Bonnie Greer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Bonnie Greer
Born (1948-11-16) 16 November 1948 (age 68)
Occupation playwright, author, critic
Nationality British (naturalized 1997)
Spouse David Hutchins (1993–)

Bonnie Greer, OBE (born 16 November 1948, Chicago), is an American-British playwright, novelist and critic, who has lived in the UK since 1986.

She has appeared as a panellist on television programmes such as Newsnight Review and Question Time and has served on the boards of several leading arts organisations, including the British Museum, the Royal Opera House and the London Film School. She is also the Chancellor of Kingston University in Kingston upon Thames, London.[1][2][3]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Greer was born on the West Side of Chicago, the eldest of seven children born to Ben, a factory worker, and Willie Mae, a home maker.[4][5][6] Greer's father was born to a family of Mississippi sharecroppers. He was stationed in Britain during World War II and took part in the D-Day landings.[7]

Although she began writing plays at the age of nine, Greer originally set out on a legal career, but dropped out when her professor told her he did not think women should have a career in law.[5] Instead she studied theatre in Chicago under David Mamet's supervision[8] and at the Actors Studio in New York with Elia Kazan.[9]

Since 1986[edit]

Greer visited Scotland as part of a production at the Edinburgh Festival in 1986[5] and has been based in Britain since then. She acquired British citizenship in 1997.[10] She has worked mainly in theatre with women and ethnic minorities, and is a former Arts Council playwright in residence at the Soho Theatre and for NITRO, once known as the Black Theatre co-operative.[11] Greer has played Joan of Arc at the Theatre Atelier in Paris.

She has written radio plays for BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, including a translation of The Little Prince. Her plays include Munda Negra (1993), concerning the mental health problems of black women, Dancing On Blackwater (1994) and Jitterbug (2001),[12] and the musicals Solid and Marilyn and Ella. The latter work began as a radio play broadcast in December 2005 (Marilyn and Ella Backstage at the Mocambo)[13] after Greer watched a documentary on Marilyn Monroe that mentioned Monroe's assistance to the jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald over the colour bar preventing the singer from working at certain venues, especially the Mocambo nightclub. Adapted for the stage, Greer's radio play was given a production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2006 and was later rewritten and performed at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2008.[14] The play was produced at the Apollo Theatre, in London's West End, in November 2009. She is the author of two novels, Hanging by Her Teeth (1994) and Entropy (2009), and currently is working on a play for the National Theatre Studio.

Greer has been a regular contributor to BBC Two's Newsnight Review, and Question Time. She was a panel member on the edition that also featured Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party.[15] Commenting after the recording she called it "probably the weirdest and most creepy experience of my life."[16] The encounter formed the basis for her opera, Yes, written for the Royal Opera House with music by Errollyn Wallen, and which premiered there at the Linbury Studio Theatre in November 2011.[17][18]

An occasional writer for The Guardian and New Statesman, she is a former theatre critic for Time Out magazine.[19] She was formerly director of the Talawa Theatre Company and has served on the boards of the Royal Opera House and the London Film School.[20]

Greer's book Obama Music, partly a musical memoir, was published by Legend Press in October 2009. Reviewing it in The Independent, Lesley McDowell said: "Greer expertly weaves in memories of her own upbringing in Chicago, with more humour than you might expect, along with a clear, defined passion for the music she grew up listening to. She wants to show, too, how both the place she lived in, and the songs she listened to, were full of unseen boundaries that had held people back – but also gave them something to fight against."[21] Her biography of Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes: The Value of Contradiction, was published in 2011 (Arcadia/BlackAmber Inspirations).[22] Greer co-produced a documentary film, Reflecting Skin (directed by Mike Dibb) – on representations of black people in Western art – which was shown by the BBC in 2004.[23][24] She is currently working on a novel about Rossetti.[25] Greer's memoir A Parallel Life was published in 2014 and was described by Joy Lodico in The Independent as "the story of a journey deliberately and bravely taken against all expectations".[26]

Greer is a member of the Arts Emergency Service, a British charity working with 16- to 19-year-olds in further education from diverse backgrounds.[27] She is a patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women in the UK.[28] She is also a board member of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).[29]

In April 2005 she was appointed to the British Museum's Board of Trustees for a period of four years and in 2008 Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that her appointment was to continue.[19] In March 2009 she was promoted to Deputy Chairman. In 2011 she accepted the post of President of the Brontë Society.[30] She resigned in June 2015, following internal disagreements about the society's direction.[31][32]

Honours and awards[edit]

