Bullins, Ed 1935-
BULLINS, Ed 1935-
(Kingsley B. Bass, Jr.)
PERSONAL: Born July 2, 1935, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Edward and Bertha Marie (Queen) Bullins; married; wife's name Trixie. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College, San Francisco State College (now University), New York School of Visual Arts, New School Extension, Vista College, and University of California Berkeley Extension; William Penn Business Institute, general business certificate; Antioch University, B.A., 1989; Sonoma State University, B.A. candidate; San Francisco State University, M.F.A., 1994.
ADDRESSES: Home—3629 San Pablo Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608. Agent—Helen Merrill, 435 West 23rd St., No. 1A, New York, NY 10011.
CAREER: Black Arts/West, San Francisco, CA, cofounder and producer, 1965-67; Black Arts Alliance, cofounder, Black House (Black Panther Party headquarters in San Francisco), cultural director until 1967, also serving briefly as Minister of Culture of the Party. New Lafayette Theatre, New York, NY, joined, 1967, playwright-in-residence, 1968, associate director, 1971-73; American Place Theatre, playwright in residence, beginning 1973; The Surviving Theatre, producing director, beginning 1974; New York Shakespeare Festival, writers unit coordinator, 1975-82; Berkeley Black Repertory, public relations director, 1982; Magic Theatre, public relations director, 1982-83; Julian Theatre, group sales coordinator, 1983. Instructor in playwriting and black theater at various colleges, universities, and workshops, 1971-79; School for Continuing Education, New York University, instructor, 1979; Dramatic Writing Department, New York University, instructor, 1981; Summer Playwrights Conference, Hofstra University, New York, instructor, 1982; People's School of Dramatic Arts, San Francisco, playwriting teacher, 1983; Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Mill Valley, CA, summer drama workshop leader, 1983; City College of San Francisco, instructor in dramatic performance, play directing, and playwriting, 1984-88; Antioch University, instructor in playwriting and administrative assistant in public information and recruitment, 1986-87; Bullins Memorial Theatre, Emeryville, CA, producer and playwright, 1988; Antioch University, San Francisco, student instructor in playwriting, 1986-87; American Multicultural Studies Department, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA, lecturer, 1988—; Afro-American Studies Department, University of California—Berkeley, lecturer, 1988—; African American Humanities/Afro-American Theatre, Contra Costa College, instructor, 1989-94; Northeastern University, Boston, MA, professor of theater, 1995—. Military service: Served in the U.S. Navy, 1952-55.
MEMBER: Dramatists Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Place Theatre grant, 1967; Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award, 1968, for plays performed at American Place Theatre; four Rockefeller Foundation grants, including 1968, 1970, and 1973; Off-Broadway Award for distinguished playwriting, Village Voice, and Black Arts Alliance award, both 1971, both for The Fabulous Miss Marie and In New England Winter; Guggenheim fellowship for playwriting, 1971 and 1976; National Endowment for the Arts playwriting grant, 1972, 1989; grant from Creative Artists Public Service Program, 1973, in support of playwriting; Off-Broadway Award for distinguished playwriting, and New York Drama Critics Circle Award, both 1975, both for The Taking of Miss Janie; third Off-Broadway Award; AUDELCO award, Harlem Theater; Litt.D., Columbia College (Chicago, IL), 1976.
How Do You Do?: A Nonsense Drama (one-act; first produced as How Do You Do in San Francisco, CA, at Firehouse Repertory Theatre, August 5, 1965; produced off-Broadway at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, February, 1972), Illuminations Press, 1967.
(Editor and contributor) New Plays from the BlackTheatre (includes In New England Winter [oneact; first produced off-Broadway at New Federal Theatre of Henry Street Playhouse, January 26, 1971]), Bantam (New York, NY), 1969.
Five Plays (includes: Goin 'a Buffalo [three-act; first produced in New York, NY, at American Place Theatre, June 6, 1968], In the Wine Time [three-act; first produced at New Lafayette Theatre, December 10, 1968], A Son, Come Home [oneact; first produced off-Broadway at American Place Theatre, February 21, 1968; originally published in Negro Digest, April, 1968], The Electronic Nigger [one-act; first produced at American Place Theatre, February 21, 1968], and Clara's Ole Man [one-act; first produced in San Francisco, CA, August 5, 1965; produced at American Place Theatre, February 21, 1968]), Bobbs-Merrill (Chicago IL), 1969, published as The Electronic Nigger, and Other Plays, Faber (London, England), 1970.
Ya Gonna Let Me Take You out Tonight, Baby? (first produced off-Broadway at Public Theatre, May 17, 1972), published in Black Arts, Black Arts Publishing (Detroit, MI), 1969.
