Richardson, Willis, 1889-1977.
Billy Rose Theatre Division
Collection is open to the public. Library policy on photography and photocopying will apply. Advance notice may be required.
The Willis Richardson papers consist of correspondence, scrapbooks, and ephemera. Coverage of Willis Richardson'scareer is sketchy, and there are major gaps in the collection, but there is correspondence from noted African-American authors and actors, including Eulalie Spence, Ridgely Torrence, Paul Robeson, Frank H. Wilson, W. E. B. Du Bois, John LaFarge, Alain LeRoy Locke, and Lester A. Walton. There is also material pertaining to Howard University, the Dramatists Guild, and to Richardson's almamater, Dunbar High School of Washington, D. C. The ephemera includes contracts, personal notes and cards, drafts of various writings, and programs for Richardson's high school commencement exercises and Class Night.
Playwright Willis Richardson (1889-1977) became the first African-American dramatist to have a non-musical work staged on Broadway when his play THE CHIP WOMAN'S FORTUNE opened in May 1923. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina onNovember 5, 1889, Willis Richardson was a child of nine when a race riot in his hometown resulted in the deaths ofsixteen African-Americans. He and his parents moved soon thereafter to Washington, D.C., where Willis was educated at the M Street School, later named Dunbar High School, the first public high school for blacks in the United States. Having taken correspondence courses in playwritingas well as poetry, Richardson staged his early plays in black high schools and colleges, including Howard University, and also had his work published in magazines. On May 15, 1923, Richardson's play THE CHIP WOMAN'S FORTUNE opened at the Frazee Theatre (later known as the Wallack Theatre), where it played 31 performances. His other plays include MORTGAGED (1924) and THE BOOT BLACK LOVER (1925). In later years Richardson edited the anthologies PLAYS AND PAGEANTS FROM THE LIFE OF THE NEGRO (1930) and NEGRO HISTORY IN THIRTEEN PLAYS (1935). He married Mary Ellen Jones in 1914, and the couple had threedaughters. Richardson earned his living at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where he worked from 1911 to 1954.Willis Richardson died on November 7, 1977, two days afterhis 88th birthday.
Controlled Access Terms
- Richardson, Willis, 1889-1977.
- Dunbar High School (Washington, D.C.)
- Dramatists Guild.
- Howard University.
- African American dramatists.
- African Americans in literature.
- African Americans in the performing arts.
- Blacks in literature.
Additional Creator Names
- Spence, Eulalie, 1894-1981.
- Torrence, Ridgely, 1875-1950.
- Robeson, Paul, 1898-1976.
- Wilson, Frank, 1886-1956.
- Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963.
- La Farge, John, 1880-1963.
- Locke, Alain LeRoy, 1886-1954.
- Walton, Lester A., 1882-1965.