Bonnie Greer

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Bonnie Greer

Bonnie smiling to the camera, against a woodland background
Bonnie Greer at the Byline Festival 2017
Born (1948-11-16) 16 November 1948 (age 73)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
OccupationPlaywright, author, critic and broadcaster
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
David Hutchins
(m. 1993)

Bonnie Greer, OBE (born 16 November 1948) is an American-British playwright, novelist, critic and broadcaster, 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 Vice President of the Shaw Society.[1] She is former Chancellor of Kingston University in Kingston upon Thames, London.[2][3][4]

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.[5][6][7] 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.[8]

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.[6] Instead she studied theatre in Chicago under David Mamet's supervision[9] and at the Actors Studio in New York with Elia Kazan.[10][11] Living in Manhattan's West Village (part of Greenwich Village) in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Greer had many gay male friends who became seriously ill.[12]

Since 1986[edit]

Greer visited Scotland as part of a production at the Edinburgh Festival in 1986[6] and has been based in Britain since then. She told The Sunday Times in 2006 that she owes her life to the move. At the time, she made the decision to migrate to the UK because of her need to "escape the shadow of death" and the declining theatre scene in New York City.[12] She acquired British citizenship in 1997.[13] She has worked mainly in theatre with women and ethnic minorities,[11] and is a former Arts Council playwright in residence at the Soho Theatre and for Nitro, previously known as the Black Theatre Co-operative and now called NitroBeat.[14] 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),[15] 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)[16] after Greer watched a documentary on Marilyn Monroe which mentioned Monroe's assistance to the jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald as segregation prevented 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.[17] 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 is working[when?] on a play for the National Theatre Studio.

Greer was a regular contributor to BBC Two's Newsnight Review, and has been a panelist on the BBC's Question Time programme. She appeared on the edition in October 2009 that also featured Nick Griffin, then leader of the British National Party.[18] Commenting after the recording she called it "probably the weirdest and most creepy experience of my life".[19] 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.[20][21] 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.[22] She is also a former theatre critic for Time Out magazine.[23]

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."[24] Her biography of Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes: The Value of Contradiction, was published in 2011 (Arcadia/BlackAmber Inspirations). 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.[25][26] She is currently working on a novel about Rossetti.[27] 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".[28]

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.[29] She is a patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women in the UK.[30] She is also a board member of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).[31]

In April 2005, she was appointed to the British Museum's Board of Trustees and completed two full terms; from late March 2009 she served as Deputy Chairman.[4][32] In 2011, she accepted the post of President of the Brontë Society.[33] She resigned in June 2015, following internal disagreements about the society's direction.[34][35]

Greer is a contributor to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.[36]

Greer also appears in the Sky Arts TV programme 'Discovering Film', as one of its leading movie experts celebrating the lives and work of some of the most prolific and iconic Hollywood stars.

Honours and awards[edit]

Greer was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours for services to the Arts.[37] She received her honour from Prince Charles.[38]

Selected works[edit]


  • Hanging by Her Teeth (Serpent's Tail, 1994), novel. ISBN 978-1852421854
  • Entropy (Picnic Publishing, 2009), novel.[39] ISBN 978-0956037039
  • Obama Music (Legend Press, 2009).[40] ISBN 978-1906558246
  • Langston Hughes: The Value of Contradiction (2011) (Arcadia/BlackAmber Books).[41] ISBN 978-1906413767
  • A Parallel Life (Arcadia Books, 2014). ISBN 978-1909807624


  • White Men Are Cracking Up (1996), screenplay)[42]



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



Radio plays[edit]


  • Siren Spirits, Episode 4 (1994)[46]


