Discipline: Theatre – playwriting, Literature – fiction

Alice Childress

Discipline: Theatre – playwriting, Literature – fiction
Region: New York, NY
MacDowell fellowships: 1965

Alice Childress (1916-1994) was an African American actress, novelist, and playwright born in Charleston, SC. She moved to Harlem when she was five and was raised by her grandmother, who encouraged her to write. At weekly church events, Childress heard moving stories of personal and family struggles, which inspired her with a love of narrative and served as fodder for stories about the plight of urban people of color.

Childress became passionately interested in theater and attended the American Negro Theater School of Drama and Stagecraft. In 1944, she made her debut in Anna Lucasta, which became the longest running all-black play on Broadway. She wrote, directed, and starred in her first play in 1949 and in 1950, encouraged by actor and activist Paul Robeson, she founded her own theater. She wrote more than a dozen plays, including Trouble in Mind. Her 1966 play, Wedding Band, was produced again in 1972 by Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival.

Childress also wrote adult and children’s novels. Like her plays, they dealt with the pressures on urban African Americans. Her young-adult novel, A Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich (1973) recounts the rehabilitation of a 13-year-old heroin addict. The book became a bestseller and a movie in 1977. Her 1979 novel, A Short Walk, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Childress also collaborated with her husband, composer Nathan Woodard, on musical plays. She died in 1994 at age 81.

Studios

Mansfield

Alice Childress worked in the Mansfield studio.

Learn more