Faculty Book: James F. Wilson

James F. Wilson

Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies: Performance, Race, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance
(University of Michigan Press, 2010)

This book shines the spotlight on historically neglected plays and performances that challenged early twentieth-century notions of the stratification of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. On Broadway stages, in Harlem nightclubs and dance halls, and within private homes sponsoring rent parties, African American performers of the 1920s and early 1930s teased the limits of white middle-class morality. Blues-singing lesbians, popularly known as “bulldaggers,” performed bawdy songs; cross-dressing men vied for the top prizes in lavish drag balls; and black and white women flaunted their sexuality in scandalous melodramas and musical revues. Race leaders, preachers, and theater critics spoke out against these performances that threatened to undermine social and political progress, but to no avail: mainstream audiences could not get enough of the riotous entertainment. Among the performances discussed are David Belasco’s controversial production of Edward Sheldon and Charles MacArthur’s Lulu Belle (1926), with its raucous, libidinous view of Harlem. James F. Wilson is a professor of English at the Graduate Center.

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Submitted on: JUN 16, 2010

Category: English, Faculty Books