Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Mike Sell

Second Advisor

Veronica Watson

Third Advisor

Michael Williamson

Abstract

This dissertation has as its object of investigation the similarities between two distinct cultural entities that occurred at roughly the same time: the United States-based Black Arts Movement (BAM) and the career of African writer and political activist Wole Soyinka. These similarities are intriguing because, despite there being no discernible paths of influence, Soyinka and the BAM represent parallel developments concerning four key issues that shaped their effort to destroy the hegemony of white supremacism: (1) critical perspectives on essentialism, (2) commitment to the oppressed, (3) innovative leadership, and (4) use of theatre. My introduction describes the roles these four key issues played in both the U.S. and Africa. Next, it discusses the roles of Black Nationalism in Black literature and literary studies and the usefulness of a Black Aesthetic in the development of a self-loving Black nation. DuBois’s concept of double-consciousness is an essential fact of Black or non-European existence for the BAM and one that also shapes Soyinka’s works, though few have noted this. Chapter One, examines the BAM’s position on the aforementioned critical issues. I will examine what the BAM writers did as a collective in a concerted effort to celebrate and critique Black culture, their commitment to the theatre as both an art form and institution, and their concern with Black essentialism and a critical attitude towards the Harlem Renaissance. Chapter Two, articulates Soyinka’s concern for the same four aforementioned critical issues. For Soyinka, cultural productions must be political; aesthetics cannot be divorced from politics. The artist, first, must make use of Black expressive culture in order to advance a Black Aesthetic. This conception represents the hallmark of Soyinkan theatre. In Chapter Three, I compare and contrast the BAM and Soyinka regarding the politics of theatre as popular art, a vision of a just civil society, and the conception of theatre as a people’s art. Key to my comparative analysis is the fact that the BAM focuses on Black urban folk culture, while Soyinka’s plays focus on Yoruban African traditions and myths and a multicultural conception of Blackness.

Available for download on Saturday, July 28, 2018

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