James F. Wilson (he/ him/ his) is a professor of English at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY and is an affiliate faculty member of the Africana Studies Certificate Program at the Graduate Center. Research and teaching interests include African American theatre and performance; gender and sexuality studies; musical theatre history; applied theatre and pedagogy; and US theatre histories and dramatic literature. His book Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies: Performance, Race and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance (University of Michigan Press, 2010) examines historically neglected plays and performances that challenged early twentieth-century notions of the stratification of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.
Some of his most recent essays are “Unfit to Teach: Morality, Panic, and Hazardous Teachers” in Teacher Representations in Dramatic Text and Performance: Portraying the Teacher on Stage (Routledge, 2019); “The Queer Harlem Renaissance” online at the Oxford African American Studies Center (2019); “The Somewhat Different Diva: Impersonation, Ambivalence and the Musical Comedy Performances of Julian Eltinge” in Studies in Musical Theatre (2018); and “‘Who Does She Hope to Be?’: Celluloid Ghosts, Queer Utopias, and the Boys Onstage” in The Boys in the Band: Flashpoints of Cinema, History, and Queer Politics (Wayne State University Press, 2016).
Other essays include “‘Ladies and Gentlemen, People Die’: The Uncomfortable Performances of Kiki and Herb” in “We Will Be Citizens”: New Essays on Gay and Lesbian Theatre (McFarland & Company, 2008); “Community, Civility, and Citizenship: Theatre and Indoctrination in the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s” in Theatre History Studies (Summer 2003); and “‘That’s the Kind of Gal I Am’: Drag Balls, ‘Sexual Perversion,’ and David Belasco’s Lulu Belle” in Staging Desire: Queer Readings of American Theater History (University of Michigan Press, 2002).
Additionally, his book and performance reviews have appeared in Theatre Journal, PAJ, Theatre Topics, Ecumenica, and European Stages. He is currently working on a project focused on representations of teachers on stage and in performance. He is co-editor of Journal of American Drama and Theatre (JADT) and is a voting member of the Drama Desk.
Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies: Performance, Race, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance
(Triangulations: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Theater/Drama/Performance)
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.
Published June 2010
University of Michigan Press, 2010