Six Plays by Black and Asian Women Writers
Edited and Introduced by Kadija George
Revised Edition, 2022
Playwrights: Rukhsana Ahmad, Maya Chowdhry, Trish Cooke, Winsome Pinnock, Meera Syal, Zindika
Essays and contributions by Bernardine Evaristo, Valerie Small, Deirdre Osborne, Sita Ramamurthy and Stella Oni.
A landmark collection of plays for stage, screen and radio, Six Plays by Black and Asian Women Writers has become a seminal collection for libraries, drama schools and educational institutions.
Edited by Kadija George, Six Plays by Black and Asian Women Writers includes a revised introduction together with the original essays from the 1993 edition.
Six Plays by Black and Asian Women Writers includes writers who have now gone on to achieve national recognition with work produced on film, television, radio and stage working with some of the most distinguished actors, directors and producers of African and Asian descent in Britain.
This anthology was an important milestone in British theatre being the first book to offer diverse female role models both by the playwrights themselves and through the characters in their plays.
Since the first publication of Six Plays by Black and Asian Women Writers in 1993, Meera Syal has become an international name as an actor, writer and producer, with film, TV, fiction and theatre credits including the popular musical, Bombay Dreams, debuting in the West End; After receiving a writer-in-residence fellowship at Cambridge University, Winsome Pinnock has gone on to write numerous plays such as staged at the National Theatre and many others. She is now considered to be the ‘godmother of Black theatre’ in the UK. Maya Chowdhry continues to be experimental with her work in multimedia formats, (has co-edited a book with another of our playwrights, Nina Rapi), Acts of Passion: Sexuality, Gender and Performance and is currently working on a coedited anthology of women’s writing in the north of England, Bitch Lit; Zindika has written for dance theatre, for Adzido, and co-edited a book, When Will I See You Again with Natalie Smith; Rukshana Ahmad co-founded Kali Theatre, and we have published two more of her plays, namely Mistaken and Homing Birds. She has also published a novel, The Hope Chest, and received a Royal Literary Society Fellowship; Trish Cooke has a successful career writing books for children and was a Children’s TV presenter for several years. Not to mention the essays by Bernardine Evaristo who jointly won the Booker prize for Girl, Woman, Other in 2019 with novelist Margaret Atwood.
Moving from the margins and into the theatrical mainstream continues to happen too slowly for playwrights from ethnic minorities. More than twenty years since the first publication of this anthology, the case for a ‘Black’-owned and -managed theatre in Britain is still being argued for and the funding yet to be raised.
“The essence of theatre, according to Stuart Griffiths, lies not in the word so much as its ability to affect us, touch us so that we feel pleasure or pain, force us to identify with it by reflecting something which has significance to our life… Black theatre in Britain is surviving. Though few plays have made it to West End stages, productions on the fringe have had continuing success. These plays attract a predominantly Black audience and contain all the elements of the greatest drama: symbolism, language, conflict, rhythm. This is popular theatre at its best using every means necessary to awaken residues of oral traditions buried in the depths of the race memory.” Valerie Small, The Importance Of Oral Tradition To Black Theatre (1993)
“The new writing initiatives of the late 20th century grew out of a need to haul white elitist (male-dominated) theatre into a multi-cultural world wherein the plays staged were more accurately reflective of surrounding society, demographically and culturally… After the funding decimation of many Black and Asian theatre groups in the late 1980s, the cultivation of writers from marginalised social groups comprised an aspect of dismantling institutional racism… As May Joseph has pointed out, it was not until the late 20th century that ‘the absence of Black women as subjects with agency’ was challenged and countered by the work of black women playwrights. The importance of including and perpetuating indigenous Black British drama in the mainstream theatrescape can be neither underestimated nor over-emphasised. It provides a key cultural site wherein ethnicities and experiences who may not otherwise meet are directly exposed to each other’s cultural practices… Black drama exposes mainstream (predominantly white) theatre-goers to aspects of Black British cultural input that is as indigenous to contemporary British cultural identity as that provided by white playwrights. It provides Black audiences with authentically rendered cultural representations which have not as yet been able to develop a flourishing continuum in Britain’s cultural psyche.” Deirdre Osborne, A Recent Look At Black Women Playwrights (2005)
Introduction | Kadija George
The Importance of Oral Tradition to Black Theatre | Valerie Small
The Write Stuff | Sita Ramamurthy
Black Women in Theatre | Bernardine Evaristo
The Theatre of Black Women: Britain’s first Black Women’s Theatre Company | Bernardine Evaristo
Interview with Yvonne Brewster | Stella Oni
A Recent Look At Black Women Playwrights | Deirdre Osborne
A Hero’s Welcome by Winsome Pinnock is a tale of misplaced loyalty, longing for escape and early love.
Monsoon by Maya Chowdhry is a poetic account of a young woman’s sexual awakening.
Leonora’s Dance by Zindika is about four women who share the house of a ballet dancer, whose contact with the supernatural lays the ghosts of the past to rest.