  1. ^ "Joining Form".
  2. ^ Reiz, Matthew (21 March 2013). "Kingston University's new chancellor sets out her aims". Times Higher Education.
  3. ^ Chan, Bart (21 March 2013). "Kingston University Appoints Bonnie Greer As Chancellor". The Voice. Archived from the original on 30 January 2019. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b "US-born writer Bonnie Greer OBE marks new role as Kingston University Chancellor with call for more women to study science". London: Kingston University. 5 March 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  5. ^ Greer, Bonnie (11 October 2009). "No leaders". New Statesman.
  6. ^ a b c Phelan, Stephan (6 August 2006). "Marilyn, Ella ... & Bonnie". Sunday Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  7. ^ Greer, Bonnie; Skinitis, Alexia (7 December 2009). "Significant others: Bonnie Greer". The Times. Retrieved 26 May 2018. (subscription required)
  8. ^ Greer, Bonnie (24 October 2009). "A tip for Nick: two-bit rhetoric won't work here". The Times. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  9. ^ Greer, Bonnie (14 April 2009). "Diary". New Statesman.
  10. ^ "Abstraction of Wit in Black Heritage and Modern Times, 22 October 2009". Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, Newcastle University. 2009. Archived from the original on 24 October 2009.
  11. ^ a b "Bonnie Greer". BBC News. 2 May 2002. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  12. ^ a b Greer, Bonnie; Morton-Clark, Seb (23 July 2006). "Bonnie Greer". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  13. ^ Taylor, Sophie (13 October 2009). "Black playwright Bonnie Greer will join a panel including BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time". The First Post.
  14. ^ Spread the Word website
  15. ^ a b c "Bonnie Greer". BBC News. 2 May 2002.
  16. ^ "Ella and Marilyn: Bonnie Greer's new play". BBC. Woman's Hour. 15 December 2005. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  17. ^ Byrne, Ciar (13 February 2008). "Marilyn and Ella: The meeting of the misfits". The Independent.
  18. ^ Bailey, Ben (13 October 2009). "Black writer to join BNP leader on Question Time". London Evening Standard.
  19. ^ Cohen, Davi (23 October 2009). "When Bonnie Greer met Nick Griffin". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 25 October 2009.
  20. ^ Dowd, Vincent (21 November 2011). "Bonnie Greer revisits BNP Question Time in opera". BBC News.
  21. ^ Lennie, Jonathan (22 November 2011). "Just say Yes: Wallen and Greer's new opera". Time Out. London. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  22. ^ "Collection page". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  23. ^ "Bonnie Greer:Award-winning Playwright, Author & Critic". Speakers Associates. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  24. ^ McDowell, Lesley (15 November 2009). "Obama Music, By Bonnie Greer". The Independent. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  25. ^ A Big World Pictures Production in association with Dibb Directions and Emerald City FGH for BBC Television.
  26. ^ BBC Two England, 14 October 2004. Radio Times.
  27. ^ Biography of Bonnie Greer for "Bonnie Greer at TEDxYouth@Hackney", 24 March 2013 (YouTube).
  28. ^ Lo dico, Joy (21 June 2014). "A Parallel Life, By Bonnie Greer, book review: A rebel's life, from urban Waltons to drag queens". The Independent.
  29. ^ "Media Diversity UK". Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  30. ^ "Patrons". SI Leeds Literary Prize. Archived from the original on 13 November 2014.
  31. ^ "Bonnie Greer appointed to the ALCS Board of Directors". ALCS News. 21 January 2015.
  32. ^ "Profile page". British Museum. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012.
  33. ^ "Welcome, Bonnie Greer!". The Brontë Society. 2 February 2011.
  34. ^ "Author Bonnie Greer quits troubled Bronte Society". BBC News. 8 June 2015.
  35. ^ Singh, Anita (8 June 2015). "Bonnie Greer resigns as Bronte Society president". The Daily Telegraph.
  36. ^ Buchan, Carole (29 April 2019). "Anthology of writing by women of African descent features more than 200 contributors". Sussex Express.
  37. ^ "No. 59446". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 2010. p. 10.
  38. ^ Greer, Bonnie (6 May 2019). "Opinion: This royal baby is nothing less than a revolution". CNN. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  39. ^ Neilan, Catherine (17 February 2009). "Bonnie Greer to Picnic". The Bookseller.
  40. ^ "Announcing Obama Music by Bonnie Greer". Legend Press. 23 September 2009. Archived from the original on 22 January 2015.
  41. ^ "Bonnie Greer: Langston Hughes". Arcadia Books. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  42. ^ "White Men Are Cracking Up (1996)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012.
  43. ^ a b c Bonnie Greer Archived 20 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine at
  44. ^ BBC – Radio Times – The Friday Play: Marilyn and Ella Backstage at the Mocambo
  45. ^ Bonnie Greer, Ferguson, Drama, BBC Radio 4, 18 June 2016.
  46. ^ "'Siren Spirits' White Men Are Cracking Up (1994)", IMDb.

External links[edit]