Ed Bullins Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although known primarily as a playwright, Ed Bullins has also worked in forms ranging from fiction and the essay to the “revolutionary television commercial.” His novel The Reluctant Rapist (1973) focuses on the early experience of Steve Benson, a semiautobiographical character who appears in several plays, including In New England Winter, The Duplex, and The Fabulous Miss Marie. The Hungered Ones: Early Writings (1971), a collection of Bullins’s early stories and essays, some of which are loosely autobiographical, provides an overview of his early perspective. Active as an editor and a theorist throughout his career, Bullins has written introductions to anthologies such as The New Lafayette Theater Presents (1974) and New Plays from the Black Theatre (1969). Along with the introduction to his own collection The Theme Is Blackness, these introductions provide a powerful and influential theoretical statement on the aesthetics and politics of the African American theater during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The Theme Is Blackness also contains scripts for “rituals” and mixed-media productions, including “Black Revolutionary Commercials,” which reflect the concern with electronic media visible in many of his later plays.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ed Bullins won the 1968 Vernon Rice Award for The Electronic Nigger, the 1971 Obie Award for In New England Winter and The Fabulous Miss Marie, and in 1975 both the Obie and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for The Taking of Miss Janie. In 1997 he received the Living Legend Award from the Black Theatre Conference, and in 1999 he won the August Wilson Playwriting Award and the Garland Anderson Playwright Award. He has also received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation (1971, 1976), the Rockefeller Foundation (1968, 1970, 1973), the Creative Artists Program Service (1973), the Black Arts Alliance (1971), and the National Endowment for the Arts (1974).

As much as any contemporary American playwright, Bullins has forged a powerful synthesis of avant-garde technique and revolutionary commitment challenging easy preconceptions concerning the relationship between politics and aesthetics. Like Latin American writers Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez and African writers Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Wole Soyinka, Bullins sees no inherent contradiction between the use of experimental techniques and the drive to reach a mass audience alienated from the dominant social/economic/racial hierarchy. Separating himself from the cultural elite that has claimed possession of the modernist and postmodernist tradition, Bullins adapts the tradition to the frames of reference and to the immediate concerns of his audience, primarily but not exclusively within the African American community. Although he frequently comments on and revises the philosophical and aesthetic concerns of European American modernism, he does so to clarify his audience’s vision of an American culture riddled by psychological and political contradictions that intimate the need for a basic change.

Paralleling the political modernism advocated by...

(The entire section is 764 words.)


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bigsby, C. W. E. The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. A strong chapter, “Black Drama: The Public Voice,” includes a protracted discussion of Bullins’s work as “a moving spirit behind the founding of another black theatre institution, the New Lafayette Theatre.” Index.

DeGaetani, John L. A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. After writing more than fifty plays, Bullins still admires Samuel Beckett and still deals with the theme of “the breakdown of communications among loved ones, and misunderstanding among good intentions.” Contains an excellent update of his activities and a strong discussion of the themes of rape in his work.

Hay, Samuel A. Ed Bullins: A Literary Biography. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1997. Despite the title, Hay’s “biography” contains few biographical details and really focuses on Bullins’s many (more than one hundred) dramas, which he examines in some detail. The book, which was written with Bullins’s approval, provides readers with the social, political, and intellectual context in which the plays were written. Hay includes an exhaustive bibliography, which helps to resolve some issues about the dates the plays were written, produced, and...

(The entire section is 482 words.)