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Ed Bullins

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Ed Bullins
Bullins in 1971
Bullins in 1971
Born(1935-07-02)July 2, 1935
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
DiedNovember 13, 2021(2021-11-13) (aged 86)
Roxbury, Massachusetts, US
Pen nameKingsley B. Bass Jr
Literary movementBlack Arts Movement
Notable awards
(m. 1962; div. 1966)

Edward Artie Bullins (July 2, 1935 – November 13, 2021), sometimes publishing as Kingsley B. Bass Jr,[1] was an American playwright. He won awards including the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and several Obie Awards. Bullins was associated with the Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party, for which he was the minister of culture in the 1960s.

Early life and education[edit]

Edward Artie Bullins was born on July 2, 1935, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,[2] to Bertha Marie (née Queen) and Edward Bullins.[1] He was raised primarily by his mother.[2] As a child, he attended a predominantly white elementary school and became involved with a gang.[3] He attended Benjamin Franklin High School, where he was stabbed in a gang-related incident.[3] Shortly thereafter, he dropped out of high school and joined the navy.[4] During this period, he won a boxing championship, returned to Philadelphia, and enrolled in night school. He stayed in Philadelphia until moving to Los Angeles in 1958.[5][6] He married poet and activist Pat Parker (then Patricia Cooks) in 1962.[2][7] Parker accused him of violence[2] and she and Bullins separated after four years.[8]

After completing his G.E.D., Bullins enrolled in Los Angeles City College and began writing short stories for Citadel, a magazine he started.[2] In 1964, he moved to San Francisco and joined the creative writing program at San Francisco State College, where he started writing plays.[9] Clara's Ole Man, which premiered on August 5, 1965, at San Francisco's Firehouse Repertory Theatre, is about an Ivy Leaguer who meets the titular Clara and several other "strange and unpleasant characters" who show her the "realities of ghetto life".[10] It turns out that "Clara's ole man" is actually Clara's partner, a woman.[10]

Black House and Black Panthers[edit]

After seeing Amiri Baraka's play Dutchman, Bullins felt that Baraka's artistic purpose was similar to his own.[11][12] He joined Baraka at Black House, the Black Arts Movement's cultural center, along with Sonia Sanchez, Huey Newton, Marvin X, and others. A 2005 history of the Black Arts Movement described Bullins as among the "leading … theater workers" of the Movement.[13] The Black Panthers used Black House as their base in San Francisco, where Bullins was their minister of culture as of the 1960s.[14] Black House eventually split into two opposing factions: one group, led by Eldridge Cleaver, considered art to be a weapon and advocated joining with "all oppressed people", including whites, to bring about a socialist revolution;[15] while the other group, represented by Marvin X and Baraka, considered art to be a form of cultural nationalism.[16][15] Bullins was part of the latter group.[16] While in San Francisco, Bullins founded Black Arts/West, a theater collective inspired by Baraka's Harlem-based Black Arts Repertory Theatre project.[17]

New Lafayette Players[edit]

The director Robert Macbeth read Bullins' plays and asked him to join the New Lafayette Players, a theatrical group.[18][19] The first production the New Lafayette Players performed was a trilogy called The Electronic Nigger and Others at The American Place Theatre. Electronic Nigger was about a Black man who imitates the views of the white majority.[10] The trilogy earned Bullins a Drama Desk Award for 1968. The trilogy's title was later changed to Ed Bullins Plays for what Bullins called "financial reasons".[20] Bullins worked with the Lafayette Players until 1972, when the group ended due to lack of funding. During these years, ten of Bullins's plays were produced by the Players, including In the Wine Time and Goin' a Buffalo.

1970s and later[edit]

Bullins returned to the East Coast in 1967.[17] From 1973, he was playwright-in-residence at the American Place Theatre.[19] He founded the Bronx-based Surviving Theatre, active from 1974 to around 1980.[17] From 1975 to 1983, he was on staff at The Public Theater with the New York Shakespeare Festival's Writers' Unit. During these years, Bullins wrote two children's plays, titled I Am Lucy Terry and The Mystery of Phillis Wheatley.[21] He also wrote the text for two musicals, titled Sepia Star (1977)[22] and Storyville (1979).[23]

Bullins later returned to school, and received a bachelor's degree in English and playwriting from Antioch University in San Francisco.[3] As of the late 1980s, Bullins taught drama at the City College of San Francisco.[17] In 1995, he became a professor at Northeastern University.[1]

In addition to Bullins's playwriting, he wrote short stories and novels, including The Hungered One and The Reluctant Rapist. The Reluctant Rapist features Bullins's alter ego, Steve Benson, who appears in many of Bullins's works.[11][24]

