Aishah Rahman, born Virginia Hughes, was raised as a foster child in New York's Harlem by a "straight-laced religious family." After high school graduation in 1954, Rahman sought the freedom that New York's Greenwich Village offered. In the 1960s, however, she attended Howard University where she earned a BA in political science. She returned to New York City to begin her teaching career at Queens College and her political activism with Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and other groups. It was during this period that Virginia Hughes converted to Islam and took the name Aishah Rahman.
Rahman's writing career was inspired by the 1971 production of LeRoi Jones's ( Amiri Baraka's) play Slave Ship, and she felt compelled to pen Lady Day: A Musical Tragedy, an exploration of the "interior landscape" of singer Billy Holiday. Rahman's daughter, Yoruba, was born while her first play was receiving a 1972 production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Wanting to devote more attention to her writing and her new daughter, Rahman left the city to teach at Amherst College in Massachusetts. She returned within a few years to continue writing and to begin a ten-year teaching stint at Nassau Community College on Long Island. In 1985 she formed Blackberry Productions with actor and dancer Stephanie Berry.
In 1990 Rahman was invited to lecture at Brown University. While there she met Paula Vogel, the director of the creative writing program, who offered her a visiting professorship. That one year turned into a permanent position at Brown. Rahman's most recent projects include the play Only in America, which emerged from the Clarence Thomas--Anita Hill hearing, and Anybody Seen Marie Laveau?, an opera based on the nineteenth-century New Orleans voodoo