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New Black Math by Suzan-Lori Parks

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Theatre Journal 57.4 (2005) 576-583

New black math

10 years after writing the essay “the equation for black people on stage” Im standing at the same crossroads asking the same questions. No sweat. Sometimes you can walk a hundred miles and end up in the same spot. The world ain’t round for nothing, right? What is a black play? The definition is housed in the reality of two things that occurred recently and almost simultaneously: 26 August 05, playwright scholar poet-king August Wilson announces he is dying of cancer, and hurricane Katrina devastates the Gulf Coast. It feels like judgment day. What Im talking about today is the same and different. I was tidy back then. And now Im tidier. Tidier today like a tidal wave.

What is a black play?

A black play is angry.

A black play is fierce.

A black play is double voiced but rarely confused.

A black play got style.

A black play is of the people by the people and for the people.

A black play is smooth but not slick, heavy but not thick, cant be tamed, often does not comb its hair, wipes its mouth with the back of its black hand or with a linen napkin whichever is more readily available.

A black play is late.

A black play is RIGHT ON and RIGHT ON TIME.

A black play is deep.

A black play is armed / to the teeth.

A black play bows to god then rows the boat ashore.

A black play makes do if it got to / fights / screams / sings / dreams / WORKS IT / talks in code and tells it like it is ALL UP IN YA FACE.

A black play gives you five.

[End Page 576]

A black play is robust and alive.

A black play is in the house and looking good, too.

A black play is bad motherfucker.

A black play does not exist.

Every play is a black play.


A black play is a white play when the lights go out.

A black play is a white play when you read between the lines.

A black play got its picture on the wall of your local post office.

A black play got its butt on death row for a crime it perhaps did not commit.

A black play got its black butt in the whitehouse, seated at the right hand of the man.

A black play keeps you up at night.

A black play is awake.

A black play gonna kick your ass.

A black play has genitals that people think about long after curtain comes down.

A black play is running for president.

A black play gotta get out the vote.

A black play is a leader, but seldom an elected official.

A black play as a child wondered why, if Jesse Owens won all them gold medals, then how come a black man couldn’t beat a white man in a presidential race?

A black play is in the streets.

A black play aint no negro.

A black play is a nigger.

A black play is buck wild.

A black play is mixed.

A black play is on broadway, the great white way.

A black play is not on broadway, and furthermore, aint studying no broadway.

A black play is coming soon to a theatre near you.

A black play got a fro.

A black play know the know.

A black play go toe to toe, all the way out the do.

[End Page 577]

A black play gonna burn that m-f down, Monday-Friday and twice on the weekends.

A black play is chronic.

A black play takes into account that pollsters have found that black folks dont attend the theatres in numbers large enough to influence the selection of plays produced.

A black play is very intellectual.

A black play has studied, conducts discourse, and, on certain days of the week, can be found living in the big house of tradition.

A black play got a mission.

A black play dreams the impossible dream.

A black play is…

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