Bullins died aged 86 on November 13, 2021, in Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts, due to complications from dementia.[2]


Samuel A. Hay, Bullins's biographer, writes that Bullins rejected models of theater advanced by Amiri Baraka, who wrote and promoted protest art, and Alain LeRoy Locke, who suggested that Black playwrights should condemn racism by producing "well-made plays".[25] Instead, Hay argues, Bullins's writing aimed to "get people upset by making them look at racism in totally new ways".[26] By contrast, the critic W. D. E. Andrews argues that the distinction between Baraka and Bullins lies instead in Bullins's efforts to describe Black lived experience, as opposed to referring to relations between Black and white people.[27]

Ishmael Reed has been quoted as saying of Bullins: "He was able to get the grass roots to come to his plays. ...He was a Black playwright who spoke to the values of the urban experience. Some of those people had probably never seen a play before."[2]


Bullins received numerous awards for his playwriting. He twice received the Black Arts Alliance Award, for The Fabulous Miss Marie and In the New England Winter. In 1971, Bullins won the Guggenheim Fellowship for playwriting.[28] He received an Obie Award for The Taking of Miss Janie,[19] which also received a New York Drama Critics Circle Award.[29] Also in 1975, he won the Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award, four Rockefeller Foundation playwriting grants, and two National Endowment for the Arts playwriting grants. In 2012, Bullins received the Theatre Communications Group Visionary Leadership Award.[30]

Selected works[edit]


  • Five Plays (Goin' a Buffalo; In the Wine Time; A Son, Come Home; The Electronic Nigger; Clara's Ole Man)[1]
  • Four Dynamite Plays (It Bees Dat Way; Death List; The Pig Pen; Night of the Beast). New York: William Morrow and Company, 1972.[1]
  • The Reluctant Rapist (novel) Harper & Row, 1973. ISBN 0-06-010579-8[1]
  • The Theme Is Blackness (The Corner and other plays) [Dialect Determinism, The Helper, It Has No Choice, A Minor Scene, Black Commercial #2, The Man Who Dug Fish, The American Flag Ritual, One Minute Commercial, State Office Bldg. Curse]. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1973. ISBN 0-688-05012-3[1]
  • The Hungered One (1971)[1]

Individual plays[edit]

