Robert Earl Price
Red Devil Moon - Playwright
Robert Earl Price is an African American playwright and poet. He is a recipient of the American Film Institute’s William Wyler award for screenwriting, is the author of four books of poetry, and has had eleven plays produced in American regional theaters and abroad in Berlin and Johannesburg.
Price spent fifteen years in Los Angeles working in the Black film movement and collaborated with artists associated with the L.A. Rebellion. Price received an NAACP Image Award for service with the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition formed with Pearl Sharp in 1980. During this period, Price worked as a screenwriter for television and film. He worked on the series Palmerstown USA (1980), a CBS series by Alex Haley and Norman Lear, as well as on The Lazarus Syndrome (1978) and Freedom Road (1979).
In 1985, Price moved to Atlanta, Georgia working primarily as a poet and playwright. He was appointed playwright in residence at Seven Stages Theatre in Atlanta in 1987. Seven Stages premiered several of his plays beginning with Black Cat Bones for Seven Sons in 1988. His works often take jazz or blues musicians as their subject and marry poetry and experimental drama: Yardbird’s Vamp (1997), Blue Monk (1996), and HUSH: Composing Blind Tom Wiggins (2003). The latter play, based on the true story of a blind savant pianist born as a slave to a Confederate general and attaining a national reputation, was hailed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the “most important Atlanta premiere of the new century.” Blue Monk was commissioned by, and featured as part of the Cultural Olympiad connected with the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. The play, about Thelonious Monk, was later performed at the Windy Brow Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa.
His play Come on in My Kitchen (2006) uses the myth of blues guitarist Robert Johnson’s legendary deal with the devil to discuss the compromises of African-American celebrities, with characters clearly based on Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and Clarence Thomas. The play won the Gene Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award. The contribution of this work to the ever-evolving myth of Robert Johnson is discussed in the film documentary America’s Blues (2015).
In 2011, Price’s play All Blues was performed at Washington College (Chestertown, MD) and at Seven Stages. With variations of the Miles Davis composition “All Blues” interweaving through the work, the play reimagines the story of Ray Sprigle, a white reporter from the Pittsburgh Gazette who, in 1948, traveled through the Jim Crow South posing as a black man and recorded his life-changing experiences in a series of articles entitled “I Was a Negro in the South for Thirty Days.” His most recent play (2015), The Butterfly Effect was commissioned by the Drama Department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and weaves through the 50 years following the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
Price’s poems have been included in a number of anthologies and he was awarded the Atlanta Mayor’s Fellowship for Poetry in 1998, the same year he was part of the Georgia Poetry Circuit Tour. In 1990 he was selected for a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship for Poetry. His published collections of poetry feature many poems written in a style inflected by American blues music. His most recent collection is Wise Blood (2004, reprinted 2013).