Ed Bullins Chronology

Ed Bullins Chronology


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Bullins is always a moralist; he probes and questions clichés,

accepted values, stereotypes, and romantic illusions to test what

is of value in them. His basic concern is with black people,

their values, aspirations, dreams.



Books By Ed Bullins

How Do You Do? / How Do You Do: A Nonsense Drama  / In the Wine Time / New Plays from The Black Theatre / Five Plays

The Electronic Nigger and Other Plays / A Black Quartet: Four New Black Plays  / The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements

Four Dynamite Plays The Theme Is Blackness: The Corner and Other Plays  /  The Reluctant Rapist

The New Lafayette Theatre Presents the Complete Plays and Aesthetic Comments by Six Black Playwrights

I Am Lucy Terry Famous American Plays of the 1970s  

*   *   *   *   *

Ed Bullins

(2 July 1935—   )

Chronology—Productions & Publications

1935 – Born in Philadelphia on 2 July to bertha Marie queen and Edward Bullins. Raised by his mother in North philadelphia’s black ghetto. Bullins lived the street life. . . . hisearly years emerge from several of his plays, as well as from his short stories, collected in The Hungered One: early Writings (1971), and from his novel The reluctant Rapist (19730. Stabbed in a fight, his survival impressed with the notion he had a task and a destiny.

1952 — Quit school and joined the Navy. During this period, he won the lightweight boxing championship on one of the ships of the Mediterranean fleet.

1955 — Returned to Philadelphia and enrolled in night school

1958 — Left Philadelphia for Los Angeles, leaving behind wife and several children.

1961 — While attending classes part time, started writing seriously, writing mainly fiction, essays and poetry.

1963 — Periodical Publication: “The Polished Protest: Aesthetics and the Black Writer,” Contact, 4 (July): 67-68.

964 — Moved to San Francisco and enrolled in the creative writing program of san Francisco State College (now university) and Began writing plays.

1965 — Wrote How Do You Do?, Dialect Determinism (or The Rally), and Clara’s Ole Man. The absurdist aspects (Kafka, Ionesco, Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet) of How Do You Do? are rarely central to Bullins’ other plays.  Produced at Firehouse Repertory Theatre San Francisco 5 August.

1965 — Dialect Determinism (or The Rally) is a satire leveled against militant leader Boss Brother in which Malcolm X’s ghost makes an  appearance to challenge him. Bullins’ central theme is the rejection of political rhetoric that is a substitute for action and conceals an unwillingness to effect personal and social changes.

1965 — Clara’s Ole Man written in a realistic modedepicts the street people and tenement dwellers, the subjects of his later plays. The play remains one of his finest. The Four principal characters are Big Girl, loud, aggressive, and quick tongued; Clara, attractive, insecure, and self-deprecating; Baby Girl; an arrested inarticulate version of Clara; and Jack, a young man, non-street person that calls on Clara. He discovers the hard way that Clara’s “ole man” is Big Girl.

1965 — Periodical Publication: “Ed Bullins” in “The Task of the Negro Writer as Artist: A Symposium,” Negro Digest, 14 (April): 54-83.

1966 — It has No Chance and A Minor Scene. Produced at Black Arts West Repertory Theatre/School, Spring

1966 — The Game of Adam and Eve,  co-authored by Shirley Tarbell. Produced at Playwrights’ Theatre, Los Angeles, Spring

1966 — The Theme is Blackness. Produced at San Francisco College, San Francisco.

1966 — Periodical Publication: “Theatre of Reality,” Negro Digest, 15 (April): 60-66.

1967 — Left California for New York. Joined up with Robert Macbeth, a young black director, and a group of young actors and actresses to form the New Lafayette Theatre. its first production was Ron Milner’s Who’s Got His Own (13 October) at the original headquarters of 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue. Its second production was Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot in November.

1967 — Book: How Do You Do: A Nonsense Drama (Mill Valley, Cal.: Illumination Press, 1967)

1967 — Received an American Place Theatre grant.

1967 — Periodical Publication: “The So-Called Western Avant-Garde Drama,” Liberator, 7 (December): 16-17.

