I will continue on with this week’s theme highlighting the works of African-American Playwrights.
Trey Ellis (born 1962) is an American novelist, screenwriter, professor, playwright, and essayist. He was born in Washington D.C. and graduated from Hopkins School and Phillips Academy, Andover, before attending Stanford University.
His first novel, Platitudes, was published in 1988 and reissued by Northeastern University Press in 2003, along with his 1989 essay “The New Black Aesthetic”. Platitudes follows the story of Earle, a black, private high-school student in New York City. The novel itself wrestles with many concepts outlines in “The New Black Aesthetic,” namely the existence of the cultural mulatto. Earle, as a second generation middle-class, black nerd, embodies this identity—on his visit to Harlem he feels entirely out of place. Alongside this narrative is the story of Dorothy, a black, private high-school student who does live in Harlem and yet can navigate easily in her largely white social circles.
Structurally, the novel makes extensive use of structure. Largely a metafictional work, Ellis moves between a more post-modern, deconstructed style and a more traditional, black female style through the voices of fictional authors Wellington and Ishee Ayam. Ellis’ exaggerated representations of each style is humorous, essentially complicating the hegemonic artistic voice of the Black Arts Movement.
As a black nerd, Earle complicates traditional ideas of black masculinity. He occupies a place as an intellectual outsider, excluded from the mainstream, and yet the nerd identity is hyper-white. This questions how alternative black masculinities that deviate from Black Power’s image can fit into an identity of blackness.
He is also the author of the novels Home Repairs (1993) and Right Here, Right Now (1999), which received an American Book Award. His latest book is Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single-Fatherhood (2008), a memoir of his life as a single father of two.
His work for the screen includes the Emmy nominated The Tuskegee Airmen, and Good Fences, starring Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg, which was shortlisted for the PEN award for Best Teleplay of the year, and was nominated for a Black Reel award. In 1994, he co-wrote The Inkwell under the pen name “Tom Ricostronza”.
His essays have appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and GQ, among other places. He is a regular blogger on The Huffington Post and lives in Manhattan, where he is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Film.
His work for the theater includes the plays, Fly and Kansas City Swing.