EDGAR NKOSI WHITE

By Dr Alda Terracciano

Edgar Nkosi White was born in the Caribbean island of Montserrat on 4 April 1947 and brought to the United States in 1952, living in Spanish/English speaking Harlem, New York. He was educated at Yale University and New York Theological Seminary where he respectively completed his studies in Drama and Theology. At the age of eighteen his first play, The Mummer's Play (1965) was produced by Joseph Papp Public Theatre in New York. The success of this production, which revealed his talent as a playwright, convinced the producer to stage his next four plays, including The Crucificado a drama set within the Hispanic community in Harlem, New York.

Disillusioned with the Church, Edgar White's interest in the relationship between man and God began to be increasingly transferred in his writings. By the mid-1970s he had written and published three novels, fourteen of his plays had been produced in New York, six had been published in two collections, and he had been appointed Artistic Director of the Yardbird Theatre Company of Harlem. Together with his travels to the Caribbean, he also paid several visits to England (in 1975 Lament for Rastafari , one of his most striking plays, was produced in London under the direction of Rufus Collins). Following the production in 1981of Les Femme Noir at the Keskidee Arts Centre, he then decided to move to London where for the next six years most of his world premières were staged.  

During this time, his plays were successfully produced by the Black Theatre Co-operative, Temba, Talawa, Umoja and Lumumba theatre companies in a number of London and national venues including the Keskidee, the Royal Court Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe festival. The plays offered to British audiences an interesting view of the social inequalities underpinning the social structure of many Caribbean islands as well as the alienation and cultural dislocation experienced by Caribbean migrants in the cities of Europe and North America. His style draws on both European and African theatrical traditions, and is often characterised by leaps of time and space, the oscillation between realistic and surreal situations, and the use of ritual and poetry. Considered by Judy Stone as the Caribbean playwright "who in his work shows the most concern with the theme of exile", Edgar White offers a unique perspective on the implication of the African diaspora on both individual and collective levels. His characters, often faced by humiliation and deprivation, reflect in their personal experiences a global reality and the impaired relationship between developing countries and the Western world.

The quest for ancestral roots, one of the strongest themes in Edgar White's writings, is at the core of most of the plays produced in London between 1977 and 1987 - Trinity (1982), The Nine Night (1983), Redemption Song (1984), Ritual (1985) and Moon Dance Night (1987) are featured in this exhibition.   Other recurrent themes are the complex relationship between Caribbean parents and their British born children; the relations existing between different black cultures; the fight against racial discrimination and the "symbolic emasculation" of the black man in Western society; and the appeal of wider horizons which extend outside the somehow suffocating confines of the Caribbean Islands.

The author is currently living in New York. His latest theatre work includes Montserrat Still , The Children of the Vulcano , Underneath (Fire a Come) and the musical Marion Anderson the Lady form Philadelphia, performed at the National Black Theatre in Harlem in 2002. The Rhila, a performance piece written after a visit to Baghdad before the war, is published on the Internet.