The Gentleman Caller (one-act; first produced in Brooklyn, NY, in A Black Quartet, Chelsea Theatre Center at Brooklyn Academy of Music, April 25, 1969), published in A Black Quartet, New American Library (New York, NY), 1970.
The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements (one-act; first produced at New Lafayette Theatre, May 22, 1970; produced at Forum Theatre of Lincoln Center, New York, NY, March 9, 1972), Morrow (New York, NY), 1971.
The Theme Is Blackness: The Corner, and Other Plays (includes: The Theme Is Blackness [first produced in San Francisco, CA, by San Francisco State College, 1966], The Corner [one-act; first produced in Boston, MA, by Theatre Company of Boston, 1968, produced off-Broadway at Public Theatre, June 22, 1972], Dialect Determinism [one-act; first produced in San Francisco, CA, August 5, 1965; produced at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, February 25, 1972], It Has No Choice [oneact; first produced in San Francisco, CA, by Black Arts/West, spring, 1966, produced at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, February 25, 1972], The Helper [first produced in New York, NY, by New Dramatists Workshop, June 1, 1970], A Minor Scene [first produced in San Francisco, CA, by Black Arts/West, spring, 1966; produced at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, February 25, 1972], The Man Who Dug Fish [first produced by Theatre Company of Boston, June 1, 1970], Black Commercial No. 2, The American Flag Ritual, State Office Bldg. Curse, One Minute Commercial, A Street Play, Street Sounds [first produced at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, October 14, 1970], A Short Play for a Small Theatre, and The Play of the Play), Morrow (New York, NY), 1972. Four Dynamite Plays (includes: It Bees Dat Way [oneact; first produced in London, England, September 21, 1970; produced in New York, NY, at ICA, October, 1970], Death List [one-act; first produced in New York, NY, by Theatre Black at University of the Streets, October 3, 1970], The Pig Pen [oneact; first produced at American Place Theatre, May 20, 1970], and Night of the Beast [screenplay]), Morrow (New York, NY), 1972.
(Editor and contributor) The New Lafayette TheatrePresents; Plays with Aesthetic Comments by Six Black Playwrights: Ed Bullins, J. E. Gaines, Clay Gross, Oyamo, Sonia Sanchez, Richard Wesley, Anchor Press (Garden City, NY), 1974.
The Taking of Miss Janie (first produced in New York at New Federal Theatre, May 4, 1975), published in Famous American Plays of the 1970s, edited by Ted Hoffman, Dell (New York, NY), 1981.
New/Lost Plays: An Anthology, That New Publishing Co. (Honolulu, HI), 1993.
Also author of "Malcolm: '71 or Publishing Blackness," published in Black Scholar, June, 1975. Plays represented in anthologies, including New American Plays, Volume III, edited by William M. Hoffman, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1970.
(With Shirley Tarbell) The Game of Adam and Eve, first produced in Los Angeles, CA, at Playwrights' Theatre, spring, 1966.
(Under pseudonym Kingsley B. Bass, Jr.) We RighteousBombers (adapted from Albert Camus's The Just Assassins), first produced in New York, NY, at New Lafayette Theatre, April, 1969.
A Ritual to Raise the Dead and Foretell the Future, first produced in New York, NY, at New Lafayette Theatre, 1970.
The Devil Catchers, first produced at New Lafayette Theatre, November 27, 1970.
The Fabulous Miss Marie, first produced at New Lafayette Theatre, March 5, 1971; produced at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre of Lincoln Center, May, 1979.
Next Time . . . , first produced in Bronx, NY, at Bronx Community College, May 8, 1972.
The Psychic Pretenders (A Black Magic Show), first produced at New Lafayette Theatre, December, 1972.
House Party, a Soul Happening, first produced at American Place Theatre, fall, 1973.
The Mystery of Phyllis Wheatley, first produced at New Federal Theatre, February 4, 1976.
I Am Lucy Terry, first produced at American Place Theatre, February 11, 1976.
Home Boy, first produced in New York, NY, at Perry Street Theatre, September 26, 1976.
JoAnne!, first produced in New York, NY, at Theatre of the Riverside Church, October 7, 1976.
Storyville, first produced in La Jolla, CA, at the Mandeville Theatre, University of California, May, 1977.
DADDY!, first produced at the New Federal Theatre, June 9, 1977.
Sepia Star, first produced in New York, NY, at Stage 73, August 20, 1977.
Michael, first produced in New York, NY, at New Heritage Repertory Theatre, May, 1978.
C'mon Back to Heavenly House, first produced in Amherst, MA, at Amherst College Theatre, 1978.
Leavings, first produced in New York, NY, at Syncopation, August, 1980.
Steve and Velma, first produced in Boston, MA, by New African Company, August, 1980.
Boy x Man, first produced at the Samuel Beckett Theater, June, 1997.
Also author of the plays Blacklist and City Preacher.
