Thulani Davis

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Thulani Nkabinde Davis
BornBarbara Neal Davis
(1949-07-19) July 19, 1949 (age 69)
OccupationPlaywright, journalist, librettist, novelist, poet, and screenwriter
Notable worksMy Confederate Kinfolk
Playing the Changes
All the Renegade Ghosts Rise

Thulani Davis (born 1949[1]) is an American playwright, journalist, librettist, novelist, poet, and screenwriter. She is a graduate of Barnard College and attended graduate school at both the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.[2] In 1992, Davis received a Grammy Award for her album notes on Aretha Franklin's Queen Of Soul — The Atlantic Recordings, becoming the first female recipient of this award.[3][4] Davis wrote for the Village Voice for more than a decade,[2][3] including authoring the obituary for fellow poet and Barnard alumna June Jordan.[5] Thulani Davis is a contemporary of and collaborator with Ntozake Shange.[6][7]


Thulani Davis was born to two educators from Virginia,[2] Willie ("Billie") Louise Barbour Davis and Collis Huntington Davis, Sr.[1] The Davises are a prominent African-American family of Virginia and the subject of her 2006 book, My Confederate Kinfolk.

Davis graduated from the Putney School in 1966 and continued her education at Barnard College, from which she graduated in 1970.[1] Davis also attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.[2] After graduating from Barnard, Davis moved to San Francisco where she worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Sun-Reporter, reporting on news stories such as the Soledad Brothers trial and the Angela Davis case.[1][2] Davis became a performing poet and worked with a number of musicians and poets in San Francisco.[2] She also joined the Third World Artists Collective, collaborating with Ntozake Shange and others.[1]

Davis returned to New York City in the 1970s. There, she wrote for the Village Voice for 13 years, eventually working her way up to serve as Senior Editor.[1][2] In the mid-1980s Davis collaborated with her cousin, composer Anthony Davis, in order to write the libretto to X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X. The two collaborated again in 1997 when Davis wrote the libretto to Amistad.[1] Davis was also involved in the creation of documentaries and film after moving back to New York City. Her filmmaker brother, Collis Huntington Davis, Jr., introduced her to other black filmmakers. Through these connection, Davis became involved in the making of documentaries;[2] the first with which she was associated aired on PBS.[2] She continues to work on a number of creative projects including operas, films, novels, and plays.

Davis is an ordained Buddhist priest in the Jodo Shinshu sect.[8] She founded the Brooklyn Buddhist Association with her husband Joseph Jarman.[3]



  • My Confederate Kinfolk (2006)
  • Maker of Saints (1996)
  • Malcolm X: The Great Photographs (1993)
  • 1959, a novel (1992)
  • Playing the Changes (1985)
  • All the Renegade Ghosts Rise (1978)


  • Paid in Full, screenwriter (2002)
  • Maker of Saints, co-producer (2010)


  • The Souls of Black Folk (2003)
  • Everybody's Ruby: Story of a Murder in Florida (1999)
  • Ava & Cat in Mexico (1994)
  • Adaptation, Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1990)
  • Paint (1982)
  • Shadow & Veil, with Ntozake Shange, Jessica Hagedorn, Laurie Carlos, et al. (1982)
  • Sweet Talk and Stray Desires (1979)
  • Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon, with Shange and Hagedorn (1977)

Musical works[edit]

  • Dark Passages (1998)
  • Amistad, an opera, libretto (1997)
  • A Woman Unadorned (1994)
  • Baobab Four (1994)
  • The E. & O. Line, an electronic opera, libretto (1989)
  • X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, an opera, libretto (1986)
  • X-cerpts (1987)
  • Steppin' Other Shores (1983)
  • See Tee's New Blues (1982)

Documentaries and recordings[edit]

  • I'll Make Me a World: Black Creative Minds in the 20th Century
  • W. E. B. DuBois: A Biography in Four Voices (1996)
  • Thulani Davis Asks, 'Why Howard Beach?' (1988)
  • Thulani (1984–86)
  • Reflections (2002)
  • The Musical Railism of Anne LeBaron (1998)
  • Songposts, Vol. 1 (1991)
  • Without Borders (1989)
  • Fanfare for the Warriors (1985)


  • Inaugural fellow, The Leon Levy Center for Biography, City University of New York Graduate Center, 2008–09
  • Fellow, The Newington-Cropsey Foundation Academy of Art, 2007–08
  • Fellow, The Charles H. Revson Fellows Program on the Future of the City of New York at Columbia University, 2003–04
  • Declared an Admiral of The Great Navy of the State of Nebraska by the Governor of Nebraska, 2004
  • The New York Coalition of One Hundred Black Women, First Annual Legacies Award, for Achieving Unparalled Excellence in the Arts, 2003
  • Induction in the Black Writers Hall of Fame, 1998
  • The Ralph Metcalfe Chair, Marquette University, Milwaukee, 1998
  • The Paul Robeson Cultural Democracy Award, The Chicago Center for Arts Policy, 1998
  • David Randolph Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, The New School, NY, 1998
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Artist-in-residence, 1996
  • Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers Award, 1996–99
  • PEW National Theatre Artist Residency Grant, 1993–95
  • Grammy Award, Best Album Notes, Aretha Franklin, "The Atlantic Recordings", 1993, First woman to win in category
  • Grammy Nomination, Best New Work, Classical, "X, The Life & Times...," 1993
  • Chicago Humanities Festival Award, 1992
  • New York Foundation for the Arts, The Gregory Millard Fellowship Award, Fiction, 1988
  • Manhattan Borough President's Awards, Excellence in the Arts & Literature, 1987
  • New York State Council on the Arts, Writer in Residency Award, 1987
  • The Fannie Lou Hamer Award, Medgar Evers College, Women's Center, 1987


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Guide to the Davis Family Papers, 1876-2007 and undated, bulk 1924-2004". David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Thulani Davis, a voice of the written word". African American Registry. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "Thulani Davis". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  4. ^ "The GRAMMYs' Trailblazing Women, Part One". Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  5. ^ Davis, Thulani (June 25, 2002). "June Jordan, 1936–2002". Village Voice. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  6. ^ "Thulani Davis by Stephanie Fleischmann". BOMB Magazine. Fall 1990. Archived from the original on 2014-05-12.
  7. ^ "Black music / Ntozake Shange and Thulani Davis ; interviewed by Joan Thornell". Pacifica Radio Archives. Archived from the original on 12 May 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  8. ^ Masaoka, Miya. "Rules of Engagement". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2014.