The Songs of Her Possibilities: Black Women-Authored Musicals from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

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The Songs of Her Possibilities: Black Women Authored Musicals from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, examines Pauline Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Vinnette Carroll, Micki Grant, and Kirsten Childs as black women creators of music theatre and their use of the form for social, political, and creative interventions. In so doing, I argue that these creators employ the form of the musical as a site for black feminist intellectual production through dramaturgical strategies in playwriting, composition, and direction. My project is animated by these major questions: How do Hopkins, Hurston, Grant, Carroll, and Childs employ the form of the musical to significant sociopolitical ends? How do their respective musicals creatively shape how musical theatre is researched, taught, and circulated? And finally, how do the black women creators at the center of this study reject, remake, and revise musical forms to challenge, critique, and change the overdetermined boundaries of the artistry and scholarship of musical theatre?In musical theatre, there is often an adherence to a strict dramaturgy of integration; that is, the dialogue, music, choreography, and other elements of a given musical must be perfectly uniformed. Black women musical theatre creators, however, are not bound to this dramaturgy and challenge it. I contend that this is accomplished through what I call strategic dissonance—a black feminist dramaturgical strategy that makes use of disintegrated and disjointed elements as an artistic method. This method is drawn from their material realities as black women (and the multidirectional nature of navigating black womanhood) to reflect the realities of black life and propose new ways of living. The project uses a significant amount of research from different archival sites such as the Library of Congress, Fisk University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Currently, no manuscript exists that explores and examines this under-theorized and under-documented history; thus, my project intervenes in the invisibilization of these musicals from the historical narrative of American musical theatre. Therefore, The Songs of Her Possibilities simultaneously argues for the significance of black women’s musical theatre for black feminist worldmaking capabilities.