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Ed Bullins (b. 1935)

Larry Neal (1937—1981)

Amiri Baraka (b. 1934)

 

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Kingsley Bass, Jr.


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Is the pseudonym of Black Theater movement playwright Ed Bullins for the publication of We Righteous Bombers in the anthology New Plays from the Black Theatre (1969) and the play's production at the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in May of 1969.

New Plays from the Black Theatre lists Kingsley B. Bass, Jr., as “a 24-year-old Black man murdered by Detroit police during the uprising,” but in a panel discussion of We Righteous Bombers at the New Lafayette Theatre (11 May 1969), playwright Marvin X reported that Bullins in fact wrote the play and used the pseudonym “to suggest the type of play that a brother killed in the Detroit Revolution would have written.” Bass, who never existed, seemed able to achieve for himself a fine, if ironic, honor: a small notice by Larry Neal printed below prefatory notes to the panel discussion (which also contributed to the confusion over the play's authorship) announced Bass's winning the Harriet Webster Updike Award for literary excellence.

We Righteous Bombers is modeled almost strictly after Albert Camus's Les Justes (1946; trans. The Just Assassins, 1958). Both plays ask whether the decision to commit murder to end the suffering of humanity is an enterprise that can ultimately be legitimated. Bombers, however, whose racialized conflict is more deeply visceral and whose concomitant intensity of hatred and fear is further enhanced by elements of expressionistic theater (Bullins constructs time achronologically and uses music and still projections throughout the play), seems even more horrific a presentation of this question than its predecessor. Additionally, the proximity of the play to present-day America and its racial dilemmas lends significantly to the consternation of its audience. Jack B. Moore's suggestion that the play reveals “the realities of hate and fear and desire that the everyday life of black and white behavior only masks” invites speculation of Bullins's motivation to use a pseudonym: the authorial masking and the confusion surrounding it become a metaphor for the play's ability to unmask society and render the apocalypse beneath.

The post-production panel discussion itself produced an array of reactions regarding the importance of the play as a revolutionary work—specifically, its accurate depiction of revolutionary spirit and its psychological impact on a public in search of bold revolutionary characterizations of African Americans. Robert Macbeth, director of the New Lafayette, defended Bombers and expected that new plays would naturally evolve from its questions and flaws. Dissenting were Askia M. Touré and Ernie Mkalimoto, who stated that the only proper image of the African American revolutionary, that of keeper of myth and folklore and designer of a new world history, was cheapened by characterizations of weakness among the play's revolutionaries. Larry Neal and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) philosophized that there is a reciprocity between art and activism. Baraka, in his final appeal to the audience, made the claim for a clarity of statement over the “mysticism of art,” suggesting that without clarity, such mysticism can plainly deceive, overwhelming artist and audience in more ways than one can ever know.

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Subjects: Literature


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