Authors: Charles Fuller

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Identity: African American

Author Works

Drama:

Sun Flowers, The Rise, pr. 1968 (one acts)

The Village: A Party, pr. 1968, pr. 1969 (as The Perfect Party)

In My Many Names and Days, pr. 1972

The Candidate, pr. 1974

First Love, pr. 1974

In the Deepest Part of Sleep, pr. 1974

The Lay Out Letter, pr. 1975

The Brownsville Raid, pr. 1976

Sparrow in Flight, pr. 1978

Zooman and the Sign, pr. 1979

A Soldier’s Play, pr., pb. 1981

Sally, pr. 1988

Prince, pr. 1988

Eliot’s Coming, pr. 1988 (pr. as part of the musical revue Urban Blight)

We, pr. 1989 (combined performance of Sally and Prince; parts 1 and 2 of play series)

Jonquil, pr. 1990 (part 3 of We play series)

Burner’s Frolic, pr. 1990 (part 4 of We play series)

Screenplays:

A Soldier’s Story, 1984 (adaptation of his play)

Zooman, 1995 (adaptation of his play)

Teleplays:

Roots, Resistance, and Renaissance, 1967 (series)

Mitchell, 1968

Black America, 1970-1971 (series)

The Sky Is Gray, 1980 (from the story by Ernest J. Gaines)

A Gathering of Old Men, 1987 (adaptation of the novel by Gaines)

Love Songs, 1999

Biography

Although he has worked in many areas–as a playwright, television writer, screenwriter, theater director, short-story writer, essayist, poet, and lecturer–Charles Fuller is perhaps acclaimed most as a playwright. Fuller wrote and produced his first play, The Village: A Party, in 1968. His place in contemporary African American theater is marked by an impressive number of dramas, among them Zooman and the Sign, for which he received two Obie Awards for Best Play and Best Playwright in 1980, and A Soldier’s Play, written and produced in 1981, which received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play, the 1982 Pulitzer Prize in drama, and a Columbia Pictures motion-picture contract in 1984.{$I[AN]9810001874}{$I[A]Fuller, Charles}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Fuller, Charles}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Fuller, Charles}{$I[tim]1939;Fuller, Charles}

The first child of Charles Fuller, Sr., a printer, and Hillary Anderson Fuller, a child care provider, Fuller was raised in comfortable circumstances in North Philadelphia in an extended family of many foster children. He attended a Roman Catholic high school with friend Larry Neal and attended Villanova University from 1956 to 1958. After four years of service in the U.S. Army in Japan and Korea, Fuller returned to complete his B.A. at LaSalle College from 1965 to 1968.

In the 1960’s, while in Philadelphia, Fuller began writing short stories, poetry, and essays at night after working various daytime jobs. His interest in literature, largely a result of having assumed the responsibility of proofreading his father’s print jobs, began early and served as the fertile source for the playwriting career that eventually developed from his short stories.

In addition to his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Soldier’s Play, a number of his best-known plays, notably The Brownsville Raid, Zooman and the Sign, and the We plays, have been produced by the Negro Ensemble Company. Fuller’s critically acclaimed The Brownsville Raid, based on a 1906 Texas incident, is about the court-martialing and dishonorable discharge of a regiment of African American soldiers who were accused of raiding Brownsville, Texas, in retaliation for racist practices of the townspeople, specifically for the racially motivated murder of a fellow soldier. Zooman and the Sign, too, is based on a true incident. This play, a melodrama in two acts, examines the murder and punishment of Zooman, a teenager who terrorized an entire neighborhood that became too afraid to identify him as the murderer of a twelve-year-old girl. In the We plays, the collective title for Sally, Prince, Jonquil, and Burner’s Frolic, Fuller delves into African American life and experience during the Civil War and the Reconstruction era.

Fuller is perhaps best known for A Soldier’s Play, a whodunit murder mystery in which the playwright poses provocative questions and examines such issues as racism in the U.S. Army during World War II, the image and place of African Americans in white American society, and, most important, the question of blackness and the rights of African Americans to define black identity. Dedicated to the memory of Larry Neal, Fuller’s lifelong childhood friend and fellow playwright who died in 1981 as the result of a heart attack, this two-act drama is about “the madness of race in America” and the real causes of black national oppression.

As a social reformer, Fuller wants to brush away “deeply rooted stereotypes” and preconceptions so as to explore the complexities of human relationships, particularly black-white relationships in the United States. He is also concerned about rectifying the distorted onstage and offstage portrayals of African Americans, especially of male African Americans. Critical of the white media’s negative portrayal of the black male, Fuller is just as critical of some blacks’ treatment of blacks. Convinced that the stage is the only powerful medium that can rectify the stereotypical image of blacks, Fuller tries in his plays to expose some of the real conflicts between white and black, and between black and black in the United States.

BibliographyAnadolu-Okur, Nilgun. Contemporary African American Theater: Afrocentricity in the Works of Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka, and Charles Fuller. New York: Garland, 1997. From the series Studies in African American History and Culture. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Banham, Martin, ed. The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Errol Hill, a black writer and educator, contributes an article on the history and development of African American theater, important factors in the career of Fuller. Hill also discusses the playwright’s two best-known plays in terms of their favorable reception by white critics and the more reserved attitude of black critics.Carter, Steven R. “The Detective as Solution: Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play.” Clues 12, no. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1991): 33-42.Draper, James P., ed. Black Literature Criticism. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 1992. Contains an informative article on Fuller with a biographical/critical introduction including an interview, chronology, and five excerpted critical reports by Harold Clurman, Amiri Baraka, Richard Gilman, William Demastes, and Richard Hornby. Baraka clearly states his reserved attitude toward Fuller’s depiction of black characters as white critics present more positive reactions.Fuller, Charles. “Pushing Beyond the Pulitzer.” Interview by Frank White. Ebony 38 (March, 1983): 116. In this interview, Fuller appraises what the Pulitzer Prize has meant to him and discusses the kind of plays he wishes to write–broader in scope, freer in style. He offers some illuminating details about his association with the Negro Ensemble Company and his method of work with its director and playwright Douglas Turner Ward.Fuller, Charles. “When Southern Blacks Went North.” Interview by Helen Dudar. The New York Times, December 18, 1988, p. C5. This interview was conducted with Fuller after the two plays in his cycle We opened at the Negro Ensemble Company’s theater. Fuller explains his plan to dramatize the lives of men and women as they moved North to escape slavery in the South. Fuller’s goal has been to give literary permanence to black history that has been handed down largely through oral tradition.Harriot, Esther. “Charles Fuller: The Quest for Justice.” In American Voices: Five Contemporary Playwrights in Essays and Interviews. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988. Harriott’s critical essay places Fuller as one of five Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights of the same generation who have provided an image of the United States as a violent and unstable society. Fuller is identified as a writer consistently focusing attention on social issues; his major plays’ leading characters are cogently discussed. Harriot’s interview reveals Fuller’s motivations, aspirations, working methods, and attitude on racism.Savran, David. In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theater Communications Group, 1988. Includes one of the best and most comprehensive articles on Fuller. It offers a brief critique of his major plays and then records an interview held between Fuller and Savran in the former’s apartment in 1986. In this free-ranging discussion, Fuller touches on everything from his taste in literature (Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre) to his experiments in dramatic technique and his experience in adapting A Soldier’s Play for the screen.
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