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Charles Gordone
Charles Gordone.gif
Born Charles Edward Fleming
12 October 1925(1925-10-12)
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Died 16 November 1995 (aged 70)
College Station, Texas, USA
Occupation Actor, director, playwright, producer, educator
Nationality United States
Alma mater Los Angeles City College
UC Los Angeles
CSU, Los Angeles
Columbia University
New York University
Spouse Susan Kouyomjian
Debut works A Little More Light Around the Place (1964)
Magnum opus No Place to be Somebody (1967)
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1970)

Charles Edward Gordone (October 12, 1925 - November 16, 1995) was an American playwright, actor, director, and educator. He was the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and devoted much of his professional life to the pursuit of multi-racial American theater and racial unity.




Early years

Born Charles Edward Fleming in Cleveland, Ohio to Charles Fleming and Camille Morgan, with a heritage of African-, Native-American, and European background. He grew up in Elkhart, Indiana with his brothers Jack and Stanley and his sister Shirley where he attended Elkhart High School.[1] Camille Fleming remarried William L. Gordon and later had Gordone's sister Leah Geraldine.

Gordone married Juanita Barton in 1948 and had two children, Stephen and Judy Ann. He later had two other children, Leah-Carla and David.

Gordone attended Los Angeles City College, California State University, Los Angeles,UCLA, and later, New York University and Columbia University. After a tour in the U.S. Air Force, Gordone moved to New York City where he waited tables and acted. After performing in numerous on and off Broadway shows, Gordone won an Obie Award in 1953 for his role in an all-black production of Of Mice and Men.


Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Gordone continued acting, started directing and co-founded both the Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers and the Vantage Theater in Queens. He performed in Jean Genet's The Blacks, 1961-1966, along with James Earl Jones, Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson, and many other Black actors who went on to change Hollywood. He said that acting as the valet in the play changed his life, and that this was when he began to write No Place to Be Somebody.

It was during his employment as a bartender in Greenwich Village that Gordone found inspiration for his first major work, No Place to be Somebody, for which he received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He was the first African American playwright, and it was the first off-Broadway play to receive the award. Written over seven years, the play explored racial tensions in a Civil Rights era story about a black bartender who tries to outsmart a white mobster syndicate. In his final speech, in June 1995, delivered at the Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, Gordone described the play as being "about country folk who had migrated to the big city, seeking the urban myth of success, only to find disappointment, despair, and death." The play had three national touring companies from 1970 to 1977, which he directed. From 1978 to 1980, Gordone returned to his native Midwest and worked in the theater and college community of St. Louis, Missouri. He also began work on a stage Western.

In 1981, Gordone moved back to California, where he met his future wife Susan Kouyomjian in Berkeley. After working together for three years at her theater, American Stage, Gordone returned to New York City to resume work on his stage Western entitled Roan Brown & Cherry. Soon after, Kouyomjian joined him in Harlem.

Personal life

After relocating to Taos, New Mexico, in 1987 for a fellowship at the D.H. Lawrence Ranch, residing in the cabin once occupied by D. H. Lawrence, Gordone and Kouyomjian married and began their tenure at Texas A&M University. They moved to College Station, Texas to teach English and theater and to advance inclusion at the campus that had been segregated for one hundred years. From 1990 to 1995, the Gordones joined the multi-racial Western Revival.

Gordone died of liver cancer on November 16, 1995. The cowboy poets and musicians of the Texas Panhandle honored him with a prairie funeral at sunset and scattered his ashes across the legendary XIT Ranch. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Arts profiled at length the Gordones' work for integration at Texas A&M University, for "strengthening the diverse bonds of our cultural heritage."


The Texas A&M Creative Writing Program has established The Charles Gordone Awards to commemorate Gordone by offering cash prizes each spring in poetry and in prose to an undergraduate and graduate student. Efforts continue to establish a permanent memorial on the Texas A&M University campus.[2]



  • 1964 A Little More Light Around the Place
  • 1967 No Place to be Somebody: A Black-Black Comedy
  • 1969 Worl's Champeen Lip Dansuh an' Watah Mellon Jooglah
  • 1970 Chumpanzee
  • 1970 Willy Bignigga
  • 1970 Gordone Is a Muthah
  • 1975 Baba-Chops
  • 1976 Under the Boardwalk
  • 1977 The Last Chord
  • 1978 A Qualification for Anabiosis
  • 1983 The Block
  • 1983 Anabiosis


  1. ^ "Elkhart Grad Won Pulitzer Prize". Elkhart Community Schools. September 12, 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  2. ^ Amanda Casanova (February 2, 2008). "'Just Call Me a North American mestizo'". Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  3. ^ "Academy Awards". American Academy of Arts and Letters. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19.  

External links


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