W. E. B. Du Bois Center Visiting Scholar Talk
December 7, 2018
4:00 pm-6:00 pm
Library, W.E.B. Du Bois
UMass Amherst Campus
Nicholas Rinehart, PhD candidate in English at Harvard University, will deliver the lecture: "The Plays and Dramatic Criticism of W. E. B. Du Bois; or, Theatrical Failure in the Life of a Prophet", as part of the W. E. B. Du Bois Center Fall visiting scholar series.
This talk surveys key moments in Du Bois’s involvement in the theater, focusing on his unpublished collection of plays compiled as Playthings of the Night (1931) and later retitled Darker Wisdom/Sorcery of Color (1941). It offers a set of interrelated claims: first, that such projects reveal an alternative theory of art and its relation to politics than otherwise attributed to Du Bois; second, that for Du Bois producing original theatrical works was a strategy for both executing an individual aesthetic agenda and advancing a radical, revisionist African American historiography of slavery; and finally, that his failure to have any of his plays published or produced during the several decades he devoted to them can be attributed largely to his divergence from social-realism in favor of either avant-garde Afro-futurism, on the one hand, or antiquated theatrical forms, on the other. Du Bois’s thwarted theatrical endeavors thus compel us to attend to his literary eccentricity, emphasizing his shortcomings over his prophetic stature.