Ed Bullins 1935-
(Also wrote under pseudonym Kingsley B. Bass, Jr.)
As the author of more than thirty plays, Bullins is regarded as one of the most significant playwrights to emerge from the Black Power Movement. His works are acclaimed for their realistic, sometimes controversial depiction of African American ghetto life. From 1967 to 1973 Bullins was the Playwright-in-Residence at Harlem's New Lafayette Theater, and it was during this period that Bullins produced some of his most popular plays, including Goin' a Buffalo, In the Wine Time, The Duplex, Clara's Ole Man, and In New England Winter.
Bullins was born in 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he grew up on the rough streets of North Philadelphia. In 1952 he dropped out of school and joined the Navy. After three years of world travel, Bullins returned to Philadelphia. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and enrolled in Los Angeles City College. He continued his education at San Francisco State University, and after attending a production of The Dutchman and The Slave by the black radical Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Bullins realized that he would pursue a career in the theater. Influenced by Baraka's works and his call for black identity, he joined The Black Panthers and served as cultural director of a African American artists consortium called Black House. He eventually broke with the Black Panthers and when the director of the New Lafayette Theatre, Robert Macbeth, invited Bullins to stage In the Wine Time there, Bullins accepted. He moved to New York in 1967 and began his long association with the artists at the New Lafayette.
Bullins's work is concerned with the candid depiction of the African American experience. To this end, Bullins has created a body of work which falls into two categories: those of the "Twentieth-Century Cycle," or cycle plays, and non-cycle plays. Among the latter are Goin' a Buffalo, Clara's Ole Man, The Pig Pen, and The Taking of Miss Janie. In order to create his theater of black experience, Bullins has striven to attain a recognizable thematic and character progression throughout these plays. In this way, the audience feels an even greater affinity and connection with Bullins's people. In The Pig Pen and its sequel The Taking of Miss Janie, Bullins introduces and reintroduces characters such as Len, a Black Nationalist, and Sharon, his white friend whom he eventually marries. With the recurrence of characters comes the recurrence of themes; miscegenation, white/black relations and their viability, and the schism within the Black Power Movement in general. This technique also allows Bullins the opportunity to makehis characters current with the changing times.
Although initial critical reaction to Bullins's work was generally favorable, some viewers complained that his early plays were too violent and offered an unflattering picture of African American life. Several black critics rallied to defend Bullins and attacked white critics for using "white" notions of good drama to evaluate black art. Today, Bullins is recognized as one of the leading African American playwrights in America. Commentators agree that his plays, devoid of political or revolutionary rhetoric, force viewers to examine themselves and the conditions surrounding them.
Clara's Ole Man 1965
Dialect Determinism (or The Rally) 1965
How Do You Do? 1965
The Game of Adam and Eve [with Shirley Tarbell] 1966
It Has No Choice 1966
A Minor Scene 1966
The Theme is Blackness 1966
The Corner 1968
The Electronic Nigger and Others [includes Clara's Ole Man and A Son, Come Home] 1968
Goin' a Buffalo: A Tragifantasy 1968
In the Wine Time 1968
The Gentleman Caller 1969
The Man Who Dug Fish 1969
*We Righteous Bombers [as Kingsley Bass, Jr.] 1969
The Devil Catchers 1970
The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements 1970
The Fabulous Miss Marie 1970
Four Dynamite Plays: It Bees Dot Way, Death List, The Pig Pen, Night of the Beast 1970
The Helper 1970
A Ritual to Raise the Dead and Foretell the Future 1970
Street Sounds 1970
In New England Winter 1971
Next Time 1972
The Psychic Pretenders (A Black Magic...
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Ed Bullins with Richard Wesley (1973)
SOURCE: An Interview in Black Creation, Vol. 4, No. 2, Winter, 1973, pp. 8-10.
[In the following interview with dramatist and editor Richard Wesley, Bullins examines the responsibilities of the black artist to the black community.]
[Richard Wesley]: What points can be made for the role of the critic in the arts?
[Ed Bullins]: Many points can be made, though I question whether Black critics in this period are making points worthy of consideration. The critics almost without exception do not understand their role, are confused by its possibilities or, more often, are critics in name only.
