Modern Black American Poets and Dramatists

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Alice Childress

1920-1994

ALICE CHILDRESS was bom in Charleston, South Carolina, on October 12, 1920. She was raised in Harlem in New York City by her grandmother, Eliza Campbell.Although her education extended only to the fifth grade, Campbell was a great storyteller; according to Childress, however, "she was not fond of remembering her mother's account of slavery and the mockery of so-called freedom" in the Reconstruction South. Childress dropped out of high school after two years, but was a voracious reader and continued her education at the public library. She became interested in acting after hearing Laura Bowman recite scenes from Shakespeare and, in 1941, joined the American Negro Theatre in Harlem, going on to perform in some of ANT's biggest hits, such as On Strivers' Row and Anna Lucasta.

In 1949 Childress wrote her first play, a one-act piece entitled Florence. The play (purportedly written in one night) was a moderate success and proved typical of Childress's work in its exploration of contemporary racial issues. Florence was followed by Just a Little Simple ( 1950), an adaptation of Langston Hughes's novel Simple Speaks His Mind, and by Gold through the Trees ( 1952), a play about Harriet Tubman that was the first play by a black woman to be professionally produced in the United States.In 1955 Childress wrote Trouble in Mind, a critically and financially successful play about a group of black actors who, while rehearsing a lynching melodrama written and directed by whites entitled Chaos in Belleville, protest the offensive stereotyping of the play's black characters. Childress published the play in Lindsay Patterson's Black Theatre in 1971, deleting a final act in which the director agrees to a rewrite of Chaos. Plays following Trouble in Mind include Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (produced 1966; published 1973), a play about an interracial couple in Charleston in 1918; Wine in the Wilderness ( 1969), a television play about the insensitivity of "revolutionary" black nationalists toward less educated, older, and less politically correct black Americans; the one-act String (produced 1969; published, with Mojo, 1971), an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's short story "A Piece of String

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