Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

George C. Wolfe—a gay African American who was born and raised in Frankfort, Kentucky, and was educated at Pomona College—has earned many accolades during his impressive career as a writer, director, and producer. Wolfe was nominated for two Tony Awards for his production of Jelly’s Last Jam, recognizing his dual role as author and director. Wolfe’s earlier plays, including The Colored Museum (pr. 1986, pb. 1988) and Spunk: Three Tales (pr. 1990), heralded the arrival of an important voice. In 1994, he won a Tony Award for Best Director for his direction of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (pr. 1993). As artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Joseph Papp Public Theater, Wolfe has not shied away from controversy or creative license. Wolfe uses theater as a social and political tool.

Jelly’s Last Jam moved from the West Coast to Broadway in 1992 with Gregory Hines in the lead role. In all, the production received six Drama Desk Awards and eleven Tony Award nominations.

In a 1994 interview for American Theatre, Wolfe said,There is no purity in America. We’re all mutts, and we’re all informed by each other. I’m a composite, genetically, of a number of things—African, Indian, white—I found out a Polish gypsy is in my family. I’m a composite of those things, but fundamentally I’m an African American.

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