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  • Faculty

  • Frank Leon Roberts

    Assistant Professor of Theater


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    Frank Leon Roberts



    In the wake of COVID-19; public protests against police violence; and the ever-looming threat of a second civil war (incited by white supremacist insurrectionists) ---if there is one thing that this moment in American history reveals to us, it is this: we are all “actors” living in a grand historical “drama.” Indeed, this country’s national dialogue about race and democracy is above all a set of “scripts” that have been memorized, performed, and re-performed by various actors across a multitude of generations. Our nation IS theater: we are characters and audience members in a long and epic melodrama called ‘democracy.’

    As a scholar and teacher, my work seeks to call attention to the inherent theatricality of American life.  At Lang, my students and I study the dramaturgical dimensions of American history itself: its protagonists and antagonists; its plots and subplots; its historical actors and directors. Traversing the boundaries of American history, literature, and politics—my approach to the study of theater is rooted in the underlining premise that American democracy is itself is a form of theater.

    Along these lines, I am currently at work on two book projects. The first is a scholarly manuscript on American writer James Baldwin and his underexplored life as a playwright. That book, tentatively entitled James Baldwin’s Critical Stages, is the first scholarly manuscript dedicated exclusively to Baldwin’s life as a dramatist.

    Secondly, I am currently editing a volume for the University of California Press entitled The Black Lives Matter Reader: Key Writings from the Movement for Black Lives. Written with a foreword by Alicia Garza (co-founder of black lives matter) the book is the first publication to bring together the vast array of black activist voices associated with the U.S. black lives matter movement.

    In my life outside of academia, I am a frequent public commentator (on venues ranging from Al Jazeera and CNN to various college campuses across the country) on the cultural politics of race and ethnicity in America with a particular focus on the history of black radical organizing; anti-racist politics and pedagogy; mass incarceration and state violence; and American politics in a post-Trump world.

    A New York City native, I live and dream “uptown” in the village known as Harlem, New York. 


    Degrees Held

    Ph.D. New York University
    M.A. New York University
    B.A. New York University


    Professional Affiliation

    The Modern Language Association
    The American Studies Association
    The Roddenberry Fellowship
    The Ford Foundation Fellowship 






    Performances and Appearances



    Research Interests

    20th century African American literature and culture; social justice activism in America; the life and legacy of James Baldwin; U.S. social movements/black freedom movements; race and ethnicity in America; African American religious studies; African American theater, music, and expressive culture.


    Awards And Honors

    The Roddenberry Fellowship, 2019-2020       

    The Ford Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2009-2010

    Activist-in-Residence, The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, MI) (Summer 2017, Summer 2019)

    Scholar-in-Residence, The Musagetes Foundation/Free Home University (Lecce, Italy) (December 2015)

    Scholar-in-Residence, Arika  (Glasgow, Scotland) (Spring 2013)

    Manuscript, Archives, & Rare Book Library Research Fellowship,, Emory University, 2009-2010

    NYU Michael A. Parks Distinguished Alumni Award 

    NYU President's Service Awards (2003, 2004, 2015) 

    Current Courses

    Black Women Artists
    LINA 3054, Spring 2022

    Foundations of World Theater
    LTHR 2110, Spring 2022

    Theater Theory
    LTHR 3106, Spring 2022

    Future Courses

    Independent Study
    LTHR 3950, Fall 2022

    Practicing the Environment
    LINA 2060, Fall 2022

    Past Courses

    Con. African American Theater
    LTHR 2376, Fall 2021

    Major Playwrights: Baldwin
    LTHR 3376, Fall 2021

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