my interview with Kathy Perkins about Alice Childress

Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking with Kathy Perkins, Professor of Theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, about a book she edited called SELECTED PLAYS: ALICE CHILDRESS. Published by Northwestern University Press. To me, Alice Childress (1916-1994) along with Lorraine Hansberry is one of the most important mentors to me as a playwright. Her artistic vision in all her plays fearlessly confront racism and sexism in powerful ways that I try to emulate as a playwright. Before we interviewed, I had the phenomenal opportunity of reading this entire book including Kathy Perkins’ introduction where she describes Childress as a writer who is “resilient, vocal, no nonsense…uncompromising.” We discussed each play in this book in-depth, starting with FLORENCE (1949), GOLD THROUGH THE TREES (1952), TROUBLE IN MIND (1955), WEDDING BAND (1966), and WINE IN THE WILDERNESS (1969). Professor Perkins is so familiar with each of them and what enhanced this interview was hearing her personal experience with Ms. Childress herself, and hearing her work on some of these plays, most recently WINE IN THE WILDERNESS. I also loved reading an excerpt with Professor Perkins of Childress’s most popular play TROUBLE IN MIND where I read the role of Al Manners and she read the role of Wiletta Mayer. I hope this interview enhances our appreciation and understanding of the incredibly bold and relevant artistic vision of Alice Childress. I hope more of her plays are read and produced as a result of my interview with Professor Kathy Perkins here. Thank you Professor Perkins for editing this book, and for personally making a fulfilled promise to Ms. Childress to write an anthology dedicated to just her. -RF.

Author: Dr. Rhone Fraser

Dr. Rhone Fraser is an independent writer and journalist born of Jamaican immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on October 12, 1979. He moved to Florida in 1989 and graduated from Zephyrhills (FL) High School in 1997. He graduated from Yale University in 2001, after which time he taught in the public school systems in New Haven (CT) and the Bronx for three years. He then began writing independently and finished a documentary play on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer entitled, "Living Sacrifice," for which he still seeks publication. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple as of August 31, 2012. His dissertation was a literary and historical analysis of Pauline Hopkins, A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson. He also is a freelance editor and radio producer, and is currently producer of WPEB's Freedom Readers on 88.1 FM in Philadelphia.

6 thoughts on “my interview with Kathy Perkins about Alice Childress”

  1. This is great! Thanks for interviewing Perkins and posting the conversation! Kathy Perkins has been so important for my own journey with black drama–through her published work and through personal interactions. So, I knew about this project, and it's great to see it come to fruition. And this blog post/audio interview will definitely inspire more people to get this book and engage with Childress. Perkins mentioned renewed interest in staging Childress's work. One of the upcoming productions of *Trouble in Mind* will be at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., September 9 through October 23, 2011. Though I live in Ohio, I'll be there!! Thanks again for this post. It reminded me to look for when those shows would be!

  2. This is awesome. I am currently acting in the production of Trouble in Mind at Arena Stage.
    I also attended University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Kathy Perkins is a wonderful mentor and friend. I really appreciate coming across this post. I am sharing it with all of the cast and production staff at Arena. Thank you!!!!

  3. Thank you Brandon. I look forward to more discussion about the life and work of Alice Childress. What she has exposed about the theater then is still true today. Especially what Al Manners says about "the unvarnished truth." I look forward to more discussion about Childress. -RF.

  4. Thank you, Koritha. I read your blog and appreciate your question: "what are the limitations of how Blacks' behaviors are represented and what do they say about our country?" I think that two of those limitations are consciousness and capital. Usually writers with capital don't have a strong enough race and class consciousness to show non stereotypical representations of Blacks. And then those with strong race and class consciousness don't have strong capital to mount a production with non stereotypical representations. In terms of playwriting Alice Childress comes to mind prominently along with Richard Wesley. I think to address this we have to continually support those with the strong race and class consciousness AND AT THE SAME TIME try to build a stronger race and class consciousness in those with capital by networking and building relationships. Thank you so much for sharing. -RF.

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