Friday, May 01, 2009

Play on Emmett Till Wins Edgar Award
By Persia Walker

Chicago playwright Ifa Bayeza won the prestigious Edgar Award during yesterday's ceremony in New York for her work The Ballad of Emmett Till.

Bayeza, already a prize-winning author, said she was "thrilled" at receiving the Edgar, which is awarded by the Mystery Writers of America.

Her play stems from the August 1955 murder of Till, a 14-year-old Chicago youth who was brutalized during a trip to Mississippi. He had whistled at a white woman at a grocery store where he and some friends had purchased sweets. His mother's decision to hold an open-casket funeral for her son drew international attention to the horrors of lynching in the South.

The men who were accused of having killed Till were found innocent in court. Feeling safe from further legal prosecution by virtue of double-jeopardy, they later admitted to the killing. They said they originally didn't intend to kill Till, but after beating and torturing him, finally shot him because he didn't show fear.

Unlike other writings that have focused on the barbarity of the boy's death, Bayeza's work is a celebration of his all-too-brief life. The website of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago describes The Ballad of Emmett Till as a "soaring work of music, brilliant poetry and theatricality."

It was wonderful to be in the audience at the Grand Hyatt and see Bayeza accept her Edgar. Her other stage works include Amistad Voices, Club Harlem and Homer G & the Rhapsodies. Bayeza is known for authoring works that inspire dialogue among a diverse audience. She collaborated with her sister Ntozake Shange on Shange's landmark production of for colored girls who considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, directed by Oz Scott, at New Federal Theater and The Public Theater. The two also collaborated on a new novel, Some Sing, Some Cry, to be published by St. Martin's Press.


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