4 Influential Black Playwrights Throughout History

Langston Hughes, Black playwright

Art often imitates life and that is indeed the case with many stage plays and musicals. Drawing on personal life experiences and the world around them, these four Black playwrights throughout history created some of the most influential works in American theatre. Their works are poignant and have stood the test of time, quickly becoming classics in the literary world.

August Wilson

The winner of multiple Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prizes, August Wilson is a critically acclaimed playwright whose works shine a light on the lives of a Black family in Pittsburgh over the course of 90 years. This collection of ten plays, referred to as the Pittsburgh Cycle or the Century Cycle, features recurring characters and closely examines the everyday lives of Black American’s at key points in history. His most famous works in this series are Fences, The Piano Lesson, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, each of which won several awards.

Tyler Perry

You may be surprised to learn that in addition to being a brilliant comedian and actor, Tyler Perry is also an accomplished playwright. The man behind the character Madea began his career with the stage musical I Know I’ve Been Changed - the inspiration for the show came from a series of letters he wrote to himself throughout his early life and focuses on darker topics such as child abuse and rape. A skilled playwright, Perry has created many works with much lighter tones. His play, I Can Do Bad All by Myself, marked the first appearance of Perry’s most famous character and paved the way for further plays and movies in the highly entertaining Madea franchise.

Langston Hughes

Well-known for being a prolific poet and activist, Langston Hughes is also the creative mind behind many important plays. His work draws on many of the same themes as his poetry, particularly focusing on the aspirations of Black Americans striving to achieve the American Dream and the racism they faced on their journey. Written between the 1940s and 60s, his works reflect the times and the struggles faced by Black Americans and offer an authentic portrayal of life during this time.

Lorraine Hansberry

Perhaps one of the most well-known Black playwrights throughout history, Lorraine Hansberry achieve great success from her play, A Raisin in the Sun. This play has become an American classic and has been adapted for stage and screen many times. The original Broadway production received four Tony Award nominations, and its most recent Broadway revival also won three Tony Awards. Hansberry’s works often portray themes of racial inequality in America and aim to shine a light on the lives of Black Americans living in a predominantly white society.