My Sister-Wife by Meera Syal is a taut thriller about two women who discover they are both married to the same man.
Song for a Sanctuary by Rukhsana Ahmad explores the painful dilemma of an Asian woman forced to seek help from a women’s refuge.
Running Dream by Trish Cooke tells the story of three generations of West Indian women with warmth and humour.
About the editor
Kadija George (aka Kadija Sesay) Hon. FRSL, FRSA, works in literary project management and creative professional development with adults and young people of African descent. From 2001-2015 she published SABLE LitMag, a magazine for emerging writers of colour. Currently the Publications Manager for Inscribe/Peepal Tree Press supporting the writing of Black British writers.
She has edited anthologies of work by writers of African descent in drama, poetry and fiction and has published and broadcast her own creative work including a poetry collection, Irki (2013).
She received a research and development grant from Arts Council England and a Society of Authors Award to research her second collection, The Modern Pan-Africanists Journey 2022. She co-authored with Joan Anim Addo and Deirdre Osborne, This is the Canon: 50 Books to Decolonize Your Bookshelf (Quercus, 2021).
Kadija co-founded the Mboka Festival of Arts, Culture and Sport in The Gambia and is currently developing AfriPoeTree, a Selective Interactive Video of Poetry and Pan-African history for which she received Arts Council England funding. She was an AHRC Techne funded doctoral student. Her thesis on Black British Publishing and Pan-Africanism will be published by Africa World Press. She also has a Research Fellowship from the School of Advanced Studies, London University. She is a Kennedy Center Fellow in Performing Arts Management and a Kluge Fellow (The Library of Congress).
In 2020 she received an MBE for services to Literature and an Honorary Fellowship from Goldsmiths, University of London.
Performance Rights Information: A HERO’S WELCOME: The Agency Ltd MY SISTER-WIFE: Rochelle Stevens and Co RUNNING DREAM: Curtis Brown Ltd. MONSOON/SONG FOR A SANCTUARY/LEONORA’S DANCE: Write to the Author © c/o Aurora Metro Books
About the authors
Winsome Pinnock was born in Islington, North London. She is an award-winning playwright, academic and dramaturg. Her work has been produced on the British stage and internationally since 1985. She was the first black British female writer to have a play produced by the Royal National Theatre. Winsome is Associate Professor in Drama at Kingston University and was Senior Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University. She has worked as a dramaturg with the Royal National Theatre’s New Views scheme as well as with the Royal Court’s International Department. The prizes awarded to her work include the George Devine Award, The Pearson Plays on Stage Award and the Unity Theatre Trust Award.
Maya Chowdhry was born in Edinburgh and grew up on the Fife coast; basking on barnacled rocks in an orange swimsuit, the February wind chilling her skin to goosebumps. She journeyed the kala pani; circling to Scottish shores, her poetry manuscript below layers in her mum’s attic. She (w)rights poetry, plays & digital poetry. Her poetry has travelled via film, audio, web and past fingers on pages; always discovering, always uncovering.
Zindika is a writer and teacher. She is best known as a playwright and her plays have toured nationally. Her work has also been performed in collaboration with the Adzido Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells and The Royal Festival Hall. Zindika is the author of several books, including When will I see you again? (2005), a post Windrush anthology. Also, she is the author of two children’s books.
Meera Syal is a British-Indian comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actress. She rose to prominence as one of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me and became one of the UK’s best-known Indian personalities portraying Sanjeev’s grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No. 42. She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1997 New Year Honours and in 2003 was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama and literature.
Rukhsana Ahmad‘s stage plays include: Song For Sanctuary, The Gate-Keeper’s Wife, Black Shalwar, River On Fire (shortlist Susan Smith Blackburn Prize 2002), The Man Who Refused to be God, Last Chance and Partners in Crime. Radio plays and adaptations include: Song for a Sanctuary (CRE award, runner-up), An Urnful of Ashes, The Errant Gene, Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman At Point Zero, Jean Rhy’s Wide Sargasso Sea (shortlist CRE and Writers’ Guild Award for best adaptation), R.K Narayan’s The Guide and Nadeem Aslam’s Maps For Lost Lovers. She also wrote for Westway and helped to create Pyaar Ka Passort for BBC World Service Trust. Her fiction includes a novel; The Hope Chest (Virago) and several short stories have been published internationally. Her translations from Urdu include We Sinful Women, and Altaf Fatima’s novel, The One Who Did Not Ask. Currently she is working on Letting Go, a new play for Pursued by a Bear, and an adaptation for the BBC of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.
Trish Cooke was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, to parents from Dominica. Cooke developed a love of theatre while still in school and went on to study at Leeds Polytechnic and Ilkley College, where she earned a BA in performing arts. She has since had a successful career as a children’s tv presenter as well as writing children’s books including the award-winning So Much, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and The Grandad Tree, illustrated by Sharon Wilson.