Playwright Ed Bullins, a leading dramatic voice in the Black Arts Movement, died at his home in Roxbury, Massachusetts, November 13 from complications of dementia at the age of 86. The news was confirmed to The New York TImes by his wife, Marva Sparks.
Born July 2, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mr. Bullins started writing short stories for Citadel, a magazine he created in the early '60s. He joined San Francisco State College's creative writing program in 1964, where he began writing plays. Mr. Bullins' first produced work was How Do You Do in 1968.
Inspired by Amiri Baraka's The Dutchman, Mr. Bullins would become involved with the Black Arts Movement, a group of Black playwrights, novelists, and poets focused on capturing the modern Black experience of which Baraka was a leading member. Mr. Bullins would become the chief artist in residence at Black House, a community center in San Francisco that served as a headquarters for both the Black Arts Movement and the Black Panthers, for whom Mr. Bullins also served as minister of culture. He won his first Drama Desk Award in 1968 for his trilogy play The Electronic N***** and Others, later re-titled Ed Bullins Plays, produced at New Lafayette Players.
Mr. Bullins would relocate to the Bronx in the early 1970s, where he had works produced at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, including Street Sounds, Short Bullins, and Clara's Ole Man. He also performed in Wallace Shawn's The Hotel Play in 1981, also at La MaMa. All told, Mr. Bullins had more than 100 works produced over his 55-year career.
He would hold positions at several New York theatre institutions throughout the '70s and early '80s, including being playwright-in-resident at American Place Theatre in 1973, and the Public Theater's New York Shakespeare Festival's Writers' Unit from 1975 to 1983. Mr. Bullins later returned to school and earned his bachelor's degree in English and playwriting from San Francisco's Antioch University, becoming a theatre professor at Northeastern University in 1995 through 2012.
Among Mr. Bullins' accolades are three Obie Awards, two Guggenheim grants, a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, two Black Arts Alliance Awards, and Theatre Communications Group's Visionary Leadership Award.
Mr. Bullins married poet-activist Pat Cooks in 1962, separating four years later. A second marriage, to Trixie Bullins, also ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, two sons, and three daughters, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by four children.