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Thu, 10.25.1928

Jim Hatch, Educator, and Author born

Jim Hatch

*Jim Hatch was born on this date in 1928.  He was a white-American playwright, educator, collector, and author.  

From Oelwein, a small city northeast of Des Moines. James Vernon Hatch’s father, MacKenzie, was a mason, welder, and boilermaker, and his mother, Eunice, was a homemaker.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1949 at the University of Northern Iowa, married Evelyn Marcussen in 1949, and had two children; the marriage ended in divorce in 1965. 

Hatch did postgraduate work at the University of Iowa and received a master’s degree there in 1955 and a Ph.D. in 1958.  In 1958 he took a job teaching theater art at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he and Black pianist and composer C. Bernard Jackson collaborated on a musical, “Fly Blackbird.”  The piece addressed race relations and civil rights; it was staged in Los Angeles in 1961 and had a run in New York the next year.  “In the course of that, I learned a lot about Black culture and attitudes and why things happened,” he said in the interview for the Emory exhibition. 

During this time, he met Camille Billops, the stepsister of a member of the Los Angeles cast.   After a stint as a Fulbright lecturer in Egypt, they became adept in the history of Black theater, not only rediscovering overlooked works but also unearthing the Black origins of elements that had been appropriated by white playwrights and entertainers, including those who found fame by performing in blackface.  “The names of the Big Four white minstrel men — Christy, Rice, Emmett, Bryant — were widely known and written about,” he wrote in the introduction to “Lost Plays of the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1940” (1996), “but who knows the slave musicians, street performers, church singers, and riverboat roustabouts whose songs and jokes and dances were stolen by the white minstrel men?” 

He called out stereotypes in plays and movies like “Gone With the Wind,” whose Mammy character is “still pushing the image of Blacks-as-retarded at our neighborhood theaters and in our living rooms,” he wrote in the introduction to “The Roots of African American Drama: An Anthology of Early Plays, 1858-1938” (1990).  

Hatch wrote several plays in addition to his books, and he and Billops collaborated on several films. Most notable among those was “Finding Christa” (1991), a documentary about Ms. Billops’s decision to give up a daughter she had had before she met Professor Hatch and her reunion with that daughter 20 years later. The film won the grand jury prize for documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival.   Hatch took emeritus status at City College in 1996 and taught English and theater there for three decades.  He was the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including “The Roots of African American Drama: An Anthology of Early Plays, 1858-1938” (1990), which he edited with Leo Hamalian, and “Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson” (1993), about the black poet and playwright. 

James V. Hatch, a historian of Black theater who created a vast archive of interviews with Black actors, singers, writers, and artists, died in Manhattan on Feb. 14, 2020. He was 91.  His son, Dion Hatch, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.   In addition to his son, who is from his first marriage, he is survived by a daughter, Susan Blankenship, also from that marriage, and a grandson. 

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