The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World is a play written by Suzan-Lori Parks, premiering in 1990 and eventually receiving an Off-Broadway production in 2016. The play was praised by critics for its complexity, covering diverse and intricate topics in an unique, yet unquestionably compelling manner. It is performed in a jazz style, and is notable for its comedic yet underlying profound message of continued racial iniquity in both American history and the modern day era.
The story follows a number of characters, many satirical in nature, based on African-American stereotypes. The titular "protagonist" is Black Man with Watermelon, who dies multiple times throughout the play. This idiosyncratic non-linear storytelling structure is what makes the play so interesting; characters disappear and re-appear over the course of each act, forming a complex narrative with all of their collective voices. The play's setting is "a great hole... in the middle of nowhere", representing the gaping hole in American history of hundreds, thousands, of forgotten black narratives.
Suzan-Lori Parks is an acclaimed African-American playwright; her play Topdog/Underdog won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, making her the first African-American woman to achieve this honor for drama. Born on May 10th 1963, in Kentucky, her childhood was spent writing poems, songs, and creating a newspaper with her older brother. Her passion for writing was ignited after reading Virginia Woolf's To The Light House, a novel which she says has greatly influenced her plays and essays.
Parks' plays are distinguished for their unique, experimental narrative style. She is a pioneer in the practice of using of Black English in theater to create a diverse, authentic voice in her plays, especially as many explore the theme of the true African-American experience in America. The Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World is one of her earliest works, but it exhibits the full sophistication and flair of an skilled playwright, with a dash of Parks' distinctive freeflow style.