1968-1980 — At least 25 of Bullins plays were produced produced in New York: ten by New Lafayette; others by La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, the New Federal theatre of Henry Street Settlement House, the Public Theatre, American Place Theatre, the Workshop of the Players Art, and Lincoln Center.

1968 — Received a Rockefeller grant.

1968 — The Electronic Nigger, which has some absurdist aspects. The play’s point is the danger of rhetoric of any kind. Thes etting is a writing class and the lead character is a pretentious  older student filled with jargon. Bullins lampoons the pseudo-objective rhetoric of the social sciences and conventional, unexamined rhetoric of the humanities. Neither deal well with being black in America.

1968 — The Lafayette Players third production opened at the American Place Theatre, after a fire drove them from their original headquarters. This production, called The Electronic Nigger and Others (and later Three Plays by Ed Bullins), consisted of three plays by Bullins: The Electronic Nigger; A Son, Come Home; Clara’s Ole Man. A Son, Come Home centers on a conversation between a fanatically religious mother and her estranged son. Reconciliation is followed by retreat into individual suffering an loneliness

1968 — Three Plays by Ed Bullins wins Vernon Rice drama Award.

1968 — In the Wine Time, a full length by Bullins, produced by the New Lafayette Theatre in its new headquarters  on 137the Street; also premiered Bullin’s Goin’ A Buffalo, a play that questions the meaning of love and loyalty and examines the viability of dreams enmeshed in illusions and traps of their own making. 21 February.

1968 — Goin’ A Buffalo. Produced at American Place Theatre. 6 June.

1968 — Periodical Publication: Drama Review, Black Theatre Issue, edited by Ed Bullins, 12 (Summer)

1968 — In the Wine Time. Produced at the New Lafayette Theatre. 10 December.

1968 — The Corner. Produced at Theatre Company of Boston.

1968 — Periodical Publication: “Black Theatre Groups: A Directory,” Drama Review, 12 (Summer): 172-175.

1968 — Periodical Publication: “Black Theatre Notes,” Black Theatre, no. 1.

1968 — Periodical Publication: “Short Statements on Street Theatre,” Drama Review, 12 (Summer): 93.

1968 — Periodical Publication: “What Lies Ahead for Black Americans,” Negro Digest, 19 (November): 8

1969 – 1972 — Periodical Publication: Black Theatre, edited by Bullins, 6 issues.

1969 — Wrote The Gentleman Caller, which also has some absurdist aspects. In a Black Quartet (includes Ben Caldwell’s Prayer Meeting, Amiri Baraka’s Great Goodness of Life, Ron Milner’s The Warning–A Theme for Linda), Chelsea Theater Center, 25 April.

1969 — New Lafayette Theatre produces (in April) their most controversial play, We Righteous Bombers , credited to  Kingsley Bass, Jr., a reworking of Camu’s Les Justes, which questions the revolutionary act of blacks killing blacks. The play became the subject of a symposium at the theatre 11 May 1968 whose transcription was published in Black Theatre, issue 4, a magazine edited by Bullins for the New Lafayette. The problem posed was whether revolutionary activity should be challenged by writers who had no alternative solutions. Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal defended the play; Askia Muhammad Toure and Ernie Mkalimoto. Marvin X and others claimed Bullins wrote the play. Bullins absent himself from the symposium.

1969 — Book: You Gonna Let Me Take You Out Tonight, Baby?, in Black Arts, edited by Ahmad Alhamisi and Harun Wangala (Detroit: Black Arts Publishing, 1969).

1969 — Book: New Plays from The Black Theatre, edited, with contributions, by Bullins (New York: Bantam).

1969 — Poetry: Journal of Black Poetry (Spring), includes contributions by Bullins.

1969 — Poetry: Negro Digest (December), includes contributions by Bullins.

1969 — Book: Five Plays (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill)

1970 — Received a Rockefeller grant.

1970 — Book: The Gentleman Caller, in A Black Quartet: Four New Black Plays, introduction by Clayton Riley (New York: New American Library).

1970 — A Ritual to Raise the Dead and Foretell the Future. Produced at New Lafayette Theatre. February 1970.

