - From The Blacks to Les Blancs and Beyond: Variations on Theatrical Outrage
Chapter Six - “...But the Show Hasn’t Been Written Yet”: “Mississippi Goddam” and Nina Simone’s Turn Toward Black Nationalism


Starting in 1966, African American activist Stokely Carmichael and other political leaders adopted the phrase "Black Power!" The slogan captured a militant, revolutionary spirit that was already emerging in the work of playwrights, poets, musicians, and visual artists throughout the Black Arts movement of the mid-1960s. But the story of those theater artists and performers whose work helped bring about the Black Arts revolution has not fully been told. Readying the Revolution: African American Theater and Performance from Post-World War II to the Black Arts Movement explores the dynamic era of Black culture between the end of World War II and the start of the Black Arts Movement (1946-1964) by illuminating how artists and innovators such as Jackie Robinson, Lorraine Hansberry, Ossie Davis, Nina Simone, and others helped radicalize Black culture and Black political thought. In doing so, these artists defied white cultural hegemony in the United States, and built the foundation for the revolutionary movement in Black theater that followed in the mid 1960s.  

Through archival research, close textual reading, and an analysis of visual and aural performance artifacts, author Jonathan Shandell demonstrates how these artists negotiated a space on the public stage of the United States for cultivating radical Black aesthetic exploration and a spirit of courageous antiracist resistance. Readying the Revolution provides new insights into the activism and accomplishments of African American artists whose work helped lay the groundwork for a Black Nationalist cultural revolution, but whose influence has yet to receive its due recognition.

Jonathan Shandell is Associate Professor of Theater Arts at Arcadia University.