398 Blues for Mister Charlie

bluesformistercharlieby James Baldwin, 1964

Blues for Mister Charlie is Baldwin’s second play, and it’s one that draws inspiration from then-current events. In his author’s note, Baldwin explains that it is based on the case of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy who was lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman. The murderers were known—the accuser’s husband and his half-brother—but were acquitted by an all-white jury of beating, mutilating, and shooting the boy. While we know now that Till’s accuser fabricated this claim, it was certainly suspected at the time, and Baldwin gives credence to these suspicions in a story that centers around the killing of a young black man accused by a white woman of grabbing her. His murderer also goes free, the court justifying his actions of both killing an innocent man and lying on the stand when questioned about it. 

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395 The Amen Corner

amencornerby James Baldwin, 1954

James Baldwin’s stepfather was a Baptist preacher, and when Baldwin was a teenager, he, too, felt called to preach. However, his work with the church was short-lived, as he quickly came to see it was steeped in racism and hypocrisy. This disillusionment is one of the main points of focus of his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and it resurfaces here in his first play, published shortly thereafter. The Amen Corner centers on Margaret Alexander, the pastor of a church in Harlem. Her sister Odessa, 18-year-old son David, and estranged husband Luke also factor into the story. When Luke returns to Margaret’s life, she soon learns that the church she has so lovingly devoted her time to is not the fount of unwavering support she believed it to be.

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348 Fences

fencesby August Wilson, 1986

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a play by an author of color and/or queer author.

Many people became familiar with Fences when Denzel Washington and Viola Davis starred in the movie adaption a few years ago; however, for me, it was the play that a number of students were asked to write essays on, but that I hadn’t ever read. That made it the perfect choice to fulfill this challenge task, and it’s a great read in general. The story focuses on the experience of blackness in America, both in terms of how race has held black Americans back and how internalized beliefs about race have prevented them from moving forward. Troy, a garbage collector, is our protagonist, and it is his battle with his own life’s disappointments that threaten to bring ruin to his family.

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148 The Taming of the Shrew

tamingoftheshrewby William Shakespeare, 1590(ish)

I was recently having a discussion with my English teacher friend wherein I revealed that I had never taken a Shakespeare class. He wondered how that could be possible, and I reminded him that, although my Master’s degree is in English, my Bachelor’s degree is not, and while I was getting said Master’s and the time came for me to take a Renaissance course, I chose Milton instead. (That is a choice I do not regret, for my Milton teacher was fantastic. She used to read Paradise Lost to us. She was ASMR before the internets knew what ASMR was.) Alas, I know little of the Bard. Save for Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, and Othello, I’ve not read much of him. I think it’s about time for this certified book nerd to remedy that…after all, I did pay a ton of money to say that I can read English good. (← Insert Derek Zoolander pun here.)

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51 Proof

proofby David Auburn, 2001

I don’t typically read plays, so when this task came up for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, I had to think a bit about what I would pick. Shakespeare seemed an obvious choice and I nearly decided to reread Macbeth, having read it only in 11th grade and wanting a refresher before seeing the Michael Fassbender film version. Then I remembered David Auburn’s Proof. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this play is known to me not for its accolades, but for the fact that it’s set where I spent my undergraduate years: the University of Chicago.

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