Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

Aesthetically and politically, Charles Fuller’s plays occupy a middle ground between the more conservative, conventional dramatic narratives of black playwrights such as Lorraine Hansberry and the politically radical, absurdist drama of writers such as Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). Fuller’s first major success was with The Brownsville Raid (1976), based on a true incident. In that play, he re-creates the story of the dishonorable discharge in 1906 of an entire black regiment from the Army on the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt. Like A Soldier’s Play, The Brownsville Raid is organized along the lines of a mystery, slowly revealing the psychic torments that racism inflicts on African Americans. The play’s focus is on a black sergeant’s subsequent crisis of faith.

A Soldier’s Play won immediate acclaim as a portrait of human relations, winning three Obies, an Audelco award, a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, an Outer Circle Award, and the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1984, the play was adapted to film by Norman Jewison as A Soldier’s Story, and Fuller wrote the screenplay, which won the 1985 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for screenplay. Fuller has received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a Creative Artists Public Service grant.

Fuller has engaged in writing a five-part dramatic history of African Americans from the Civil War to 1900. The first play, Sally, opened at the First National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta in 1988, and the second play in the series, Prince, was produced in 1989.