Sistuhs in the Struggle
An Oral History of Black Arts Movement Theater and Performance
The first oral history to fully explore the contributions of black women intellectuals to the Black Arts Movement, Sistuhs in the Struggle reclaims a vital yet under-researched chapter in African American, women’s, and theater history. This groundbreaking study documents how black women theater artists and activists—many of whom worked behind the scenes as directors, designers, producers, stage managers, and artistic directors—disseminated the black aesthetic and emboldened their communities.
Drawing on nearly thirty original interviews with well-known artists such as Ntozake Shange and Sonia Sanchez as well as less-studied figures including distinguished lighting designer Shirley Prendergast, dancer and choreographer Halifu Osumare, and three-time Tony-nominated writer and composer Micki Grant, La Donna L. Forsgren centers black women’s cultural work as a crucial component of civil rights and black power activism. Sistuhs in the Struggle is an essential collection for theater scholars, historians, and students interested in learning how black women’s art and activism both advanced and critiqued the ethos of the Black Arts and Black Power movements.
“In 1959, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry won the New York Drama Critics' Circle award and was named Best Play. This play, along with the civil rights movement, ignited an explosion of Black Arts throughout the country. African Americans were able to obtain funding, theater spaces, publishing, and training. What has been missing is more accountability for the history of the women from this period . . . Sistuhs in the Struggle has answered this call and this need . . . I taught African American Women in Theatre every year from 1988 to 2014, and this book would/could have been my textbook.” —Lundeana M. Thomas, contributor to Black Theatre: Ritual Performance in the African Diaspora
“Sistuhs in the Struggle’s interviews capture the aesthetic and geographical variety of better-known and less-heralded women working in Black Arts theater. It is an invaluable resource for understanding how gender inflected the day-to-day work in Black Arts performance, shaping its development and legacies.” —James Smethurst, author of The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s
“In transcribed conversations with African American women from the realm of Black Arts Movement theater and performance—Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, Judy Juanita, and others—La Donna L. Forsgren shares their personal insights into the connection between the arts and the social activism of black power. Sistuhs in the Struggle is a valuable resource for amplifying women’s participation in the Black Arts Movement, while also fleshing out the complexity of the struggle." —Jo-Ann Morgan, author of The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party in American Visual Culture