Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Alice Childress was five years old when her parents separated and she was sent to live with her maternal grandmother, who had seven children of her own. Although Grandmother Eliza was a poverty-stricken former slave with only a fifth-grade education, she was intellectually curious and self-educated. Childress credited her grandmother with teaching her how to observe and encouraging her to write. Her grandmother also took her to Salem Church in Harlem, where Alice learned storytelling from the Wednesday night testimonials. Childress was educated in New York public schools, leaving before she graduated from high school. She encountered racial prejudice at school but recalled several teachers who made a difference, encouraging her to read and introducing her to the library.
Childress revealed little about her private life, but it is known that she married and divorced Alvin Childress, who played Amos on television’s Amos ’n’ Andy Show. The couple had a daughter, Jean, born on November 1, 1935, who was raised by her mother. To support herself and her child while she tried to establish her writing and acting career, Childress held a variety of jobs, including domestic servant, salesperson, and insurance agent. Through these jobs, she became acquainted with numerous working-class people, whose lives became the basis of characters in her later plays and novels.
In 1941 Childress joined the American Negro Theatre (ANT), which met in the...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Alice Childress (CHIHL-drehs) was the first African American woman to write plays that were professionally produced over four decades. Born in South Carolina, she was sent at the age of five to Harlem to live with her grandmother, who encouraged her to write. Childress completed only three years of high school before the deaths of her grandmother and mother forced her to drop out of school. An early marriage ended in divorce, after which she held menial jobs to support herself and her daughter, Jean. A strong interest in theater led her to the stage in 1940.
In 1941, Childress became a founding member of the American Negro Theater, Harlem, where she was an actor and director for eleven years. In her first dramatic work, Florence, an African American woman (originally played by Childress) and a white woman meet in a segregated waiting room. The following year, she wrote the script for a musical revue, Just a Little Simple, based on Langston Hughes’s book Simple Speaks His Mind (1950). Childress initiated Harlem’s first all-union contracts for black performers and stagehands for this and her third play, Gold Through the Trees.
Childress’s first full-length play, Trouble in Mind, which she starred in and directed, explores the tensions among performers in an interracial cast. The play...
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Alice Childress was born October 12, 1920, in Charleston, South Carolina. Childress, who dropped out of high school after two years, was raised in Harlem in New York City by her grandmother, Eliza Campbell. Campbell had only an elementary school education, but she was an accomplished storyteller and likely instilled in Childress an early interest in telling stories. Although her formal education ended early, Childress continued to educate herself during hours spent reading at the public library. She became interested in acting after hearing an actress recite Shakespeare and joined the American Negro Theatre (ANT) in Harlem when she was twenty years old. Childress was an actress and director with ANT for eleven years and appeared in some of their biggest hits, including A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Natural Man, and Anna Lucasta.
Childress wrote her first play, Florence, in 1949. This one-act play explored racial issues and was well received by critics and audiences. Florence examined the prejudices of both white and black characters and established the direction many of Childress's subsequent plays would take. She followed this early success with another play, Just A Little Simple, an adaptation of the Langston Hughes's novel, Simple Speaks His Mind. Childress's third play, written in 1952, Gold Through The Trees, became the first play by a black woman to be professionally produced on the American...
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IntroductionAlice Childress broke the rules for what was acceptable in young adult writing. Her most famous work, A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich, earned her significant praise…as well as a good deal of criticism. The book was included in a Supreme Court lawsuit over appropriate school reading for children because it depicts a 13-year-old boy’s struggle with heroin addiction. Written in multiple points of view and set in a poor urban environment, the novel was a far cry from the all-American wholesomeness of youth fiction like the works of Beverly Cleary. Childress may have stirred controversy with her writing, but in doing so, she told the story of a significant and underrepresented segment of the population of America.
- Early in her life, it was acting—not writing—for which Childress was known. She worked briefly at the American Negro Theatre, which helped launch the careers of contemporaries like Sidney Poitier.
- Childress’ first play, Florence, was produced in 1950, marking an important early success for black female playwrights.
