Willis Richardson (1889-1977) was one of the most prolific playwrights of the 1920s. In 1923 his play, The Chip Woman's Fortune, made Richardson the first black playwright to have a nonmusical production on Broadway. A year later, his Mortgaged was the first work by a non-student black playwright to be produced by the Howard University Players, a local theatrical troupe.

Richardson came to Washington as a child from his birthplace in Wilmington, North Carolina. He graduated from M Street High School, where his teacher was the playwright Mary Burrill. Because of his family's financial circumstances, Richardson turned down a scholarship to Howard University and instead began working in 1911 at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where he remained until he retired in 1954. His job as "skilled helper" was undemanding, giving him ample time to write. During the 1920s and 1930s, Richardson's plays won numerous prizes and were performed around the country. He was committed to realistic representations of ordinary blacks, according to biographer Christine R. Gray, and he avoided the stereotypical images favored by white dramatists. He wrote some 50 plays as well as essays on drama. In 1930 he compiled an anthology, Plays and Pageants from the Life of the Negro, for Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The anthology was notable because its plays were not written in dialect and were suitable for school children.


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