How do you feel critics have failed thus far?
A critic should be some sort of intellectual/aesthetic guide to the audience, the reader, the appreciator. But in the Black Arts today you find a group of so-called critics almost devoid of original ideas and without an artistic or intellectual guiding ethos. They do shoddy newspaper journalism and call it criticism. They do not have the range of vision to exploit the demands of their craft. If Black Arts has a history, some philosophical principles, a cadre of evolving practitioners, then these things should be put in some sort of perspective by the critic. Critics do not do their study/work. They believe themselves knowledgeable but don't have a...
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Overviews And General Studies
Lance Jeffers (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: "Bullins, Baraka, and Elder: The Dawn of Grandeur in Black Drama," in CLA Journal, Vol. XVI, No. 1, September, 1972, pp. 32-48.
[Jeffers is an American poet, short story writer, and critic. In the following essay, he analyzes Bullins's honest and unsentimental depiction of the black working class in Clara's Ole Man and In the Wine Time.]
There are hellish depths and godly heights in the black experience that await the black artist as he charts our voyage into the future. Coltrane and Bird and Gene Ammons and Sidney Bechet and Johnny Hodges confidently exploit these heights, these depths. In black music there is a heavenly rage and an ecstatic prophecy and a danger and bottomless depth and the presence of juice and viscera that are the nerve and the sinew of experienced oppression, the bowel of the future of black life. The black musician, from the time of the spirituals, has not hesitated to touch this nerve, to feel this sinew, to dip his hand into the viscera of black life. What a tradition there is for Nina Simone to follow, a tradition centuries old and planets deep. But the black writer too often has stood timid, awed, whitened, fearful, educated, before the torrential currents of the black experience. Although our literature is massive, although our literary tradition is distinguished, although no other American writer has...
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The Taking Of Miss Janie
Edith Oliver (review date 24 March 1975)
SOURCE: "Fugue for Three Roommates," in The New Yorker, Vol. LI, No. 5, March 24, 1975, pp. 61-3.
[Below, Oliver offers a positive assessment of The Taking of Miss Janie, maintaining that "Mr. Bullins has rarely been wittier or, for that matter, more understanding and vigorous. "]
The Taking of Miss Janie, a good new play by Ed Bullins, at the Henry Street Settlement's New Federal Theatre (on Grand Street), can be most briefly described as a fugue, whose themes are the feelings and experiences of a number of young people during the nineteen-sixties. The action, which takes place in California, starts out at, and keeps returning to, a party that three black roommates, all of them college students, give for a number of their white and black friends. The principal story concerns black Monty, one of the roommates, who has met white Janie in a "creative-writing class" and invites her to the party, thereby beginning a sexless friendship that continues for thirteen sterile years and then abruptly changes in the bed that is the setting for the prologue and the epilogue of the play. As was true of Mr. Bullins' The Fabulous Miss Marie, each of the leading characters, with a spotlight on him, talks at one time or another directly to the audience about what is on his mind...
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Bullins, Ed. "Playwright's Journal 1975." Confrontation, Nos. 33-34 (Fall-Winter 1986-1987): 269-73.
Discusses the critical reception of The Taking of Miss Janie, and his impressions upon winning the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for that play.
Gussow, Mel. "Bullins, the Artist and the Activist, Speaks." The New York Times (22 September 1971): 54.
Offers the playwright's views on critics, the importance of theater to the black community, and playwriting as an "exact craft."
Jackmon, Marvin X. "An Interview with Ed Bullins: Black Theater." The Negro Digest XVIII, No. 6 (April 1969): 9-16.
Marvin X (also known as El Muhajir) and Bullins discuss "black theater and some of the forces and personalities important to it."
King, Kimball. "Ed Bullins." In Ten Modern American Playwrights: An Annotated Bibliography, pp. 137-54. New York: Garland Publishing, 1982.
Annotated bibliographic essay which includes primary stage sources up to You Gonna Let Me Take You Out Tonight, Baby?, film adaptations, and secondary sources.
Sanders, Leslie. "Ed Bullins." In American Playwrights since 1945: A Guide to Scholarship, Criticism, and Performance, edited by Philip C. Kolin, pp. 66-79. New York:...
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