Alice Childress was an American playwright, actor, and author. Childress is recognized as the only black woman to have written, produced, and published plays for four decades.
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. Though her grandmother had no formal education, she encouraged Alice to pursue her talents in reading and writing. Childress attended school but while in high school, her grandmother passed away which led to Childress dropping out of school.
She got involved in theater immediately after leaving high school. Childress 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). She eventually moved to Broadway with the transfer of ANT’s hit Anna Lucasta, which became the longest-running all-black play in Broadway history.
In 1949, Childress began her writing career with the one-act play Florence, which she directed and performed in. She is also known for her young adult novels, among which are Those Other People (1989) and A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich (1973). Alice Childress died of cancer on August 14, 1994, at age 77.