- Childress herself adapted A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich into a screenplay for the 1978 film version.
- In addition to her numerous literary accolades, Childress was the first female recipient of the Obie Award, the Off-Broadway equivalent of the Tony Award.
- In the mid-1990s, songwriter Ben Folds (of Ben Folds Five fame) wrote a song called “Alice Childress.” But don’t go listening for any of Folds’ insights into the esteemed writer. Ironically enough, the song has nothing to do with Childress the author.
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Alice Childress (Critical Survey of Drama)
Alice Childress (Vol. 12)
Alice Childress (Vol. 15)
Alice Childress (Vol. 96)
Alice Childress Criticism
Trouble in Mind (Masterplots II: African American Literature Series)
Trouble in Mind (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Trouble in Mind (Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series)
Alice Childress was born on October 12, 1920, in Charleston, South Carolina, and grew up in Harlem, New York City. She attended New York public schools and later studied at Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study. She has a strong theater background as an actress, director, and playwright, and has authored several plays based on the black American experience, including Trouble in Mind (1955), Wedding Band (1966), and most recently Moms: A Praise Play for a Black Comedienne (1986). In recent years, Childress has also written several novels: A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich and Rainbow Jordan for young adults and A Short Walk (1979) and Many Closets (1987) for adults.
Many of her works have been adapted for film and television, and she has written several screenplays, including one for the film based on her novel A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich. Childress says, "I think in scenes"; thus, even her novels have characteristics of plays. They contain little physical description of settings, and dialogue carries much of the burden for revealing character and moving the story along.
Childress's works, both plays and novels, deal with controversial subjects such as racism and drug addiction and have been banned in several places. One censorship case involving A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich went all the way to the Supreme Court. That novel, however, won the Woodward Park...
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Childress was born on October 12, 1920 (some sources say 1916), in Charleston, South Carolina. When she was about five years old, her parents separated, and she was sent to live in New York City with her maternal grandmother, Eliza White. Reared in Harlem, White encouraged her granddaughter’s creative side. As a child, Childress improvised plays with friends and was a voracious reader. Childress’s education ended after her second year of high school when she was forced to support herself upon the deaths of both White and her mother.
In 1941, Childress became involved with the American Negro Theater. Though technically an amateur group, Childress learned every aspect of the theater, from set building to directing, acting, and writing, in her 11 years of involvement. During this time period, Childress held many menial jobs, including an salesperson and domestic, to provide for herself and her daughter, Jean, from her first marriage. These experiences played into her later work, especially her writing.
Childress’s first success was as an actress, including an appearance in the original Broadway company of Anna Lucasta. In 1949, Childress wrote her first produced play, a one-act entitled Florence. Three years later, Childress wrote Gold Through the Trees, the first play by an African-American woman to be professionally produced on the American stage. Childress directed the Off-Broadway production of her play Trouble...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Alice Childress was born October 12, 1920, in Charleston, South Carolina. She grew up in Harlem, New York City, where she was raised by her grandmother, the daughter of a former slave. Childress was inspired to write at an early age by her grandmother, who would sit with her at the window and encourage her to make up stories about the people who walked by. Childress attended two years of high school but left before receiving a degree.
In 1941, Childress joined the American Negro Theater, in Harlem, where she worked as an actress, playwright, and director for the next twelve years. Florence (1949), her first play to be produced, centers on a discussion between an African-American woman and a white woman who happen to meet in a railroad station in the South. Her Gold Through the Trees (1952) was the first play by an African- American woman to be professionally produced on the American stage. Her play Trouble in Mind (1955), about the difficulties faced by black actors, won the 1956 Obie Award for the Best Original Off- Broadway Play, making Childress the first female playwright ever to have won an Obie. Wedding Band (1966), her play about interracial marriage, set in South Carolina in 1918, was controversial, and the television broadcast was banned by a number of stations. Wine in the Wilderness (1969), also a controversial work, addresses issues of socioeconomic and gender conflict within the African-American community....
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