1970 — Wrote The Pig Pen, a policeman dressed like a pig occasionally walks across the stage. Produced at the American Place Theatre. 20 May 1970. The play is constructed around a party, centers on a racially-mixed couple. The audience witnesses various responses of characters they have gotten to know of the announcement of Malcolm X’s assassination. Bullins neither condones nor condemns interracial relationships, he rather points out the sickness that permeates them.

1970 —  New Lafayette Theatre produces Bullin’s The Duplex (22 May). .

1970 — The Helper. Produced at New Dramatists Workshop (New York). 1 June

1970 — It Bees Dat Way. Produced at Ambiance Lunch-Hour Theatre Club (London). 21 September Questions a black audience to rethink its pleasure of dramatic attacks on whites.

1970 — Death List. Produced at Theatre Black (New York). 3 October. A confrontation between a revolutionary and his woman. She confronts is planned assassination of 62 black leaders who signed an supporting the State of Israel. She asks, “Are a poem of death my Blackman? . . . Are you not the true enemy of Black people? Are you not the white created demon that we were all warned about?”

1970 — Street Sounds. Produced at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club. 14 October

1970 — The Devil Catchers. Produced at New Lafayette Theatre (New York). 27 November.

1970 — Poetry: Black World (September), includes contributions by Bullins.

1970 — Book: The Electronic Nigger and Other Plays (London: Faber & Faber).

1971 — In New England Winter. Produced at New Federal Theatre. 26 January.

1971 — New Lafayette Theatre produces Bullin’s The Fabulous Miss Marie. 9 March.

1971 — Receives a Black Arts Alliance Award for In New England Winter, and Obie for The Fabulous Miss Marie, which is Bullins first place  in which he turns his attention to the black middle class.

1971 — Received a Guggenheim fellowship.

1971 — Poetry: Journal of Black Poetry (Fall-Winter), includes contributions by Bullins.

1971 — Book: The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements (New York: Morrow)

1972 — Received a Rockefeller grant.

1972 — Short Bullins (includes How Do You Do?, A Minor Scene, Dialect Determinism, and It Has No Choice). Produced at La Mama Experimental Club (New York). 25 February.

1972 — Next Time in City Stops. Bronx Community College (New York). 8 May.

1972 — You Gonna Let Me Take You Out Tonight, Baby?  Produced at Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre ( New York). 17 May                

1972 — Lincoln Center produces Bullins’ The Duplex. Bullins was unhappy with the directors’ (Jules Irving’s and Gilbert Moses’) emphases and accused them of turning his play into a “coon show.”

1972 — New Lafayette Theatre produces Bullin’s The Psychic Pretenders. 24 December.

1972 — Book: Four Dynamite Plays (New York: Morrow).

1973 — Received a Creative Artists’ Public Service Program Award.

1973 — House Party, a Soul Happening. Music by Pat Patrick. Lyrics by Ed Bullins. Produced by American Place Theatre (New York) 29 October.

1973 — Playwright-in-Residence at the American Place Theatre.

1973 — Book: The Theme Is Blackness: The Corner and Other Plays (New York: Morrow).

1973 — Book: The Reluctant Rapist (New York: Harper & Row).

1974 — Book: The New Lafayette Theatre Presents the Complete Plays and Aesthetic Comments by Six Black Playwrights, edited with contributions by Bullins (Garden City: Doubleday)

1975-1983 — On staff at the New York Shakespeare Writers’ Unit.

1975 — The Taking of Miss Janie. Produced at Federal Theatre. 4 May. Won Bullins the New York Drama Critic’s Award. Relates the 13-year relationship between a black man, Monty and the blond Janie, whose rape forms the prologue and epilogue of the play. The play suggests that the 60s were a failure, a “stalking and a tease,” for all Monty wanted was Miss Janie.

1975 — Periodical Publication: “Malcolm: ’71, or Publishing Blackness,” Black Scholar, 6 (June 1975): 84-86.

1975 — Periodical Publication: “Next Time,” Spirit, The Magazine of Black Culture, 1 (Spring).

1976 — Received a Guggenheim fellowship.

1976 — Wrote two children’s plays that were produced: I Am Lucy Terry and The Mystery of Phillis Wheatley.

1976 — Received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Columbia College in Chicago.

