This Day in Black History: Nov. 26, 1970

Charles Gordone becomes the first Black playwright to receive the Pulitzer Prize. 

Posted: 11/26/2012 05:08 PM EST
Charles Gordone

(Photo: Public Domain)

Charles Gordone became the first African-American playwright to receive a Pulitzer on Nov. 26, 1970.

The impetus for No Place to Be Somebody, the play that earned the writer, actor and director the Pulitzer, was playing the role of a servant in another production, Jean Genet's The Blacks. It included future renowned actors James Earl Jones, Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson and others. He also used his experience from the time-old tradition of working as a waiter in New York City while trying to build an acting career.

That it was his first play made the honor so extraordinary, making him "the most astonishing new American playwright to come along since Edward Albee," according to The New York Times drama critic Walter Kerr. But, as The Times also noted, his early success also was a curse, prompting Kerr to ask 12 years later whether anyone had "seen hide or hair" of Gordone, whose play was "once so exciting."

He had become more involved as an activist as chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality's committee for employment of Negro performers, working on theatre productions with young offenders as a rehabilitation technique. He also taught English and theater at Texas A&M University. 

Gordone died on Nov. 16, 1995.

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