Ed Bullins Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 773 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ed Bullins is one of the outstanding black dramatists in the United States. He was born in 1935 in a black ghetto in Philadelphia. As a young child, he was an excellent student at a white grade school, but after his transfer to an inner-city junior high school, he joined a gang and became a “street nigger,” as he termed it. He dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Navy in 1952, where he remained for three years. In 1958, he moved to California and, after earning a general equivalency diploma, went to Los Angeles City College part time in 1961. His move to San Francisco a few years later was the catalyst for both his black activist period and his playwriting, which were deeply connected.{$S[A]Bass, Kingsley B., Jr.;Bullins, Ed}

Between 1965 and 1967, when Bullins left San Francisco, he wrote a dozen short plays, which fell into two major categories, black revolutionary plays and plays of black contemporary life. Dialect Determinism: Or, The Rally is an example of the former in its emphasis on raising the black consciousness. Clara’s Ole Man is a naturalistic slice of ghetto life. In all these plays, Bullins generates the conflict through depicting blacks who have accepted the white view of success and denied their origins and culture in the process.

During these years, Bullins and Malcolm X founded Black House, a cultural and political institution associated with the Black Panther Party. Bullins left the party in 1967, after Eldridge Cleaver had decided to join with white radicals. In 1968, after Bullins was brought to New York as playwright-in-residence at the New Lafayette Theater, a trio of his plays, including The Electronic Nigger and Clara’s Ole Man, was produced. He was awarded the Vernon Rice Award, which resulted in his selection as guest editor of a black theater issue of Drama Review in the summer of 1968.

An important aspect of Bullins’s career at the New Lafayette was his work on a proposed group of twenty plays, which he called the Twentieth Century Cycle. The plays were to depict the lives of several young men growing up...

(The entire section is 871 words.)