1976 — The Mystery of Phillis Wheatley. Produced at New Federal Theatre. 4 February.

1976 — I Am Lucy Terry. Produce at American Place Theatre. 11 February.

1976 — Home Boy, a Cycle play. Music by Aaron Bel. Lyrics by Ed Bullins. Produced at Perry Street Theatre (New York). 26 September.

1976 — Jo Anne! Produced at Theatre of the Riverside Church (New York). 7 October.

1977 — Wrote books for two musicals that were produced: Sepia Star and Storyville.

1977 —  Storyville. Music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden. La Jolla, Mandeville Theatre (University of California). May.

1977 – DADDY!, a Cycle play. Produced at New Federal Theatre (New York). 9 June.

1977 — Sepia Star. Music and lyrics by  Mildred Kayden.  Produced at Stage (New York), 20 August.

1978 — Michael. Produced at New heritage Repertory Theatre (New York). May.

1978 — C’mon Back to Heavenly Home. Amherst College Theatre (Amherst, Massachusetts).

1980 — Leavings and How do You Do? Produced at Syncopation (New York). 1980.

1980  — Steve and Velma. Produced at New African Company. August.

1981 — Book: The Taking of Miss Janie, in Famous American Plays of the 1970s, edited by Ted Hoffman (New York: Dell)

1983 — Moves back to San Francisco area, teaching and writing.

1989 — Earned bachelor’s degree in liberal studies (English and playwriting) from Antioch University/San Francisco.

1994 – Earned his M.F.A. in playwriting from San Francisco State University.

1995 – Appointed professor of theatre at Northeastern University.

2006 — Currently Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Northeastern University in Boston

*   *   *   *   *

Bullins is always a moralist; he probes and questions clichés, accepted values, stereotypes, and romantic illusions to test what is of value in them. His basic concern is with black people, their values, aspirations, dreams. Constant in his work is a questioning of the meaning of the idea of a people, a community, and its various definitions: the ideological definitions generated by the black nationalist movement of the 1960s and early 1970s; the traditional definitions of family and kinship networks; street definitions evolved from the partnerships and loyalties of neighborhood and street life; the looser definition suggested simply by the phrase with which he often concludes his list of characters: “the people in this play are Black.”

A wanderer himself, Bullins sets his plays all over the United States: Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Newport, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. However, geography in Bullin’s plays is superseded by a more important location, the black nation which exists wherever black people are. they, and Bullins, create an imaginative and subjective sense of place through their music, language, and perceptions of the world. they transform geographic place into their own territory. Bullins frequently asserts he does not write realistic plays, regardless of the style in which they are written. For example, his characters frequently drift freely between time frames, ore ven step out of the play to address the audience; Bullins knows it is on such imaginative realities that not only a culture but also a political and social identity can be built.

Intrinsic in the imaginative world of a Bullins play is black music: it is always either coming from a radio or from an actual combo which sits on the stage and even takes part in the action. Jazz, blues (for which he often writes the lyrics), and gospel music become the context for this characters’ activities, providing another dimension to their meaning.

Language, too, provides more than realistic detail; it defines the sensibility of his people. In Bullins’ plays, black street argot becomes lyrical without losing any of its energy and edge. Moreover, his plays are often punctuated by long monologues through which characters define themselves with a precision made possible by Bullins perfect ear. In fact, two of his plays, Street Sounds (produced in 1970) and its spin-off House Party, a Soul happening (produced in 1973) consist entirely of monologues through which the mosaic of the black community emerges. . . .

When Bullins edited Drama Review’s black theater issue, he divided the plays into two groups: “Black Revolutionary Theatre,” under which heading he placed plays depicting racial conflict, often literal racial warfare, and “Theatre of Black Experience,” in which group he placed his own Clara’s Ole Man. Bullins has written in both modes; however, his plays differ radically from the work of Baraka, Ben Caldwell, Marvin X, Sonia Sanchez, Herbert Stokes, and Jimmie Garrett, whose work he chose for the “Black revolutionary Theatre” section of the volume. Bullins plays challenge the very metaphors these playwrights employed to depict the battle raging between their characters’ consciousnesses, as well as in the streets. . . . [Such is the case with Dialect Determinism; We Righteous Bombers, included in New Plays from the Black Theatre; It Bees Dat Way; and Death List.]. . . .

