Lynn Riggs: The Indigenous Plays
  • Publication Date: April 12, 2024
  • ISBN: 9781554815913 / 1554815916
  • 360 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Lynn Riggs: The Indigenous Plays

  • Publication Date: April 12, 2024
  • ISBN: 9781554815913 / 1554815916
  • 360 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Lynn Riggs: The Indigenous Plays bundles critically edited texts of three thematically allied plays with an extensive primary, secondary, and textual apparatus. The Cherokee Night (1932), comprising seven asynchronous scenes set between 1895 and 1931, is Riggs’s most experimental play. Its Cherokee characters inhabit a history of dispossession and violence, including the dissolution of the Cherokee Nation with Oklahoma statehood in 1907. Their daily survival constitutes the apex of resistance. Not so for the Indigenes of The Year of Pilar (1938), the most radical American Indian text prior to the Native American renaissance that began in the late 1960s. Here, Yucatecan Mayans take a government program of land reform as an opportunity to reclaim their homeland and punish settler-colonialists for centuries of enslavement, torture, and sexual violence. Riggs returns to Indian Territory in The Cream in the Well (1941), set on the eve of Oklahoma statehood. The Cherokee Sawters family responds to the onset of statehood by lamenting lost opportunities and fretting about an uncertain future.


“Although these three plays give the reader an important perspective on Riggs’s dramaturgical voice, the contextual material in the edition is also invaluable to understanding the artist behind the work. Riggs’s essays and letters outline a dream for a ‘new’ theater that speaks directly to the theater practitioners of today. As a contemporary Native American playwright, I found myself saying ‘Yes!’ again and again as I read his vision for our field. As the next Native American playwright on Broadway (decades after Riggs), I am often compared to him, and my career is often measured by his. But in reading Lynn Riggs: The Indigenous Plays, I felt truly connected to his passion for the power of theater for the first time.” — Larissa FastHorse, author of The Thanksgiving Play

“Lynn Riggs is a forgotten great—a Cherokee playwright whose 1930s plays on Indigenous themes are gloriously contained in this book. The edition starts with a great introduction to Riggs and his work; three plays, then a series of Riggs’s essays on process and on his ways as a playwright, follow. Thanks to the editorial team of James Cox and Alexander Pettit, I walked away feeling that I now know this man.” — Alanis King, author of 3 Plays

“An expansive framing of Lynn Riggs and his work, enlightening and exhilarating. The context provided in this edition allows the reader to see the complicated, multi-faceted human that Lynn Riggs was. Cherokee and gay, a playwright and a screenwriter, he was no one thing to the exclusion of another. There is something comforting, as an Indigenous playwright in the twenty-first century, about knowing Lynn Riggs, his history, and his contributions to not just Indigenous theatre, but to Theatre. This edition helps the reader to recognize Riggs’s place in Theatre’s continuum.” — Yvette Nolan, playwright and director

Preface by Daniel Heath Justice
Lynn Riggs: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Texts

The Cherokee Night

The Year of Pilar

The Cream in the Well

Appendix A: Lynn Riggs on the Performing Arts

  • 1. “When People Say ‘Folk Drama,’” Carolina Playbook (June 1931)
  • 2. “High, Wide, and Handsome” (review of Singing Cowboy), The Nation (16 December 1931)
  • 3. “Poetry—And Poetry in the Theatre” (16 November 1932)
  • 4. Letter to Paul Green (“Vine Theatre Letter”) (5 March 1939)
  • 5. “Some Notes on the Theatre” (19 February 1940)
  • 6. “A Credo for the Tributary Theatre” (1940), Theatre Arts (February 1941)
  • 7. “What the Theatre Can Mean to All of Us” (27 March 1940)
  • 8. “We Speak for Ourselves: A Dance Poem,” Theatre Arts (December 1943)
  • 9. “A Note on ‘We Speak for Ourselves,’” Dance Observer (November 1943)

Appendix B: Productions of Plays by Lynn Riggs

Textual Apparatus
Works Cited and Select Bibliography
Permissions Acknowledgements

James H. Cox is Professor of English at the University at Texas at Austin and the author of, most recently, The Political Arrays of American Indian Literary History (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). Alexander Pettit is Professor of English at the University of North Texas and has published widely on modern drama and eighteenth-century literature.