  • Dialect Determinism; or The Rally (1965)[31]
  • How Do You Do (1965)[1]
  • Goin' a Buffalo (1966)[31]
  • The Helper (1966)[31]
  • It Has No Choice (1966)[31]
  • A Minor Scene (1966)[31]
  • The Corner (1967)[31]
  • The Electronic Nigger (1967)[20][31]
  • The Man Who Dug Fish (1967)[1]
  • A Son, Come Home (1968)[1]
  • We Righteous Bombers (as Kingsley B. Bass Jr) (1968)[1]
  • In New England Winter (1969)[31]
  • Ya Gonna Let Me Take You Out Tonight, Baby? (1969)[1]
  • Death List (1970)[31]
  • The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements (1970)[1]
  • The Pig Pen (1970)[1]
  • Malcolm: '71, or, Publishing Blackness (1971)[1]
  • Night of the Beast (1971)[1]
  • The Psychic Pretenders (A Black Magic Show) (1972)[1]
  • House Party, a Soul Happening (1973)[1]
  • I Am Lucy Terry (1975)[1]
  • The Taking of Miss Janie (1975)[1]
  • Home Boy (1976)[1]
  • The Mystery of Phyllis Wheatley (1976)[1]
  • DADDY! (1977)[1]
  • C'mon Back to Heavenly House (1978)[1]
  • Snickers (1985)[32]
  • Dr. Geechee and the Blood Junkies (1986)[33]
  • A Sunday Afternoon (1987)[34]
  • Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam (1993)[35]
  • High John da Conqueror: The Musical (1993)[36]
  • Boy x Man (1997)[37]
  • King Aspelta: A Nubian Coronation (2000)[38]
  • Blacklist[1]
  • City Preacher[1]
  • The Devil Catchers[31]
  • The Gentleman Caller[31]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Matthews, Tracy, ed. (2005). "Bullins, Ed 1935–". Contemporary Authors. new revision series. Vol. 134. Gale. pp. 62–67. ISBN 978-1-4144-0536-0. ISSN 0275-7176. OCLC 507351920.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Risen, Clay (November 17, 2021). "Ed Bullins, Leading Playwright of the Black Arts Movement, Dies at 86". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Manheim, James M. (2000). "Ed Bullins 1935–". In Oblender, David G. (ed.). Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 25. Gale. pp. 34–36. ISBN 978-1-4144-3553-4. ISSN 1058-1316. OCLC 527366290.
  4. ^ Hedgepeth, Chester (1991). "Bullins, Ed". Twentieth-Century African-American Writers and Artists. American Library Association. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0-8389-0534-X. OCLC 21231734.
  5. ^ Hay 1997, p. 22.
  6. ^ Grant, Nathan L. (2001). "Bullins, Ed". In Andrews, William L.; Frances Smith Foster; Trudier Harris (eds.). The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Oxford University Press. pp. 57–59. ISBN 978-0-19-803175-8. OCLC 49346948.
  7. ^ De Veaux, Alexis (2004). Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 166–167. ISBN 0-393-01954-3. OCLC 53315369.
  8. ^ Garber, Linda (October 17, 2001). Identity Poetics: Race, Class, and the Lesbian-Feminist Roots of Queer Theory. Columbia University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-231-50672-4.
  9. ^ Menson-Furr 2004, p. 64.
  10. ^ a b c Peterson 1988, p. 83.
  11. ^ a b Sanders, Leslie (1985). "Ed Bullins (2 July 1935–)". In Davis, Thadious M.; Trudier Harris (eds.). Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers. Vol. 38. Gale. pp. 43–61. ISBN 0-8103-1716-8. OCLC 11755335.
  12. ^ Woll, Allen L. (1983). Dictionary of the Black Theatre: Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Selected Harlem Theatre. Greenwood Press. pp. 191–192. ISBN 0-313-22561-3. OCLC 9080974.
  13. ^ Smethurst 2005, pp. 39–40.
  14. ^ Thomson, Peter; Salgādo, Gāmini (1985). The Everyman Companion to the Theatre. J.M. Dent. p. 164. ISBN 0-460-04424-9. OCLC 14132895.
  15. ^ a b Hay 1997, p. 61.
  16. ^ a b Ferguson 2013, p. 197.
  17. ^ a b c d Peterson 1988, p. 82.
  18. ^ Sanders 1989, p. 177.
  19. ^ a b c Menson-Furr 2004, p. 65.
  20. ^ a b Bailey, Peter (September 1968). "The Electronic Nigger: Controversy Over Play's Title Fails to Cloud Author's Acclaim". Ebony. 23 (11). Johnson Publishing: 97. ISSN 0012-9011.
  21. ^ Gussow, Mel (February 4, 1976). "Stage: 'Phyllis Wheatley'". The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2021. When writers of children's theater contemplate significant events, such as moments in the nation's history, they tend to glamorize or to condescend. Ed Bullins is an exception. In contrast to other playwrights of his stature, he also write plays for children —and his approach, as in all of his work, is serious and thoughtful. His 'The Mystery of Phillis Wheatley' is now running in the Henry Street Settlement's handsome new Arts for Living, Center, and his 'I Am Lucy Terry' opens next week at the American Place Theater.
  22. ^ Fraser, C. Gerald (August 19, 1977). "Bullins Joins His Words to Music". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  23. ^ Shirley, Don (January 29, 1979). "'Storyville'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  24. ^ Scharine, Richard G. (1979). "Ed Bullins Was Steve Benson (But Who Is He Now?)". Black American Literature Forum. 13 (3): 103–109. doi:10.2307/3041525. JSTOR 3041525.
  25. ^ Hay 1997, p. 32.
  26. ^ Hay 1997, p. 33.
  27. ^ Andrews 1980, pp. 178–179.
  28. ^ "Ed Bullins". Guggenheim Fellowship. Archived from the original on November 17, 2021. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  29. ^ Fisher, James (July 15, 2021). Historical Dictionary of Contemporary American Theater. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-5381-2302-7.
  30. ^ "2012 Awards". Theatre Communications Group. Archived from the original on November 17, 2021. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Arata, Esther Spring; Rotoli, Nicholas John (1976). Black American Playwrights, 1800 to the Present: A Bibliography. Scarecrow Press. pp. 34–42. ISBN 0-8108-0912-5. OCLC 2020626.
  32. ^ Hay 1997, p. 133.
  33. ^ Hay 1997, p. 15.
  34. ^ Hay 1997, p. 121.
  35. ^ Hay 1997, p. 181.
  36. ^ Hay 1997, p. 149.
  37. ^ Gates, Anita (June 3, 1997). "A Family Ever on the Verge of Emotion". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  38. ^ Bourne, Kay (August 17, 2000). "Dance brings to life Nubian coronation". Bay State Banner. p. 15. ProQuest 367585627.


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