Mirrored on the Stage: A Selection of Books on African and African-Diaspora Theater

Stories are an integral part of how we understand our communities—both their histories and our place within them. Theater is uniquely suited to this function, as every dramatic performance creates space removed one step from reality. On the stage, we can explore not just who we are, but who we might be.

A highlight of Telling Our Stories of Home, an ongoing 6-day conference-festival that brings artists, activists, and scholars together to examine the concept of “home” in African and African-Diaspora communities, will be the performance of Torn Asunder, a specially commissioned play based on the book Help Me to Find My People by Heather Williams, that focuses on the quest of African-American families to reunite after the Civil War.

It is from Torn Asunder that we take our cue, providing some complementary resources that expand on the intersection of theater and TOSH’s theme of “home.” The following list consists of a small selection of the Stone Center Library’s theater-related books that we hope will spur your imagination and curiosity in this fascinating and vital discussion. All quoted summaries are taken from the UNC-CH library catalog.

African Theatre: Women (edited by Martin Banham, James Gibbs & Femi Osofisan; guest editor, Jane Plastow; reviews editor, Jane Plastow)

This collection of essays is the third in the African Theatre series. This volume focuses on women and their role in African theatre and performance, reflecting the feminist focus of TOSH and honoring the many great women artists and scholars who participated in and attended the conference-festival.

“Topics include the role of female goddesses in Egyptian theatre; early urban women performers in Asmara, Eritrea; an interview with Ghanaian concert party actress Adeline Ama Buabeng; and women’s theatre and performance in Algeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria. African Theatre: Women features the work of Tess Onwueme and the complete script of “Glass House” by South African playwright Fatima Dike. Book reviews and notices about recent conferences, prizes, and events enhance this annual publication and make it an invaluable resource for understanding the vital and creative energy of women in African theatre today.”

Other books in the African Theatre series include volumes focused on Youth, Companies, Diasporas, and Festivals. Check the UNC-CH catalog for where to find these accompanying volumes!

African Popular Theatre: From Pre-Colonial Times To The Present Day (David Kerr)

Kerr’s book focuses on theater as a popular pastime, expanding expands on classic definitions of the word theatre to bring readers a fascinating look at African theatrical forms through history.

“In this survey of theatre forms in sub-Saharan Africa from pre-colonial times to the present day, popular theatre is interpreted widely to include not only conventional drama, but such non-literary forms of performance as dance, mime, dramatized story-telling, masquerades, improvised urban vaudeville theatre, and the theatre of resistance and social action. The book also considers theatre imbedded in the modern media of film, radio and television.”

African Cinemas: Decolonizing The Gaze (Olivier Barlet; translated by Chris Turner)

This book provides a more modern take on the idea of stories and theater, focusing on the development and current context of the African cinema and TV industry. As several filmmakers are among TOSH’s visiting artists, we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight this important art form.

“The first part of this book traces the development of African cinema, from colonization to Afrocentrism, through themes such as the decolonization of the imagination and the quest for legendary African origins. The second part of the book analyzes specific films, particularly through narrative and in terms of their African specificity. Finally, the author explores the social and economic contexts of the African cinema and television industry. Winner of the French National Film Center’s best film book of and now available in four languages, this is book which takes us into a process of learning how to look.”

Myth Performance In The African Diasporas: Ritual, Theatre, And Dance (Benita Brown, Dannabang Kuwabong, and Christopher Olsen)

From cinema, a modern art form, we go to a book focused on an ancient one–myths. This book is not about the distant past, however. Brown, Kuwabong, and Olsen focus not just on African myth, but on how African myth has been reinterpreted for and by modern artists for a modern audience.

“In Myth Performance in the African Diasporas: Ritual, Theatre, and Dance, the authors contend that performance traditions across artistic disciplines reveal a shared if sometimes varied journey among diasporic artists to reconnect with their African ancestors. The volume begins with a historical and aesthetic overview of how dramatists, choreographers, and performance artists have approached the task of interpreting African myth. The individual chapters reveal how specific artists, dramatists, and choreographers have interpreted African myth and what performative approaches and traditions they have used. Focusing on theatre practitioners from the nineteenth century through the present, the authors examine performative traditions from Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Drawing upon research in theatre, dance, and literary texts, Myth Performance in the African Diasporas will be crucial to academics interested in African performance viewed through the prism of myth making and spiritual/ritualistic stagings. Besides those interested in diasporic studies, this book will also be useful to scholars and students of history, drama, theatre, and dance.”

…and more!

These four books represent just a small taste of the Stone Center library’s theatre-related holdings. We hope they give you a good starting point for exploring this fascinating topic and invite you to browse the UNC-CH library catalog or visit the SCL to see what else we have on our shelves.

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