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 Show) 1972
You Gonna Let Me Take You Out Tonight, Baby? 1972
House Party, A Soul Happening [music by Pat Patrick] 1973
The Taking of Miss Janie 1975
Home Boy [music by Aaron Bell] 1976
I Am Lucy Terry 1976
Jo Anne!!! 1976
The Mystery of Phillis Wheatley 1976
Sepia Star, or Chocolate Comes to the Cotton Club [music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden] 1977
Storyville [music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden] 1977
C'mon Back to Heavenly House 1978
Steve and Velma 1980
Bullins Does Bullins 1988
American Griot 1990
I Think It's Gonna Work Out Fine [with Idris Ackamoor and Rhodessa Jones] 1990
Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam 1991
Raining Down Stars: Sepia Stories of the Dark Diaspora [with Idris Ackamoor and Rhodessa Jones] 1992
OTHER MAJOR WORKS
Drama Review [editor] (anthology) 1968
New Plays from the Black Theatre [editor and contributor] (anthology) 1969
The Hungered One: Early Writings (short stories) 1971
To Raise the Dead and Foretell the Future (poetry) 1971
The Ritual Masters (screenplay) 1972
The Reluctant Rapist (novel) 1973
The New Lafayette Theatre Presents: Plays with Aesthetic Comments by Six Black Playwrights [editor] (anthology) 1974
*This work is attributed to Bullins, although he publicly denies having written it.
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...
(The entire section is 17495 words.)
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...
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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...
(The entire section is 545 words.)