Ed Bullins 1935-
(Also wrote under pseudonym Kingsley B. Bass, Jr.)
As the author of more than thirty plays, Bullins is regarded as one of the most significant playwrights to emerge from the Black Power Movement. His works are acclaimed for their realistic, sometimes controversial depiction of African American ghetto life. From 1967 to 1973 Bullins was the Playwright-in-Residence at Harlem's New Lafayette Theater, and it was during this period that Bullins produced some of his most popular plays, including Goin' a Buffalo, In the Wine Time, The Duplex, Clara's Ole Man, and In New England Winter.
Bullins was born in 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he grew up on the rough streets of North Philadelphia. In 1952 he dropped out of school and joined the Navy. After three years of world travel, Bullins returned to Philadelphia. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and enrolled in Los Angeles City College. He continued his education at San Francisco State University, and after attending a production of The Dutchman and The Slave by the black radical Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Bullins realized that he would pursue a career in the theater. Influenced by Baraka's works and his call for black identity, he joined The Black Panthers and served as cultural director of a African American artists consortium called Black House. He eventually broke with the Black Panthers and when the director of the New Lafayette Theatre, Robert Macbeth, invited Bullins to stage In the Wine Time there, Bullins accepted. He moved to New York in 1967 and began his long association with the artists at the New Lafayette.
Bullins's work is concerned with the candid depiction of the African American experience. To this end, Bullins has created a body of work which falls into two categories: those of the "Twentieth-Century Cycle," or cycle plays, and non-cycle plays. Among the latter are Goin' a Buffalo, Clara's Ole Man, The Pig Pen, and The Taking of Miss Janie. In order to create his theater of black experience, Bullins has striven to attain a recognizable thematic and character progression throughout these plays. In this way, the audience feels an even greater affinity and connection with Bullins's people. In The Pig Pen and its sequel The Taking of Miss Janie, Bullins introduces and reintroduces characters such as Len, a Black Nationalist, and Sharon, his white friend whom he eventually marries. With the recurrence of characters comes the recurrence of themes; miscegenation, white/black relations and their viability, and the schism within the Black Power Movement in general. This technique also allows Bullins the opportunity to makehis characters current with the changing times.
Although initial critical reaction to Bullins's work was generally favorable, some viewers complained that his early plays were too violent and offered an unflattering picture of African American life. Several black critics rallied to defend Bullins and attacked white critics for using "white" notions of good drama to evaluate black art. Today, Bullins is recognized as one of the leading African American playwrights in America. Commentators agree that his plays, devoid of political or revolutionary rhetoric, force viewers to examine themselves and the conditions surrounding them.