"Mouths on Fire with Songs"

Negotiating Multi-Ethnic Identities on the Contemporary North American Stage


This book, the first cross-cultural study of post-1970s anglophone Canadian and American multi-ethnic drama, invites assessment of the thematic and aesthetic contributions of this theater in today’s globalized culture. A growing number of playwrights of African, South and East Asian, and First Nations heritage have engaged with manifold socio-political and aesthetic issues in experimental works combining formal features of more classical European dramatic traditions with such elements of ethnic culture as ancestral music and dance, to interrogate the very concepts of theatricality and canonicity. Their “mouths on fire” (August Wilson), these playwrights contest stereotyped notions of authenticity. In¬spired by songs of anger, passion, experience, survival, and regeneration, the plays analyzed bespeak a burning desire to break the silence, to heal and empower. Foregrounding questions of hybridity, diaspora, cultural memory, and nation, this comparative study includes discussion of some twenty-five case studies of plays by such authors as M.J. Kang, August Wilson, Suzan–Lori Parks, Djanet Sears, Chay Yew, Padma Viswanathan, Rana Bose, Diane Glancy, and Drew Hayden Taylor. Through its cross-cultural and cross-national prism, “Mouths on Fire with Songs” shows that multi-ethnic drama is one of the most diverse and dynamic sites of cultural production in North America today.

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Caroline De Wagter holds a doctorate in Modern Languages and Literatures from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) and an MA in Drama from Stanford University. She has published articles in critical collections and professional journals, and is the co-editor of Old Margins, New Centers: The European Literary Heritage in an Age of Globalization (2011) and Signatures of the Past: Cultural Memory in Con¬temporary Anglophone North American Drama (2008).
"De Wagter most productively examines how playwrights of color negotiate the boundaries of ethnic, national, and cultural identities. A major innovation of her study is its comparative and transnational exploration of how authors engage with difference and hybridity to challenge the status quo and imagine possible social transformations." – Harry J. Elam, Jr., Professor of Drama, Stanford University
"In her groundbreaking comparative study, De Wagter offers a detailed examination of contemporary multi-ethnic drama in Canada and the USA. As her perceptive cross-cultural analyses demonstrate, the North American stage can boast some of the most aesthetically sophisticated and politically vibrant theatre of our age." – Marc Maufort, Professeur ordinaire, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Staging Hybridity on the North American Scene
Shattering the North American Dream: Testimonies and Experiences
Cultural Memory in North American Drama
Performing Imagined Communities
Conclusion: Millennial Vistas
Works Cited