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Ed Bullins, Leading Playwright of the Black Arts Movement, Dies at 86

Ed Bullins, who was among the most significant Black playwrights of the 20th century and a leading voice in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s, died on Saturday at his home in Roxbury, Mass. He was 86.

His wife, Marva Sparks, said the cause was complications of dementia.

Over a 55-year career in which he produced nearly 100 plays, Mr. Bullins sought to reflect the Black urban experience unmitigated by the expectations of traditional theater. Most of his work appeared in Black theaters in Harlem and Oakland, Calif., and perhaps for that reason he never reached the heights of acclaim that greeted peers like August Wilson, whose plays appeared on Broadway and were adapted for the screen (and who often credited Mr. Bullins as an influence).

That was fine with Mr. Bullins. He often said that he wrote not for white or middle-class audiences but for the strivers, hustlers and quiet sufferers whose struggles he sought to capture in searing works like “In the Wine Time” (1968) and “The Taking of Miss Janie” (1975).

“He was able to get the grass roots to come to his plays,” the writer Ishmael Reed said in an interview. “He was a Black playwright who spoke to the values of the urban experience. Some of those people had probably never seen a play before.”

Though Mr. Bullins was a careful student of white playwrights like Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill, he rejected many of their conventions, pursuing a loose, rapid style that drew equally on avant-garde jazz and television — two forms that he felt put him closer to the register of his intended audiences.

He won three Obie Awards and two Guggenheim grants, and in 1975 the New York Drama Critics’ Circle named “The Taking of Miss Janie” the best American play of the year.

Read entire article at New York Times