Fuller, Charles

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Fuller, Charles

March 5, 1939

The playwright and short-story writer Charles Henry Fuller Jr. was born in Philadelphia to Charles H. Fuller Sr., a printer, and Lillian Anderson Fuller. He attended Villanova College from 1956 to 1958, and he served for four years as an Army petroleum laboratory technician in Japan and Korea. He then returned to Philadelphia, attended La Salle College from 1965 to 1968, and completed his degree.

Although he had been writing since he was a teenager, Fuller began writing in earnest in the 1960s, usually at night while attending school or holding a number of jobs, from bank loan collector to counselor at Temple University to housing inspector for the city of Philadelphia. His early writing was mostly poetry, essays, and stories. Realizing that his stories were composed mostly of dialogue, Fuller turned to playwriting. His first short plays were written for the Afro-American Arts Theatre of Philadelphia, which he cofounded and codirected from 1967 through 1971. In 1970 he moved to New York City and devoted himself to writing full-time.

His first full-length play, The Village: A Party, was produced at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1968. The play illustrates the conflicts inherent in a racially integrated community. When the black head of the community, who is married to a white woman, falls in love with a black woman, the other racially mixed couples in the community feel threatened and destroy him.

Other Fuller plays include In the Deepest Part of Sleep, which was produced at St. Marks Playhouse in New York in 1974, and The Brownsville Raid, also produced in New York, at the Negro Ensemble Company, in 1976. It was based on a 1906 incident involving a black United States Army regiment that was dishonorably discharged for allegedly inciting a riot in Brownsville, Texas.

In 1981 Fuller won an Obie Award and an Audelco Award for Zooman and the Sign, a play about inner-city violence in Philadelphia. The play dramatizes the accidental death of a young girl and its effects. In 1982 Fuller became the second black playwright to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama for A Soldier's Play, for which he also received a New York Drama Critics Award, an Audelco Award, a Theatre Club Award, and an Outer Circle Award for best off-Broadway play. In A Soldier's Play, which centers on the investigation of the murder of a black sergeant at an army base in Louisiana during World War II, Fuller explores racial prejudice by a white southern community as well as self-hatred by black soldiers. The play was adapted for the screen and released as A Soldier's Story by Columbia Pictures in 1984.

In 1987, CBS televised Fuller's adaptation of Ernest J. Gaines's novel A Gathering of Old Men; in 1988, two related one-act plays, Sally and Prince, were produced first in Atlanta by the First National Black Arts Festival, and then in New York by the Negro Ensemble Company. The first parts of the We series, a projected five- or six-part cycle chronicling the experience of African Americans from the Civil War through the end of the nineteenth century, the plays relate the life of Prince Logan, an educated former slave. In Sally, he participates in the rebellion of the country's first all-black Army regiment during the Civil War, when they learn they are to be paid three dollars less per month than white Union soldiers. In Prince, former slaves working a plantation discover there is little difference between their condition as free men and women under northern sponsorship and their condition as slaves before the war. They remain victims of economic, political, and social exploitation, and realize the promise of freedom had been an illusion. The third and fourth plays in the We series, Jonquil and Burner's Frolic, were produced in 19891990 by the Negro Ensemble Company in New York.

Fuller has been a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow (1975), a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow (1976), and a Guggenheim Fellow (19771978). In addition to writing plays, Fuller wrote and directed a radio talk show about the black experience for WIP-Radio in Philadelphia (19701971). He has also contributed both fiction and nonfiction to such magazines as Black Dialogue, Liberator, and Negro Digest.

See also Drama; Gaines, Ernest J.; Literature of the United States


Anadolu-Okur, Nilgun Contemporary African American Theater: Afrocentricity in the Works of Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka and Charles Fuller New York: Garland, 1997.

Üsekes, Çiôdem. "Charles Fuller." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 266: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Fourth Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Christopher J. Wheatley. Detroit: Gale, 2002, pp. 110-116.

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michael paller (1996)
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