Formal critical response to Bullins’ work is as yet sparse; theater reviews—most of them enthusiastic—still constitute almost all of the commentary on his plays. He is most frequently praised for his language, power of observation, humor, and veracity. The structural techniques of Bullins’ plays most frequently disturb critics who feel his episodic vignettes, central use of party, and the monologues in particular leave the plays unfocused. But all agree that, in Clive Barnes’ words, he “writes like an angel.”

A central figure for the black arts movement of the 196os and 1970s, Bullins, however, avoided making theoretical statements to which other leading figures of the movement turned in seeking a rationale for the new writing and daring theater that the movement produced. Although hard on his characters who are cultural nationalists, Bullins does not criticize their beliefs, but rather their substituting rhetoric for art, for the actual creation of new cultural and social realities. Moreover, if one must label Bullins, the most accurate one is that of cultural nationalist, for the effect of his work is to give substance to the theory, to make possible a definition of cultural nationalism that has not yet been proposed.

A national culture exists when the artists of a nation have created a world of the imagination, have succeeded in giving the people of the nation an extended artistic reference point, a mirror as well as a picture of their possibilities, creative means for extending their personal, social and political sense of themselves. Black music has always performed this service for black Americans; black writers and visual artists have only recently begun to do so. both in the sheer volume of his work as well as through what he depicts and explores, Bullins consciously and carefully seeks to create a counterpart to black music: a world his audience can visit and revisit, in which they can see themselves, from which they can draw sustenance, through which they are challenged to create themselves anew. Black music is merely the ground, the setting, and the structure of Bullins’ work: it provides its most telling analogue.

—Leslie Sanders, York University, Atkinson College. “Ed Bullins. “Dictionary of Literary Biography. Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers (Volume 38), 1985.

*   *   *   *   *


Marvin X, “Interview with Ed Bullins: Black Theatre,” Negro Digest, 18 (April 1969): 9-16.

Mel Gussow, “Bullins the Artist and the Activist, Speaks,” New York Times, 22 September 1971, p. 54.

Erika Munk, “Up from Politics—An Interview with Ed Bullins,” Performance, 2 (July/August 1972): 52-56.

Richard Wesley, “An Interview with playwright Ed Bullins,” Black Creation, 4 (Winter 1973): 8-10.

Charles M. Young, “Is Rape a Symbol of Race Relations?” New York Times, 18 May 1975, II: 5.

Patricia O’Hare, “Bullins—a Philadelphia Story,” New York Times Daily News, 7 June 1975, p. 25.


Jervis Anderson, “Profiles—Dramatist,” New Yorker, 49 (16 June 1973); 40-79.


W.D.E. Andrews, “Theatre of Black Reality: The Blues Drama of Ed Bullins,” Southwest Review, 65 (Spring 1980): pp. 178-190.

Samuel J. Bernstein, “The Taking of Miss Janie,” in his The Strands Entwined: A New Direction in American Drama (Boston: Northwestern Press, 1980), pp. 61-86.

Don Evans, “The Theatre of Confrontation: Ed Bullins, Up Against the Wall,” Black World, 23 (April 1974): 14-18.

Geneviève Fabre, Drumbeats, Masks and Metaphor: Contemporary Afro-American Theatre, translated by Melvin Dixon (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 168-189.

Samuel a. Hay, “What Shape Shapes Shapelessness?: Structural Elements in Ed Bullins’ Plays.” Black World, 23 (April 1974): 20-26.

Richard G. Scharine, “Ed Bullins was Steve Benson (But Who Is He Now?),” Black American Literature Forum, 13 (fall 1979): 103-109.

Geneva Smitherman, “Ed Bullins/Stage One: Everybody Wants to Know Why I Sing the Blues,” Black World, 23 (April 1974): 4-13.

Robert L. Tener, “Pandora’s Box—A Study of Ed Bullins Dramas,” CLA Journal, 19 (June 1976): 533-544.

Source: Dictionary of Literary Biography. Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers (Volume 38), 1985.

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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31 July 2012




Home  Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Related Files:    Interview with Ed Bullins

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