Charles H.Fuller, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his acclaimed drama "A Soldier's Play," has passed away, reports NPR. He was 83.
His wife, Claire Prieto-Fuller, confirmed that he passed away from natural causes on Monday in Toronto.
Born in Philadelphia, he attended his first play as a student at Roman Catholic High School, a production performed in Yiddish at the Walnut Theater. He went on to attend Villanova University before joining the Army in 1959, serving in Japan and South Korea. He also studied at La Salle University.
In 1968, he was a co-founder of the Afro-American Arts Theater in Philadelphia, where he wrote his first play.
While working as a housing inspector in Philadelphia, his drama about interracial marriage, ″The Perfect Party,″ was staged at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1969.
Fuller would go on to write plays for the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City, and his works were mounted at New Federal Theater and Henry Street Settlement. His breakthrough play, "The Brownsville Raid," told the true story of Black soldiers who were wrongly accused of murder and were dishonorably discharged in 1906. Decades later, the soldiers were exonerated by the Army.
His most famous work, "A Soldier's Play," was written in 1981. First performed at the Negro Ensemble Company, the racially charged drama chronicles an investigation of a Black captain for the murder of a Black sergeant on a segregated U.S. Army base in Jim Crow Louisiana in 1944. In 1982, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming just the second Black playwright to receive the drama prize.
In an interview with the New York Times, Fuller explained the impact of the play and how the actors and the director make the work come alive.
"A play means nothing on a page," he said," 'A play is nothing until people do it. The performers at the Negro Ensemble Company and Douglas Turner Ward, who was so instrumental as the director, did the work. They made people love the play as much as they do."
Although it was successful, the play wasn't staged on Broadway during its first run. Fuller said it was because he refused to drop the last line, "You'll have to get used to Black people being in charge."
In 1984, "A Soldier's Play" was adapted for the screen as A Soldier's Story. The cast included Denzel Washington, Howard E. Rollins Jr., Robert Townsend, David Alan Grier, Wings Hauser, Adolph Caesar, and Patti LaBelle. It would go on to earn three Oscars nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Fuller, and Best Supporting actor for Adolph Caesar.
His other works include Sally, Prince, Jonquil, and Burner's Frolic. For television, he wrote The Sky Is Gray for PBS in 1980 and A Gathering of Old Men for CBS in 1987.
Amazingly, 40 years after its off-Broadway debut, "A Soldier's Play" premiered on Broadway in January 2020. The play won Tonys for Best Revival of a Play, and Grier won Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play.
Grier took to Twitter to pay tribute to Fuller.
“Rest in Peace Charles Fuller, author of A Soldier's Play and the Oscar-nominated screenplay of A Soldier's Story,” his post read. “Pulitzer Prize recipient and amazing and wonderful artist. It has been my greatest honor to perform his words on both stage and screen, his genius will be missed.”
Fuller is survived by his wife, Claire; a son; a daughter-in-law; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
We at EBONY offer our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Charles H. Fuller.