Willis Richardson, Forgotten Pioneer of African-American Drama


During the 1920s and 1930s, Willis Richardson (1889-1977) was respected as a significant African-American playwright and drama anthologist. His plays were performed by numerous black high school, college, and university drama groups and by various theater companies in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Baltimore, and Atlanta. Several of his 46 plays were published in various magazines. In his essays, he urged African Americans to seek their dramatic material in their own experiences. He also edited three anthologies of plays by black dramatists. With the opening performance of The Chip Woman's Fortune (1923), he became the first African American to have a play produced on Broadway. But between 1940 and his death in 1977, Richardson came to realize that his plays were period pieces and that they no longer reflected the African-American experience. In spite of his enormous contributions, Richardson died in obscurity, and his work has been neglected by scholars. This critical biography offers the first extensive consideration of Richardson's life and work and firmly reestablishes his place in the history of the theater.

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