ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Director, producer, and author. Director of television series and miniseries, including Homicide, 1964, Bluey, 1976, The Sullivans, 1976, The Outsiders, 1976, Young Ramsay, 1977, Roses Bloom Twice, 1977, The John Sullivan Story, 1979, A Town like Alice, 1981, Women of the Sun, 1981, The Clinic, 1982, Runaway Island, 1982, Undercover, 1983, A Thousand Skies, 1985, Always Afternoon, 1988, and Kansas, 1988; coproducer of television films The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years, 1996, and Aftershock: Earthquake in New York, 1999; co-executive producer of television miniseries Mama Flora's Family, 1998.
MEMBER: American Library Association (honorary member).
"Breaker" Morant (movie screenplay), 1980.
(With Alex Haley) Mama Flora's Family (novel; also see below), Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Ed Khmara) Merlin: The Shooting Script (screenplay; also see below), Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The Waters of Babylon: A Novel of Lawrence after Arabia, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
Rogue's Rock (series), 1974.
Prisoner (series), 1979.
A Thousand Skies (miniseries), 1980.
Queen (miniseries; adapted from Alex Haley's Queen: The Story of an American Family), 1993.
The Sum of Us, 1994.
The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years, 1996.
Crime and Punishment (adaptation of the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky), 1998.
Mama Flora's Family (miniseries), CBS, 1998.
Aftershock: Earthquake in New York, 1999.
Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot, 2001.
ADAPTATIONS: Mama Flora's Family was adapted as a four-set audiocassette, Simon & Schuster Audio, 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Although he has been involved with directing, writing, and producing television programs since the 1960s, screenwriter David Stevens has become most well known for his work in completing two books begun by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alex Haley: Alex Haley's Queen: The Story of an American Family and Mama Flora's Family, both of which can serve as follow-ups to Haley's acclaimed saga, Roots. When Haley died in 1992, he left behind a wealth of notes and a rough draft for a play, which Stevens then organized and completed for publication. As with Roots, both books are multigenerational sagas based on Haley's family history. In Queen Haley explores his father's Irish side of the family, beginning with his ancestor Jamie Jackson in the eighteenth century and ending with his grandmother, who was born a slave and becomes the matriarch of her family.
Mama Flora's Family returns to Haley's African-American side of the family, taking up the tale where Roots left off to follow the trials and tribulations of poor sharecroppers in Arkansas whose descendants build lives of their own in such cities as Chicago and Baltimore. The novel begins with Flora as a teenager living in 1920s Mississippi and follows her family history through the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, and into modern times. Along the way, members of Flora's family struggle with poverty in the rural South, fight in a segregated U.S. Army, and become involved with the radical Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam.
While Haley may have been able to lend this sweeping tale some cohesiveness, critics of Mama Flora's Family largely felt that Stevens fails to pull it off. For instance, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that in trying to cover so many bases, "the novel has lost all sense of proportion and is shipping its characters to every imaginable hot spot in recent African American … history." Library Journal contributor Nancy Pearl similarly commented that the "novel's sweep seems to have overwhelmed the authors' capabilities."
Alison Bass, writing in the Boston Globe, added, however, that the best part of the novel is the dialogue, which she speculated comes directly from the Haley play on which the story is based: "You can hear Haley's touch here, particularly in his wonderful ear for replicating the powerful orations of Southern black ministers." Bass also praised the section of the book in which one of Flora's relatives, Diana, is saved from a wasted life of drugs in Baltimore and returns to Mama Flora's home. Here, stated Bass, "the book has reached a powerful and moving epiphany." However, the story continues on from there, "fizzling to a close on an awkward note." On the other hand, BookPage.com contributor Robert Fleming had high praise for Stevens's work in bringing Haley's story to life, asserting that "Stevens skillfully transforms the central story from the traditional, long-suffering Big Mama variety into a classic metaphor for the harsh emotional and psychological costs of the Great Migration confronting African Americans fleeing the South."
After his work on the Haley manuscripts, Stevens published The Waters of Babylon: A Novel of Lawrence after Arabia, a fictionalization of the life of T. E. Lawrence during his years in the Royal Air Force, where he was known by the name T. E. Shaw. Much of Lawrence's inner life is explored by the author, who speculates on his subject's homosexuality and the abuse he suffered from his parents. Though a Publishers Weekly writer felt that the author's speculations about Lawrence's emotions sometimes drift "to the maudlin, Stevens manages to capture and illuminate the conflicted hero's inner life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Back Stage West, August 23, 2001, Kristina Mannion, review of The Sum of Us, p. 11.
Booklist, August, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of Mama Flora's Family, p. 1922.
Boston Globe, October 19, 1998, Alison Bass, "Not Enough of Haley in 'Mama Flora's Family,'" p. C8.
Library Journal, November 1, 1998, Nancy Pearl, review of Mama Flora's Family, p. 125; November 15, 1998, Melanie C. Duncan, review of Mama Flora's Family, pp. 109, 111.
Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2001, Jana J. Monji, p. F27.
Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1998, review of Mama Flora's Family, p. 45; February 21, 2000, review of The Waters of Babylon: A Novel of Lawrence after Arabia, p. 65.
BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 9, 2004), Robert Fleming, review of Mama Flora's Family.*