Intensely protective concerning the details of his private life, Ed Bullins has nevertheless been a highly visible force in the development of African American theater since the mid-1960’s. Reared primarily by his civil-servant mother in North Philadelphia, Bullins attended a predominantly white grade school before transferring to an inner-city junior high, where he became involved with the street gang called the Jet Cobras. Like his semiautobiographical character Steve Benson (The Reluctant Rapist, In New England Winter, The Duplex), Bullins suffered a near-fatal knife wound, in the area of his heart, in a street fight. After dropping out of high school, he served in the United States Navy from 1952 to 1955. In 1958, he moved to California, where he passed his high school graduation equivalency examination and attended Los Angeles City College from 1961 to 1963.
Bullins’s 1963 move to San Francisco signaled the start of his emergence as an influential figure in African American literary culture. The first national publication of his essays in 1963 initiated a period of tremendous creativity extending into the mid-1970’s. Actively committed to black nationalist politics by 1965, he began working with community theater organizations such as Black Arts/West, the Black Student Union at San Francisco State College, and Black House of San Francisco, which he founded along with playwright Marvin X. The first major production of Bullins’s drama, a program including How Do You Do?, Dialect Determinism, and Clara’s Ole Man, premiered at the Firehouse Repertory Theater in San Francisco on August 5, 1965. At about the same time, Bullins assumed the position of minister of culture with the Black Panther Party, then emerging as a major force in national politics. Breaking with the Panthers in 1967, reportedly in disagreement with...
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