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Black Playwrights You Should Know

In honor of Black History Month, The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute is celebrating Black artists in theatre and highlighting sixteen Black playwrights you should know. Continue reading for a biography of each playwright and a selection of their notable plays. To find more works by Black playwrights, explore the LSTFI Scene Database!

James Baldwin

James Baldwin, a distinguished American writer, left an indelible mark across theatre, literature, poetry, and academia. Born and raised in New York, Baldwin honed his craft at the Actors Studio, studying under Lee Strasberg. His numerous accolades and achievements include the 1954 Guggenheim Fellowship, a prestigious honor awarded to those “who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.”

  • The Amen Corner (1954)
  • Blues for Mister Charlie (1964)

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka was an American writer whose prolific work spanned poetry, drama, fiction, essays, and music criticism. Born in 1934, he initially gained recognition under the name LeRoi Jones before adopting the moniker Amiri Baraka. Best known for his award-winning play Dutchman, his works are celebrated for their sharp social commentary and uncompromising exploration of race, identity, and politics in America.

  • Dutchman (1964)
  • The Slave (1964)
  • A Black Mass (1966)

Jocelyn Bioh

Jocelyn Bioh, a Ghanaian-American actress and playwright, is known for her thought-provoking works that delve into themes of identity and culture. As a performer, she has graced both Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, including the original Broadway cast of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Bioh’s writing earned her a place on The Kilroys’ List in both 2015 and 2016. Her play School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play cinched the 2018 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, The Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for New American Playwright and the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award. The piece received additional nominations for an Off Broadway Alliance Award and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.

  • School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (2018)
  • Nollywood Dreams (2018)

Alice Childress

A founding member of the American Negro Theatre (ANT), Alice Childress left her mark on American theatre as both an actress and playwright. Penned while in company at ANT, her play Trouble in Mind found success during its 1955 Off-Broadway run and was in discussion for a Broadway transfer. Childress, however, refused to compromise her artistic vision, thus forfeiting her chance to become the first Black female playwright represented on Broadway. Although Childress passed away in 1994, Trouble in Mind finally made its long-awaited Broadway debut in 2021, garnering four Tony Award nominations.

  • Trouble in Mind (1955)
  • Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story In Black and White (1966)

Jackie Sibblies Drury

Jackie Sibblies Drury, an American playwright, boasts numerous accolades, awards, and fellowships. Her 2018 comedy, Fairview, garnered acclaim for its uncompromising exploration of race within “a highly conceptual, layered structure.” Drury’s best known work, Fairview ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2019.

  • We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915 (2012)
  • Social Creatures (2013)
  • Fairview (2018)

Marcus Gardley

An American poet, playwright and screenwriter, Marcus Gardley served as an ensemble member playwright at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago prior to its transition to a non-producing foundation. As of July 2023, Gardley has been named the Co-Chair of the Playwriting Program at Yale University’s David Geffen School of Drama.

Although best known for his stage plays, Gardley will soon transition to the big screen, penning the screenplay for the upcoming film adaptation of the Broadway musical, The Color Purple. Slated for release in December 2023, the film features an all-star cast including Fantasia, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, and Halle Bailey.

  • The House That Will Not Stand (2014)
  • X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation (2015)
  • black odyssey (2017)

Lorraine Hansberry

American writer Lorraine Hansberry achieved a historic milestone as the first Black woman to be represented as a playwright on Broadway. Her magnum opus, A Raisin in the Sun, is widely celebrated as a modern classic and pivotal work in American theatre. The play chronicles the lives of three generations of Youngers – a Black family living in a Chicago – as they navigate racial discrimination and strive for a better future. The piece won Hansberry the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award at the age of 29, making her the first Black playwright, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright ever to do so.

  • A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  • The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1965)
  • Les Blancs (1970)

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

A graduate of Princeton University and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is an accomplished and award-winning American playwright. Among his accolades, Jacobs-Jenkins secured the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play and was honored as the 2016 MacArthur Fellow. His plays Gloria and Everybody were each finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

In December 2022, LSTFI staged his play Everybody – a modern adaptation of the 15th century morality play Everyman – featuring a cast of NYU Tisch at Strasberg students!

