Alice Childress (1912-1994) was an actress, novelist, and playwright. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, she moved to Harlem at age five, where she was raised by her grandmother. Alice’s grandmother encouraged her love of writing, and Alice found inspiration in her family’s stories as well as the lives of the people around her. In particular, the stories she heard at weekly church events inspired her to focus on the lives of urban African-Americans.
Alice developed a passion for theatre and attended the American Negro School of Drama and Stagecraft. In 1944, she made her Broadway acting debut in Anna Lucasta—but she constantly battled racism in casting, being denied leading roles because she black while also being told she was “too light” for traditional “black” roles. Frustrated and disgusted, Alice began writing plays. She was particularly interested in creating central roles for African-American women, observing that “the Negro woman has almost been omitted as important subject matter in the general popular American drama, television, motion pictures, and radio.” She also emphasized the importance of representing ordinary people on stage; her goal was “to write about those who come in second, or not at all…My writing attempts to interpret the ordinary, because they are not ordinary.”
In all, Childress wrote over a dozen plays and several novels, including the groundbreaking young adult book A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich (1973) about a thirteen-year-old recovering heroin addict. Hero was nominated for the National Book Award; her 1979 novel A Short Walk, about an ordinary woman’s eventful “short walk” through life was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.