Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Lonne Elder III was born in Americus, Georgia, in 1931. His family soon moved to New Jersey, where he grew up. In the mid-l950’s, Elder joined the Harlem Writers Guild. He identifies Douglas Turner Ward of that group as a major influence on his career as a playwright.

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men was first performed at Wagner College on Staten Island in 1965. A Stanley Drama Award and a John Hay Whitney Fellowship enabled Elder to study filmmaking at the Yale School of Drama from 1965 to 1967. Other fellowships followed. The revised version of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men was first performed professionally in 1969, by the Negro Ensemble Company.

Although there were dissenting voices, most critics gave high praise to Ceremonies in Dark Old Men. The play was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1969, and it won the Outer Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Vernon Rice Award, the Stella Holt Memorial Playwrights Award, and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award.

Most viewers thought that Elder avoided the stereotypes and preoccupations present in the works of other African American dramatists of the 1960’s. The play does not focus, for example, on black-white confrontations and the social evils of racism. Clearly, all of the Parker family members have been scarred deeply by these evils, but family relationships and universal human aspirations make the Parkers something much more than victims of injustice and make the play something much more than a tract against oppression.