Lonne Elder III Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Lonne Elder III was born in Americus, Georgia, on December 26, 1931, to Lonne Elder II and Quincy Elder. While he was still an infant, his family moved to New York and New Jersey. He was orphaned at the age of ten and ended up living with relatives on a New Jersey farm. Rural life, however, was not for him, and, after he ran away a few times, he was sent to live with his uncle, a numbers runner, in Jersey City.

In 1949, Elder entered New Jersey State Teachers College, where he stayed less than a year. He then moved to New York City and took courses at the Jefferson School and the New School for Social Research, while becoming involved in the movement for social equality for black people. In 1952, he was drafted into the United States Army. While stationed near Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, he met the poet and playwright Robert Hayden, who encouraged Elder with his writing.

Back in New York City in 1953, Elder shared an apartment with the aspiring playwright Douglas Turner Ward and began studying acting. Supporting himself through jobs as a dockworker, waiter, and poker dealer, among other things, he pursued his acting career, appearing on Broadway in 1959 in A Raisin in the Sun and with the Negro Ensemble Company (cofounded by Ward) in Ward’s play Day of Absence (pr. 1965). During this time, he met such prominent black writers as Lorraine Hansberry and John Oliver Killens, married Betty Gross (in 1963), and...

(The entire section is 553 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Working for the stage, television, and motion pictures, Lonne Elder III was the link in African American drama between Lorraine Hansberry in the 1950’s and August Wilson in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He once said that he was representative of the new writers and new opportunities characteristic of the 1960’s. Celebrated for his powerful family dramas, he provided a sense of black life as “a glorious, adventurous thing, constantly unfolding in everyday life in its beauty, speech, walk, dance, and even in its anger.”

The watershed event in modern African American drama began to unfold March 11, 1959, with the first of 530 Broadway performances of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The first play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and the first to be directed by a black director in more than half a century, it brought to Hansberry the first New York Drama Critics Circle Award ever to go to an African American playwright. While the production itself was sufficient to rejuvenate African American theater, virtually all the people concerned with it became creative forces in their own right. The play was directed by Lloyd Richards, and its actors included Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Douglas Turner Ward, and Lonne Elder III.

Elder savored success whenever it came, for he had encountered loss and uncertainty quite early. While yet a baby, his family—including two brothers and twin sisters—moved to New Jersey. There, when he was ten, his father died, and his mother was killed shortly thereafter in an automobile accident. Several unhappy months on a relative’s farm ended when he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Jersey City. Such was the beginning of his informal education and the source of much of the urban texture of his plays. His uncle was a numbers runner who quickly saw his bright nephew’s value as a cover. He treated him as a capable partner, teaching him the ways of the city and demonstrating the positive side of hustling—the hard work required to survive on the streets—all to become familiar elements of Elder’s plays.

Formal and informal, Elder’s education was...

(The entire section is 904 words.)