Greer was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.[33]

Selected works[edit]



  • White Men Are Cracking Up (1996), screenplay)[38]



  • Yes (November 2011), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden


Radio plays[edit]

  • The Little Prince[12]
  • Ferguson (2016)[40]


  • Siren Spirits, Episode 4 (1994)[41]


  1. ^ Matthew Reiz, "Kingston University’s new chancellor sets out her aims", Times Higher Education, 21 March 2013.
  2. ^ Bart Chan, "Kingston University Appoints Bonnie Greer As Chancellor", The Voice, 21 March 2013.
  3. ^ "US-born writer Bonnie Greer OBE marks new role as Kingston University Chancellor with call for more women to study science", Kingston University London, 5 March 2013.
  4. ^ Bonnie Greer, "No leaders", New Statesman, 11 October 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Stephan Phelan "Marilyn, Ella ... & Bonnie", Sunday Herald, 6 August 2006, as reproduced on the Find Articles website.
  6. ^ "I spent my childhood dodging bullets – Bonnie Greer", Hornsey and Crouch End Journal, 1 November 2006, as reproduced on David Lammy's website.
  7. ^ Bonnie Greer, "A tip for Nick: two-bit rhetoric won't work here", The Times, 24 October 2009.
  8. ^ Bonnie Greer, "Diary", New Statesman, 14 April 2009.
  9. ^ "Abstraction of Wit in Black Heritage and Modern Times", Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, Newcastle University (page for postponed lecture, 22 October 2009).
  10. ^ Sophie Taylor, "Black playwright Bonnie Greer will join a panel including BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time", The First Post, 13 October 2009.
  11. ^ Spread the Word website
  12. ^ a b c Bonnie Greer (profile), BBC News, 2 May 2002
  13. ^ BBC Woman's Hour webpage
  14. ^ Ciar Byrne, "Marilyn and Ella: The meeting of the misfits", The Independent, 13 February 2008.
  15. ^ Ben Bailey, "Black writer to join BNP leader on Question Time", Evening Standard, 13 October 2009.
  16. ^ David Cohen, "When Bonnie Greer met Nick Griffin" Archived 25 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine., Evening Standard, 23 October 2009.
  17. ^ Vincent Dowd, "Bonnie Greer revisits BNP Question Time in opera", BBC News, 21 November 2011.
  18. ^ Jonathan Lennie, "Just say 'Yes': Wallen and Greer's new opera", Time Out London.
  19. ^ a b Profile page at British Museum.
  20. ^ National Portrait Gallery Collection webpage.
  21. ^ Lesley McDowell, "Obama Music, By Bonnie Greer" (review), The Independent, 15 November 2009.
  22. ^ Langston Hughes: The Value of Contradiction at Amazon.
  23. ^ A Big World Pictures Production in association with Dibb Directions and Emerald City FGH for BBC Television.
  24. ^ BBC Two England, 14 October 2004. Radio Times.
  25. ^ Biography of Bonnie Greer for "Bonnie Greer at TEDxYouth@Hackney", 24 March 2013 (YouTube).
  26. ^ Joy Lodico, "A Parallel Life, By Bonnie Greer, book review: A rebel’s life, from urban Waltons to drag queens", The Independent, 22 June 2014.
  27. ^ "Media Diversity UK". Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  28. ^ Patrons, SI Leeds Literary Prize.
  29. ^ "Bonnie Greer appointed to the ALCS Board of Directors", ALCS News, 21 January 2015.
  30. ^ "Welcome, Bonnie Greer!", The Brontë Society, 2 February 2011.
  31. ^ "Author Bonnie Greer quits troubled Bronte Society", BBC News, 8 June 2015.
  32. ^ Anita Singh, "Bonnie Greer resigns as Bronte Society president", The Telegraph, 8 June 2015.
  33. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59446. p. 10. 12 June 2010.
  34. ^ "Hanging By Her Teeth" at Amazon.
  35. ^ Catherine Neilan, "Bonnie Greer to Picnic", The Bookseller, 17 February 2009.
  36. ^ "Announcing Obama Music by Bonnie Greer" Archived 22 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine., Legend Press, 23 September 2009.
  37. ^ Langston Hughes, Bonnie Greer at Arcadia Books.
  38. ^ "White Men Are Cracking Up (1996)". The New York Times – Movies. 
  39. ^ a b c Bonnie Greer at
  40. ^
  41. ^ "'Siren Spirits' White Men Are Cracking Up (1994)", IMDb.

External links[edit]