Alice Childress

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Alice Childress
Born (1916-10-12)12 October 1916
Charleston, South Carolina
Died 14 August 1994(1994-08-14) (aged 77)
New York City
Debut works Florence

Alice Childress (October 12, 1916[1] – August 14, 1994) was an American playwright, actor, and author.

Early life

Childress was born in Charleston, South Carolina, but at the age of nine, after her parents separated, she moved to Harlem where she lived with her grandmother on 118th Street, between Lenox Avenue and Fifth Avenue.[2] Though her grandmother had no formal education, she encouraged Alice to pursue her talents in reading and writing. Alice attended public school in New York for her middle school and attended the Wadleigh High School for her high school education, but had to drop out once her grandmother died.[3] She became involved in theater immediately after her high school and she did not attend college.[4]


She took odd jobs to pay for herself, including domestic worker, photo retoucher, assistant machinist, saleslady, and insurance agent. In 1939, she studied Drama in the American Negro Theatre (ANT), and performed there for 11 years. She acted in Abram Hill and John Silvera's On Strivers Row (1940), Theodore Brown's Natural Man (1941), and Philip Yordan's Anna Lucasta (1944).[4] There she won acclaim as an actress in numerous other productions, and moved to Broadway with the transfer of ANT's hit comedy Anna Lucasta, which became the longest-running all-black play in Broadway history.[5] Alice also became involved in social causes. She formed an off-broadway union for actors. Her first play, Florence, was produced off-Broadway in 1950.

Her next play, Just a Little Simple (1950), was adapted from the Langston Hughes' novel Simple Speaks His Mind. It was produced in Harlem at the Club Baron Theatre. Her next play, Gold Through the Trees (1952), gave her the distinction of being one of the first African-American women to have work professionally produced on the New York stage.[6] Her next work, Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, was completed in 1962. The setting of the show is South Carolina during World War I and deals with a forbidden interracial love affair. Due to the scandalous nature of the show and the stark realism it presented, it was impossible for Childress to get any theatre in New York to put it up. The show premiered at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and later in Chicago. It was not until 1972 that it played in New York at the New York Shakespeare Festival. It was later filmed and shown on TV, but many stations refused to play it.[7]

In 1965, she was featured in the BBC presentation The Negro in the American Theatre. From 1966 to 1968, she was awarded as a scholar-in-residence by Harvard University at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.[8]

Alice Childress is also known for her literary works. Among these are Those Other People (1989) and A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich (1973). Also, she wrote a screenplay for the 1978 film based on A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich. Her 1979 novel A Short Walk was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.[5] Childress described her writing as trying to portray the have-nots in a have society. In conjunction with her composer husband, Nathan Woodard, she wrote a number of musical plays, including Sea Island Song and Young Martin Luther King.


  • Off-Broadway Magazine (Trouble In Mind) 1956
  • ALA Best Young Adult Bokjnmkiok of 1975 (for A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich)
  • Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (for A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich)
  • Jane Addams Award for a young adult novel (for A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich)
  • Paul Robeson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Performing Arts, 1980
  • Honorable Mention, Coretta Scott King Award, 1982
  • What a Girl, 1985
  • Best Young Adult Author,198

Major works


  • Florence (1949)
  • Just a Little Simple (1950)
  • Gold Through the Trees (1952)
  • Trouble in Mind (1955)
  • Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (1966)
  • String (1969)
  • Wine in the Wilderness (1969)
  • Mojo: A Black Love Story (1970)
  • Sea Island Song (1977)
  • Moms: A Praise Play for a Black Comedienne (1987)


  • Like One of the Family (1956)
  • A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich (1973) which became a film of the same title in 1978.
  • A Short Walk (1979)
  • Rainbow Jordan (1981)
  • Those Other People (1989)


The song "Alice Childress" by Ben Folds Five is not related to her. It is a coincidence that there was a woman with the same name that poured water on Ben Folds' wife at the time, Anna Goodman.[9]

Childress was a member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.


  1. PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide
  2. Biography Today: Author Series. Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc. 1996. p. 18. ISBN 0-7808-0014-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Biography Today, p. 18.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Biography Today, p.19
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sue Woodman, Obituary of Alice Childress - "A testimonial to black America", The Guardian, September 14, 1994.
  6. The New York Public Library Performing Arts Desk Reference. New York: Macmillan. 1994. p. 12. ISBN 0-02-861447-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Biography Today, pp. 19-20.
  8. Biography Today, pp.20
  9. iTunes Originals interview with Ben Folds.