The Revolution Will Be Improvised

The Intimacy of Cultural Activism

Subjects: African American Studies, American Studies, Theater and Performance
Paperback : 9780472057047, 2 pages, 15 illustrations, 6 x 9, October 2024
Hardcover : 9780472077045, 2 pages, 15 illustrations, 6 x 9, October 2024
Open Access : 9780472904662, 2 pages, 15 illustrations, 6 x 9, October 2024
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An examination of revolutionary intimacy-making, experimental performance, and art activism during the civil rights movement


The Revolution Will Be Improvised: The Intimacy of Cultural Activism traces intimate encounters between activists and local people of the civil rights movement through an archive of Black and Brown avant-gardism.  In the 1960s, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists engaged with people of color working in poor communities to experiment with creative approaches to liberation through theater, media, storytelling, and craft making. With a dearth of resources and an abundance of urgency, SNCC activists improvised new methods of engaging with communities that created possibilities for unexpected encounters through programs such as The Free Southern Theater, El Teatro Campesino, and the Poor People’s Corporation. 

Reading the output of these programs, Elizabeth Rodriguez Fielder argues that intimacy-making became an extension of participatory democracy. In doing so, Fielder supplants the success-failure binary for understanding social movements, focusing instead on how care work aligns with creative production. The Revolution Will Be Improvised returns to improvisation’s roots in economic and social necessity and locates it as a core tenet of the aesthetics of obligation, where a commitment to others drives the production and result of creative work. Thus, this book puts forward a methodology to explore the improvised, often ephemeral, works of art activism.

Elizabeth Rodriguez Fielder is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Iowa.

The Revolution Will Be Improvised is an extremely valuable project. Elizabeth Rodriguez Fielder looks at cultural institutions, the Free Southern Theater and Teatro Campesino, that have received some, though not enough, scholarly attention in new ways and at other important institutions, Liberty House and Southern Media, that have had very little written about them. This book makes important contributions to performance studies, avant-garde studies, and Black and Chicanx studies.”

- James Smethurst, University of Massachusetts Amherst

“Original, ambitious, and sophisticated, Elizabeth Rodriguez Fielder crafts a careful analysis of various cultural artifacts of the Civil Rights Movement as the products of a jazz aesthetic, created through improvisation and geared toward fostering new pathways of intimacy among artists, activists, and minoritized/marginalized populations within the Civil Rights Movement.”

- Jonathan Shandell, Arcadia University