It's fascinating how just a little nudge can assist in expanding our views. Some relatively brief but useful exchanges the other day with the scholar and playwright Lisa B. Thompson on social media prompted me to broaden my search and definition of "black writers" in a project that I was developing. I added playwrights to the mix.
That adjustment made it possible for me to include and see many important figures who somehow typically elude my lists. I tend to focus on novelists and poets, but what happens when I include playwrights?
I've been aware of the playwright Lynn Nottage for quite some time, but I would not have guessed that she was one of the most frequently mentioned black writers in The Times in 2018. She is. She was mentioned 33 times, making her one of the top 8 frequently mentioned people in my list of 104 black writers discussed in the newspaper this year.
While she's the most frequently mentioned black playwright, she's not alone. On November 1, the Times ran a piece "Seven Flames Kindled by the Focused Fire of Ntozake Shange" and focused on Nottage, Dominique Morisseau, Anna Deavere Smith, Aleshea Harris, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Ngozi Anyanwu, and Suzan-Lori Parks. It's rare to see the works and careers of 7 different black writers, of any genre, discussed in a single article in a major newspaper.
All of seven of those writers were mentioned at least 14 times throughout the year in the newspaper, and they were the feature in at least 2 stories. Nottage and Anyanwu were featured in 4 articles. In addition to those seven playwrights, the Times mentioned George C. Wolfe and Branden Jacob-Jenkins fairly regularly as well in 2018.
So glad I had his chance conversation with Lisa B. Thompson, and she gave me the idea of taking a close look, this time with an eye toward black writers who are playwrights as well.
• Black writers covered in The New York Times in 2018