Open Cultural Studies: B(l)ack Futures – Flat Time in Black Performance

Close up of a light beam at the empty stage with copy space



Nicole Hodges Persley, (University of Kansas, Department of Theatre)

Baron Kelly (University of Louisville, Department of Theatre)



This special issues plays against African American theater scholar Harry Elam’s discussion of playing the past in the present in the work of August Wilson (Elam 2005) and current discourses of new materialism and post-humanity to explore the specificity and malleability of time and futurity in Black performance.  Riffing off of the past, imperfect and future tenses of black life captured in transnational and intersectional representations of black performance, the works in this special issue will move back and forth across time to flatten past and present performances and forms of black expression that foreshadow and shape black futures the 21st century. We seek to interrogate the theme of new materialism as it relates to political economy, embodiment, resistance, rage, bio-politics, improvisation, resistance, and post-humanity as manifest in transnational black performance. This volume explores black life in the 21st century in flat-time, or in perpetual suspension, without promise of release or relief, to understand how the present has been materially and psychically shaped by the past. We see flat time as a conditional structure of perpetual present that makes future projections of black performance contingent and vulnerable to perpetual looping of past experiences of anti-black violence and trauma. Such replaying of the past, with little less hopeful futures in the present, suspends black performance in a liminal space that flattens black expressive culture and time on a global scale of urgency. This volume will present a diverse transnational representation of black experiences across performance genres that explore the conditions of future black life in performance. The authors ask how are B(l)ack futures contracted to the past in the present? What options do black artists and scholars have to negotiate and project new terms of blackness when the current transnational climate of anti-black violence replays globally on a loop in the present?

Article submissions may speak to the following themes:

  • How do engagements with “new materialism” and “post-humanity” shape our understanding of black performance transnationally?”
  • How do “alternate facts” and the rise of the so called “alt right” affect the past, present, and future of black performance?
    What does improvised strategies of resistance offer to black artists and scholars as a devise to manipulate time in performance
  • How do “freedom” and “rage” fuse to become a revised thematic in black performance at this historical conjuncture?
  • How does the rise of the so-called alt-right leadership in the United States impact the legibility and audibility of black life?
  • How do non-binary genders, people of color, and those who self-identify as anything other than heterosexual, able to manifest futures in a present that loops to the past?
  • How does (under)commons democracy shape black performance in the 21st century?
  • What are the ethical and political ramifications of new materialism in the analysis of black performance?
  • In what ways does white cis-het male patriarchy affirm “alt-histories” and “alt-facts” that seek to arrest the expression of black futures?
  • How does blackness become a sanctuary that can cover the trauma of intersectional living and quests for liberation?
  • What role does the media play in underscoring and disseminating arrested perspectives black performance?
  • What possibilities for freedom are imagined and improvised within constraints of perpetual black trauma?
  • How are histories of blackness inherited through intergenerational practice?


Only original and unpublished submissions will be considered.  Manuscripts should be between 5000-7000 words and should adhere to the latest MLA style.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 31 July 2017. Please send the proposals to the Managing Editor The authors of the accepted proposals will be notified by 31 June 2017. The deadline for submitting full articles will be 31 November 2017.

Contributors should note that, as this edited collection will be published online, it will be possible to include colour images in submissions.

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