Playing the Dozens: Towards a Black Feminist Dramaturgy in the Work of Zora Neale Hurston

Michelle Cowin Gibbs, Michelle Cowin Gibbs

Research output: Journal ArticleArticlepeer-review


Hurston was an anthropologist, auto-ethnographer, and playwright, and as such, many of her plays featured characters that reappear across her collection. Her plays also included many of the same rituals and customs that she witnessed and participated in during her fieldwork in Black Southern folk communities. Along with exploring Black Southern folk vernacular in her dramas, Hurston also included songs, games, and other rituals such as popular word play performatives like signifying, woofing, and playing the dozens.

Hurston’s plays also often failed to fit within the parameters of the propagandistic style theatre aimed at racial uplift. Thus, for many scholars of Black theatre, Hurston’s early plays have eluded easy categorization. However, I argue that by using dramaturgical analysis to explore Hurston’s plays – particularly her focus on the community game popularized in many Black communities called, playing the dozens — students of Black theatre can access a radically different set of Black folk characters for the stage aimed at reconfiguring prevailing models of blackness  and  Black womenness in the early twentieth century. 

This short essay offers some first steps towards developing a Black feminist dramaturgical lens to contextualize Hurston’s contributions to Black theatre.  While my approach is still a work in progress, I hope that it will offer a catalyst for considering Hurston’s early plays in a different light, and for developing further discourses around Black feminist dramaturgy.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalThe Journal of American Drama and Theatre
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Black feminism
  • Black theatre
  • dramaturgy
  • anthropology
  • autoethnography
  • playwriting


  • Arts and Humanities
  • Theater and Performance Studies
  • Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory
  • Performance Studies
  • Theater History

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