Alice Childress

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Although she wrote many plays, Alice Childress is perhaps better known for her young adult novels, especially A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich (1973). Childress wrote the screenplay for the film based on this book, which premiered in 1978. Her other novels include Rainbow Jordan (1981) and Those Other People (1989), both for young adults, and A Short Walk (1979).


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Alice Childress’s Gold Through the Trees was the first play by an African American woman to be produced professionally with union actors. In 1956 Childress became the first woman to receive an Obie Award, for Trouble in Mind. She was appointed to the Radcliffe Institute (now the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute) for Independent Study (1966-1968) and was awarded a graduate medal for writing produced there. Her novel A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich was named the ALA Best Young Adult Book of 1975, and it received the Jane Addams Award for a young adult novel in 1974.


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Austin, Gayle. “Alice Childress: Black Woman Playwright as Feminist Critic.” Southern Quarterly 25 (Spring, 1987): 53-62. Focuses on Childress as social critic and transformer of images of black women. Discusses Trouble in Mind and Wine in the Wilderness in the context of Elizabeth Abel’s three stages of feminist criticism.

Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. “Black Women Playwrights Exorcizing Myths.” Phylon 48 (Fall, 1997): 229-239. Examines the work of Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange in dispelling stereotypical myths of African American characters, such as the tragic mulatto and the comic Negro, and in presenting new constructions, such as the black militant and the evolving black woman.

Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988. Contains summaries and comparisons of the work of Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange.

Childress, Alice. Interview by Kathleen Betsko and Rachel Koenig. In Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987. An interesting conversation with Childress.

Dugan, Olga. “Telling the Truth: Alice Childress as Theorist and Playwright.” The Journal of Negro History 81 (1996): 123-137. Examines Childress’s essays as a reflection of her theory of a black self-determinist theater, in which individual black playwrights should use Negro culture and history in plays that demonstrate black self-determination. Childress believed such plays should focus on realistic situations and conditions under which African Americans live.

Jennings, LaVinia Delois. Alice Childress. New York: Twayne, 1995. A comprehensive, accessible critical introduction to Childress’s life and work. Especially helpful are a succinct chronology of Childress’s life and work and a bibliography divided into primary sources—Childress’s novels, plays, productions in other media, and her articles, essays, and interviews—and secondary sources.

Maguire, Roberta S. “Alice Childress.” In Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Third Series, edited by Christopher Wheatley. Vol. 249 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. A good introduction to Childress. Contains biographical information and an evaluation of her works.

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Critical Essays