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Alice Childress, Pioneering Literary Genius, Will Reach Broadway At Last


Alice Childress on Broadway, exciting news at last about one of theatre’s most underappreciated geniuses. Her Trouble In Mind debuts at the Roundabout next year. Childress lived on Roosevelt Island in the last years of her life, a community pioneer.

By David Stone

Although Alice Childress acted, wrote and directed during her career, achieving many firsts, her work never appeared on Broadway.

Efforts failed when she refused to compromise the searing truths in her work to suit 1950s audiences.

But that’s about to change.

Trouble in Mind, Childress’s seminal work, comes to life at the Roundabout Theatre in October. (Details)

We extend a hearty Thanks! to Linda Becker for tipping us on this story.

Roosevelt Island News: Alice Childress Memorial
A tribute to Alice Childress on Roosevelt Island, placed in a shady location just south of the Meditation Steps. RIOC’s Erica Spencer-EL, with support from then CEO Susan Rosenthal, rescued it from abuse at PS/IS 217.
Alice Childress on the West Promenade near her home in Westview on Roosevelt Island.

Just 65 years too late, her first full length play, Trouble In Mind, is set for late next year at the Roundabout, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. It’s a play about a play, Chaos in Belleville, with an anti-lynching theme.

Transplanted In New York

Although Childress was born in Charleston, South Carolina, she came to New York at nine and grew up with her grandmother in Harlem.

Working and creating in the city for the rest of her life, she spent her last 20 years as another kind of pioneer. She was a pioneer in the “City of Tomorrow,” Roosevelt Island, a community flowering out of urban crisis.

Childress died in 1994.

Actor Michael Rogers remembers arriving by bus to meet Childress in the apartment she shared in Westview with her husband, composer Nathan Woodard. This was before the Roosevelt Island Tram went into operation in 1976.

But Before Alice Childress On Broadway…

In 2017, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. (RIOC), collaborating with the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, produced Trouble In Mind in her adopted hometown. Michael Rogers, the young man she mentored, directed.

And last month, on Juneteenth, a move started to name the local New York Public Library branch after her. Not only was Childress a book writer, but she also helped start the collection later absorbed into the NYPL system.

Little known fact, her novel, written while she lived on Roosevelt Island, A Short Walk, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1979. And the year before, A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich, a film starring Cecily Tyson and Paul Winfield, hit screens with her screenplay adapted from her first juvenile novel.

Alice Childress is going to be on Broadway, but she’s never really left Roosevelt Island and New York City.

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