  • Appropriate (2014)
  • An Octoroon (2014)
  • Gloria (2015)
  • Everybody (2017)

Adrienne Kennedy

Adrienne Kennedy, a recipient of a Lifetime Obie Award and the Gold Medal for Drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, stands among the most distinguished American playwrights. The Gold Medal for Drama, presented every six years, has been awarded to only sixteen individuals in the award’s history. Fellow recipients include Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennesee Williams.

Kennedy’s best-known work, Funnyhouse of a Negro, earned the 1964 Obie Award for Distinguished Play, sharing the honor with Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman.

  • Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964)
  • The Owl Answers (1965)
  • The Ohio State Murders (1992)

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Tarell Alvin McCraney, an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor, is the former chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama and a member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble.

McCraney co-authored the 2016 film Moonlight alongside Barry Jenkins, earning an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is based on McCraney’s own unpublished play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

  • The Brother/Sister Plays (2009)
  • Choir Boy (2012)

Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage, a critically-acclaimed and award-winning American playwright, holds the distinction of being the only woman to have won the Putlizer Prize for Drama twice. She first claimed the prize in 2009 for her play Ruined before her historic second win in 2017 for Sweat. Her work, known for bringing challenging and often overlooked stories to the stage, frequently highlights the experiences of Black working-class people.

  • Intimate Apparel (2003)
  • Ruined (2008)
  • By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (2011)
  • Sweat (2015)

Suzan-Lori Parks

Suzan-Lori Parks, an American playwright, screenwriter, musician and novelist, was the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Her accolades also include a MacArthur Genius Award and the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for Excellence in the Arts. Notably, the Gish Prize is presented annually to a person “who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” In 2023, Time magazine cited Parks as one of the “100 Most Influential People.”

  • Venus (1996)
  • Topdog/Underdog (2001)
  • 365 Days/365 Plays (2006)

Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange, a prolific American playwright and poet, embraced feminism and intersectionality in her work, often tackling issues of race and Black power. Her most renowned work, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, first opened in 1976, earning an Obie Award while still Off-Broadway at the Public Theater.

  • for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf (1975)
  • spell #7 (1979)

Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is an American actress, playwright and professor. In addition to her roles in film and television – notably The West Wing, Nurse Jackie, and The American President – Smith is best known for her one-woman shows. Many of Smith’s plays are written in the style of documentary theatre or verbatim theatre, where she borrows exact wording – even intonation and delivery – directly from real interviews. Her work often seeks to illuminate critical social issues like racial inequity.

Anna Deavere Smith has received numerous honors and awards for her work as a playwright, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

  • Fires in the Mirror (1993)
  • Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (1994)

August Wilson

August Wilson, an American playwright lauded as “theater’s poet of Black America” by The New York Times, is best known for his collection of plays called The Pittsburgh Cycle. Each play within the cycle is set in a different decade and reflects the Black experience over the course of the 20th century.

Among his accolades, Wilson is a two-time Tony winner, two-time Drama Desk winner, and two-time Pulitzer Prize recipient. He has received eight New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, claiming the win each and every time he was nominated. In 2006, Wilson was posthumously inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

  • Jitney (1982)
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984)
  • Fences (1985)
  • The Piano Lesson (1987)

George C. Wolfe

George C. Wolfe is a prominent American playwright, producer, and director. With a distinguished career in the world of theatre, he has directed and produced numerous successful productions on Broadway, earning him the Tony Award for Best Direction on two occasions.

In addition to penning the book for several musicals, Wolfe is the author of The Colored Museum, a play comprised of 11 “exhibits” that illuminate and satirize various aspects of African-American culture.

  • The Colored Museum (1986)
  • The Wild Party (LaChiusa musical) (2000)
  • Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (2016)