Lillian Hellman was an American playwright, screenwriter and activist known for political activism and Communist sympathies. She was born in 1905 in New Orleans to a Jewish family. She moved to New York and studied at New York University and did some courses at Columbia University.
In 1925, Hellman married playwright Arthur Kober, but she insisted they maintain their independence and they often lived apart. In 1929, she moved to Bonn to study. By 1930, she was back in the United States in Hollywood where she worked as a reader for MGM summarising novels and writing assessments of screenplays received. Around this time she met the mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and soon after returned to New York and divorced Kober. Her first play to achieve success was The Children's Hour which was performed on Broadway in 1934 and ran for 691 performances. The play centres on a schoolgirl making a false accusation of lesbianism against two of her teachers. Before the falsehood is discovered, one of the teachers commits suicide. As a con sequence of the play, Hellman became a focal point of the American Feminist movement.
Throughout the 1930's, Hellman wrote a number of screenplays for MGM. She joined the Screenwriter's Guild and the League of American Writers and her activism and advocacy grew during this period. She was open supporter of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War. Her play The Little Foxes opened on Broadway in 1939 and ran for 410 performances. The play tells the story of Southerner Regina Hubbard Giddens who must fight for her freedom and her inheritance against gender prejudice. Regina is shown to be both strong and manipulative and she steals bonds from her husband for an investment she has committed to. On hearing about his, her husband Horace suffers a heart attack and Regina is shown to not help him. The play ends with Regina being alone and wealthy after leaving her husband to die, being alienated by her brothers and driving her only child away.
By the 1940's, Hellman was working on international committees against the rise of Hitler and Fascism. Her 1941 play Watch on the Rhine was a drawing-room comedy set in the Southern United States which Nazis and blackmail. Her plays investigates in comic terms the real struggles of those in Nazi Germany. Her 1944 play The Searching Wind also examined Fascism and Antisemitism. Later in the 1940's she was blacklisted as a writer due to her Communist links. Finding it hard to get screenplay work, she returned to the theatre where she adapted the French play Montserrat to the American stage in 1949.
In 1952, Hellman was called to testify at HUAC hearings. She answered questions on her own Socialist ideas but refused to answer questions on friends and colleagues. In 1955, she adapted Jean Anouilh's play L'Alouette which she named The Lark which was based on the trial of Joan of Arc. Music for the play was composed by Leonard Bernstein. The play was a success but controversial still surrounded her black banning from writing screenplays. In 1960, one of most successful plays opened on Broadway and ran for over 464 performances. The play is about a dysfunctional family made up of two middle aged spinsters who look after their no-hoper younger brother who brings home a young wife.
In 1963, the American Academy of Arts and Letters inducted her as a member. Her play My Mother, My Father and Me opened to little success in 1963. During the 1970's, she taught writing at UC Berkeley and MIT. In 1976, she published her third volume of memoirs Scoundrel Time which tracks her work in the Feminist and Communist movements. Part of the 1977 film Julia is allegedly based on Hellman's memoir. Hellman died at the age of 79 in 1984 and she was buried as she requested underneath a lone pine tree at Abel Hill in Martha's Vineyard.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an African-American playwright and writer born in 1930. She is the first African-American woman to have a play performed on Broadway. Her most famous play, about the hardships of the Younger family, was A Raisin in the Sun and it appeared on Broadway in 1959. It is listed under many lists as one of the greatest plays of all time. She won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for this play making her the first African American to win this award and the youngest playwright to win this award. The play speaks to people from all cultures and genders. After Hansberry moved to New York City, she started work with the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom. Much of her written at this time fought for civil rights. As an African American, a woman and a lesbian her writing concentrated on human rights and sexual liberation. Hansberry died at the age of only 34 due to cancer. She inspired and is immortalized in the Nina Simone song ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’.
María Irene Fornés
Legna Rodríguez Iglesias
Danai Gurira is a Zimbabwean-American playwright and actress who was born in 1978 in Grinnel, Iowa but spent most of her childhood in Harare in Zimbabwe. She moved back to the United States to study at Macalester College in Minnesota where she produced an Honors paper entitled Running Head: The Neglect of Black Women in Psychology. She then completed a Master of Fine Arts in acting at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts in 2003.
Although, she began writing plays in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Gurira’s first major production in the United States was in 2005 in a play she starred in and co-wrote with Nikkole Salter entitled In the Continuum, which was first performed at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. She won an Obie Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and the Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress. Around this time, Gurira’s acting career started to take off. In the Continuum is a minimalist social drama centred around the lives of two women (one in Los Angeles and one in Zimbabwe) both who have been infected by AIDS. It is a play that explores shared and interconnected experiences.
After experiencing some success as an actress in the film, The Visitor (2008) she returned to playwrighting in 2009 with her most famous play, Eclipsed. The play is set in 2003 and it centres on the stories of five Liberian women and their stories of survival during the end of the 2nd Liberian Civil War. The play is set in a derelict bullet ridden shed and the women who are victims themselves, care for a 15-year-old girl captured by the soldiers. It addresses the stories of women in war and the abuse they suffer. The play premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2009 and then productions were done in London and New York in 29015 and 2016.
In 2012, after working as an actor on the television series The Walking Dead (2012), Gurira wrote The Convert. The play examines Western cultural impositions and Ancient African traditions. It is set in 1896 in Rhodesia and Jekesai has just been given her new, Catholic name. Chilford, the only black Roman Catholic teacher in the region, has decided she’ll now be known as Ester, wear European clothing and speak only in English. She’s torn away from everything that she knows by her fellow African who earnestly believes the promises of the White man. The play explores a turning point in African when resisting the invading Western culture could mean death.
After further success in acting with The Walking Dead, in 2014 she wrote the play Familiar which premiered in 2015 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and then later that year was staged off-Broadway. The play the most autobiographical of Gurira and is about cultural identity, and the experience of family and life as a first-generation American. For Familiar and Eclipsed, she received the Sam Norkin Award. Her acting in work in the 2018 film Black Panther has been much praised.
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