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Released August 24, 2005


HAttiesburg– Dr. Philip Kolin, a professor of English and the first Charles W. Moorman Alumni Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at The University of Southern Mississippi, has published a critical book on one of the most respected African-American playwrights of the 20th century. Kolin's Understanding Adrienne Kennedy, published this summer by the University of South Carolina Press, offers an in-depth analysis of Kennedy's plays, her short fiction, and her experimental autobiography, People Who Led to My Plays.

For more than five decades, Kennedy's work has raised profound issues about race, gender and selfhood in American culture. These are all topics that Kolin explores throughout his reading of Kennedy's career and her canon.

The book was written over several years from archival materials at the University of Texas in Austin and at the public library in Kennedy’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. In addition, Kolin also worked with several theatre companies that have staged Kennedy's plays, creating a book that makes Kennedy's challenging canon more accessible. "Understanding Kennedy's canon requires a knowledge of her family, her background, here politics, and even her nightmares," Kolin said.

Recognizing that Kennedy's plays depart from African-American political activists of the 1960s such as Amiri Baraka or Ed Bullins, Kolin demonstrates how Kennedy's work accentuates the highly experimental theatre of Off Broadway. Kolin stressed that Kennedy “dramatizes the harrowing territory of the subconscious.”

"It is a chaotic world of shifting times, locations, and selves,” he said.

Kennedy's protagonists are young, highly artistic black women who are in a quest for their identity and their self-worth in a prejudiced world. She presents them through fragmentary, conflicting psychological states, reflecting a host of white and black, historical and imagined characters.

Kolin noted that one of Kennedy's most famous plays, “Funnyhouse of a Negro,” depicts the young Sarah through four distinct characters—male, female, black and white. Kolin pointed out that "Sarah's tragedy takes place in the theatre of her mind."

In analyzing Kennedy's theatre, Kolin demonstrates that her work runs deep with African rituals, Christian symbolism (most notably the Psalms), classical mythology, recent urban history, and psychoanalysis. Kolin said Kennedy's theatre is highly cinematic, using many filmic techniques, including film noir. In fact, the title of one of Kolin's chapters is "Adrienne Kennedy and Dreams Noir."

Her visionary and provocative plays have starred important actors, such as Ruby Dee, Yaphet Koto and Billie Allen, and have won several Obies, the equivalent of an Off Broadway Oscar. In addition to providing a critical reading of Kennedy's works, Kolin also includes valuable information about their performance history and reception abroad.

Kolin's book will be of great value to individuals in African-American Studies, Women's Studies, and American literature and drama. Kolin teaches Kennedy’s plays in his undergraduate survey of American drama and hopes to include her in a seminar he wants to do on contemporary African-American playwrights next year.

Kolin, who has taught at Southern Miss for 31 years, has written or edited 30 books and published nearly 200 articles plus numerous poems and reviews. He is regarded as an international expert on the plays of Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee. For the last 15 years, Kolin has been the general editor of the Routledge Shakespeare Criticism Series.

Copies of Kolin’s book, Understanding Adrienne Kennedy, will be available at Barnes & Noble in The Hub. For more information, call (601) 266-4381.



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September 16, 2005 2:42 PM