The Hungered One: Early Writings (collected short fiction), Morrow (New York, NY), 1971.
The Reluctant Rapist (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
Also author of article "The Polished Protest: Aesthetics and the Black Writer," published in Contact, 1963. Editor of Black Theatre, 1968-73; editor of special black issue of Drama Review, summer, 1968. Contributor to Negro Digest, New York Times, and other periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Ed Bullins is one of the most powerful black voices in contemporary American theater. He began writing plays as a political activist in the mid-1960s and soon emerged as a principal figure in the black arts movement that surfaced in that decade. First as Minister of Culture for California's Black Panther Party and then as associate director of Harlem's New Lafayette Theatre, Bullins helped shape a revolutionary "theater of black experience" that took drama to the streets. In more than fifty dramatic works, written expressly for and about blacks, Bullins probed the disillusionment and frustration of ghetto life. At the height of his militancy, he advocated cultural separatism between races and outspokenly dismissed white aesthetic standards. Asked by Race Relations Reporter contributor Bernard Garnett how he felt about white critics' evaluations of his work, Bullins replied: "It doesn't matter whether they appreciate it. It's not for them." Despite his disinterest, by the late 1960s establishment critics were tracking his work, more often than not praising its lyricism and depth and commending the playwright's ability to transcend narrow politics. As C. W. E. Bigsby pointed out in The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature, Bullins "was one of the few black writers of the 1960s who kept a cautious distance from a black drama which defined itself solely in political terms." In the 1970s Bullins won three Off-Broadway Awards for distinguished playwriting, a Drama Critics Circle Award, and several prestigious Guggenheim and Rockefeller playwriting grants.
Bullins's acceptance into the theatrical mainstream, which accelerated as the black arts movement lost momentum, presents some difficulty for critics trying to assess the current state of his art. The prolific output of his early years has been replaced by a curious silence. One possible explanation, according to Black American Literature Forum contributor Richard G. Scharine, is that Bullins has faced the same artistic dilemma that confronts Steve Benson, his most autobiographical protagonist: "As an artist he requires recognition. As a revolutionary he dare not be accepted. But Bullins has been accepted. . . . The real question is whether, severed from his roots and his hate, Bullins can continue to create effectively." In a written response published with the article, Bullins answered the charge: "I was a conscious artist before I was a conscious artist-revolutionary, which has been my salvation and disguise. . . . I do not feel that I am severed from my roots."
Bullins's desire to express the reality of ordinary black experience reflects the philosophy he developed during his six-year association with the New Lafayette Theatre, a community-based playhouse that was a showpiece of the black arts movement until it closed for lack of funds in 1973. During its halcyon days, the New Lafayette provided a sanctuary wherein the black identity could be assuaged and nurtured, a crucial goal of Bullins and all the members of that theatrical family. "Our job," former New Lafayette director Robert Macbeth told Jervis Anderson in a New Yorker interview, "has always been to show black people who they are, where they are, and what condition they are in. . . . Our function, the healing function of theatre and art, is absolutely vital."
Bullins was born and raised in a North Philadelphia ghetto, but was given a middle-class orientation by his mother, a civil servant. He attended a largely whiteelementary school, where he was an excellent student, and spent his summers vacationing in Maryland farming country. As a junior high student, he was transferred to an inner-city school and joined a gang, the Jet Cobras. During a street fight, he was stabbed in the heart and momentarily lost his life (as does his fictional alter-ego Steve Benson in The Reluctant Rapist). The experience, as Bullins explained to New York Times contributor Charles M. Young, changed his attitude: "See, when I was young, I was stabbed in a fight. I died. My heart stopped. But I was brought back for a reason. I was gifted with these abilities and I was sent into the world to do what I do because that is the only thing I can do. I write."
Bullins did not immediately recognize his vocation, but spent several years at various jobs. After dropping out of high school, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1952-55, where he won a shipboard lightweight boxing championship and started a program of self-education through reading. Not much is known about the years he spent in North Philadelphia after his discharge, but in a Dictionary of Literary Biography essay, Leslie C. Sanders noted "his 1958 departure for Los Angeles quite literally saved his life. When he left Philadelphia, he left behind an unsuccessful marriage and several children." In California, Bullins earned a GED high school equivalency degree and started writing. He turned to plays when he realized that the black audience he was trying to reach did not read much fiction and also that he was naturally suited to the dramatic form. But even after moving to San Francisco in 1964, Bullins found little encouragement for his talent. "Nobody would produce my work," he recalled of his early days in the New Yorker. "Some people said my language was too obscene, and others said the stuff I was writing was not theatre in the traditional sense." Bullins might have been discouraged had he not chanced upon a production of two plays by LeRoi Jones, Dutchman and The Slave, that reminded him of his own. "I could see that an experienced playwright like Jones was dealing with the same qualities and conditions of black life that moved me," Bullins explained.
