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74 pages 2 hours read

August Wilson

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1984

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Introduction

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

  • Genre: Fiction; drama
  • Originally Published: 1984
  • Reading Level/Interest: Grades 9-12; college/adult
  • Structure/Length: 2 acts; approx. 112 pages; approx. 1 hour, 34 minutes running time
  • Protagonist and Central Conflict: Set in Chicago in 1927, the play reveals the exploitation of Black artists in the time period and shows the divisive and violent impacts of racist culture. Ma Rainey, a popular Black blues singer, is late to the recording studio; while they wait for her, band members Cutler, Slow Drag, and Toledo react to fellow musician Levee’s insistence that the studio owes him a recording of his own music.
  • Potential Sensitivity Issues: Racial conflict; racism; exploitation of Black artists; profanity, including use of the n-word; sexual content, including references to homosexuality; mentions of rape; murder

August Wilson, Playwright

  • Bio: 1945-2005; born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; dropped out of high school at 15 after being accused of plagiarism; taught himself and read widely in the following years, often noting on coffee shop napkins ideas for poems and characters; inspired by the Black Arts Movement; helped to found Pittsburgh’s Black Horizons Theatre (1968); met with significant success with Jitney and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; known for The American Century Cycle (also called The Pittsburgh Cycle), a group of 10 plays that reveal the Black experience in America from the 1900s to the 1990s; received two Pulitzer Prizes (for The Piano Lesson and Fences)
  • Other Works: Jitney (1982); Fences (1987); The Piano Lesson (1990); Gem of the Ocean (2003)
  • Awards: Tony Award for Best Play (1985); Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play (1985); New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play (1985)

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