Rob Penny

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Rob Penny
Born Robert Lee Penny
(1941-08-06)August 6, 1941
Died March 16, 2003(2003-03-16) (aged 61)
Occupation Writer and academic
Ethnicity African American
Citizenship  United States
Genre African American Drama
Spouse Timau Betty Penny
Children Johnny Penny, Robert Lee Penny Jr., and Kadumu Penny
Relatives Two brothers, Roy Lee PennySr. and Jefferson Davis Penny Jr., and Two sisters, Ann Penny and Betty Jean Penny

Robert Lee "Rob" Penny (August 6, 1941 – March 16, 2003) was an African-American playwright, poet, social activist, and professor.

Early life[edit]

Penny was born in Opelika, Alabama on August 6, 1941. He moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Hill District as a toddler, where he was raised. A 1957 graduate of Central Catholic High School (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Penny had childhood aspirations of joining the priesthood.

Academic life[edit]

Penny was in the first cohort of faculty hired in 1969 by Jack Daniel, vice provost for Academic Affairs and dean of students at the University of Pittsburgh. After Penny had begun teaching at the University of Pittsburgh as an Associate Professor in 1969 he then moved on to serve as chair of its Africana Studies Department from 1978–1984. Penny was also a founding member of the Africana Studies Department, now known as the Black Studies Department.

"In terms of his professionalism, he was as close as someone can get to being an unrecognized genius. He appeared to be a simple man, but was actually quite complex," Daniel said. "As a person, with his theatrical influence, he was genuinely in touch with the human side of all of us. He was thought-provoking, forever challenging, dedicated, sincere and warm, with a kind of stick-to-itiveness -- someone who always kept his eye on the prize."

Dennis Brutus describes his former colleague "as a person who inspired his students. He was always encouraging and helpful. As a poet myself, I can say he also was a fine poet, in the black poetic tradition, who inspired others to write, especially through the Kuntu Writers Workshop. And he was a man who was an inspiration to young people in terms of his activism and community activities."

Theatrical contributions[edit]

In 1968, he and his friend August Wilson, a fellow Pittsburgh poet and playwright, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater, which staged performances until the mid-1970s. Dr. Vernell A. Lillie founded the Kuntu Repertory Theatre in 1975 as a way of showcasing Penny's plays. Penny was the playwright-in-residence for the Kuntu Repertory Theatre. Today, the theatre continues to hold performances of Rob’s plays.

In 1976, he and Wilson co-founded the Kuntu Writers Workshop, which Penny coordinated until his death on March 16, 2003.[1]

The Pittsburgh City Council honored Penny by presenting the Penny Family with a key to the City of Pittsburgh for his commitment to social activism, dedication to encouraging youth, and contributions to the greater Hill District community. July 29, 2008 is officially the city of Pittsburgh's Rob Penny Day.

The 62-year-old poet, playwright, teacher and activist died of a heart attack at his Hill District home on March 16, 2003.

Playwright credits[edit]

Rob Penny's plays have been nationally produced in such theatres as the aforementioned Kuntu Repertory Theatre, Chicago's ETA / Creative Arts Foundation, Inc. New York's New Federal Theatre founded by Dr. Woody King, Jr. as well as Brooklyn, New York's celebrated Billie Holiday Theatre, the world premiere of 'Nefertari Rising last year was also directed by Dr. Woody King, Jr, Rob Penny has given us many awesome plays such as Boppin' with the Ancestors', Diane's Heart', 'Good Black Don't Crack', 'Clean Drums', 'Little Willie Armstrong Jones', ‘Killin’ and Chillin’, 'Sun Rising on the Hill District'. ‘Reflections: Rob Penny’s Forum in Flight’ ‘Among the Best: The Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays’. Hotep, Oba, Yebo.

Penny wrote more than 30 plays and 300 poems. Below is a number of plays written by Penny:

• Bad News • Blue Yonder • Boppin' With The Ancestors • Coon Can • Dance of the Blues Dead • Deeds of Blackness • Depths of Her Star, The • Dianne's Heart Dries Out Stifi More • Good Black Don't Crack • Good Quick Feel-and Then We Build upon a Plan, A • Life Rise • Little Willie Armstrong Jones • Night of the Hawk • Republic of New Africa, The • Sugar and Thomas • Take on a Life • Trip, A • Uhh Survival Energy • Up to Life • Way, The • Who Loves the Dancer


  1. ^ Dyer, Ervin (March 18, 2003). "Obituary: Robert Lee 'Rob' Penny / Founder of Kuntu Repertory; poet, teacher and activist". Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh). Retrieved October 2, 2005. 
  • Conner, Lynne (2007). Pittsburgh in Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-4330-1. 

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