Inspired by Jones's example, Bullins and a group of black revolutionaries joined forces to create a militant cultural-political organization called Black House. Among those participating were Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, two young radicals whose politics of revolution would soon coalesce into the Black Panther Party.
Between 1967 and 1973, Bullins created and/or produced almost a dozen plays, some of which are still considered his finest work. He also edited the theater magazine, Black Theatre, and compiled and edited an anthology of six New Lafayette plays. During this time, Bullins was active as a playwriting teacher and director as well. Despite Bullins's close ties to the New Lafayette, his plays were also produced off-Broadway and at other community theaters, notably the American Place Theatre, where he became playwright in residence after the New Lafayette's demise.
Bullins's plays of this period share common themes. Clara's Ole Man, an early drama that established the playwright's reputation in New York during its 1968 production, introduces his concerns. Set in the mid-fifties, it tells the story of twenty-year-old Jack, an upwardly mobile black who goes to the ghetto to visit Clara one afternoon when her "ole man" is at work. Not realizing that Clara's lover is actually Big Girl, a lesbian bully who is home when Jack calls, he gets brutally beaten as a result of his ignorance. Sanders believes that "in Clara's Ole Man, Bullins's greatest work is foreshadowed. Its characters, like those in many of his later plays, emerge from brutal life experiences with tenacity and grace. While their language is often crude, it eloquently expresses their pain and anger, as well as the humor that sustains them."
By and large, Bullins's plays fared well artistically during the early 1970s while being criticized, by both black and white critics, for their ideology. Some blacks objected to what Bigsby called the "reductive view of human nature" presented in these dramas, along with "their sense of the black ghetto as lacking in any redeeming sense of community or moral values." Other blacks, particularly those who achieved a measure of material success, resented their exclusion from this art form. "I am a young black from a middle-class family and well-educated," wrote one person in the New York Times Magazine in response to a black arts article. "What sense of self will I ever have if I continue to go to the theatre and movies and never see blacks such as myself in performance?" For the white theater-going community, Bullins's exclusively black drama also raised questions of a cultural elitism that seems "to reserve for black art an exclusive and, in some senses, a sacrosanct critical territory," Anderson believed.
In the 1990s Ed Bullins's presence was once again felt in the theater world. His anthology New/Lost Playsmade available a number of works from the past decades. In 1997 a new play Boy x Man—pronounced "boy times man"—was presented by the Negro Ensemble Company at New York's Samuel Beckett Theater. The play concerns family, class, and memory. Though sometimes difficult to perform, its dialogue, in the words of New York Times theater reviewer Anita Gates, contains Bullins's brand of "down-home poetry."
Early in his career Bullins distanced himself from the critical fray, saying that if he had listened to what critics have told him, he would have stopped writing long ago. "I don't bother too much what anyone thinks," he told Anderson. "When I sit down in that room by myself, bringing in all that I ever saw, smelled, learned, or checked out, I am the chief determiner of the quality of my work. The only critic that I really trust is me."
In a career that has spanned four decades, Bullins has written more than ninety plays in all. He has also started theatre companies and been a founding member of several writing workshops. When Black Masks contributor Pamela Faith Jackson asked him in 1997 what the driving force behind his career has been, Bullins replied, "I did it all to keep from being bored I guess. I mean a lot of things needed to be done."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bigsby, C. W. E., The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1980.
Black Literature Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 16, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 5, 1976, Volume 7, 1977.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, 1981, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers after 1955—Dramatists and Prose Writers, 1985.
Gayle, Addison, editor, The Black Aesthetic, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971.
Hay, Samuel A., Ed Bullins: A Literary Biography, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Sanders, Leslie C., The Development of Black Theater in America: From Shadows to Selves, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1988.
Black American Literature Forum, fall, 1979.
Black Creation, winter, 1973.
Black Mask, September 30, 1997, Pamela Faith Jackson, "Ed Bullins: From Minister of Culture to Living Legend," p. 5.
Black World, April, 1974.
CLA Journal, June, 1976.
Dance, April, 1992, p. 86.
Nation, November 12, 1973; April 5, 1975.
Negro Digest, April, 1969.
Newsweek, May 20, 1968.
New Yorker, June 16, 1973, Jervis Anderson, author interview.
New York Times, September 22, 1971; May 18, 1975; June 17, 1977; May 31, 1979; June 3, 1997, Anita Gates, review of Boy x Man, p. C16.
New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1971; September 30, 1973.
New York Times Magazine, September 10, 1972.
Plays and Players, May, 1972; March, 1973.
Race Relations Reporter, February 7, 1972.
Ed Bullins Home Page,http://www.edbullins.com/ (August 10, 2004).*