Ron Milner


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(1938–2004), playwright, writer, editor, critic, and director.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ron Milner graduated from Detroit's Northeastern High School. He attended Highland Park Junior College, Detroit Institute of Technology, and Columbia University in New York. In the early 1960s, Milner received two prestigious literary grants, the John Hay Whitney Fellowship (1962) and a Rockefeller Fellowship (1965), to work on a novel, The Life of the Brothers Brown. Milner is one of the most significant figures to emerge from the Black Arts movement. He is known affectionately as the “people's playwright”for his ongoing commitment to using Black theater for the advancement of Black people. Milner has taught widely and was writer in residence at Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) from 1966 to 1967, where his friendship with Langston Hughes, who urged him to use a personal voice in his writing, matured.

A “born writer,”Milner is a prolific playwright. His first major play, Who's Got His Own, premiered in Harlem in 1967. Milner went to New York with friend and producer-director Woodie King, Jr., as part of a touring production of three plays by Malcolm Boyd in 1964. He and King joined the American Place Theatre, where Who's Got His Own and The Warning: A Theme for Linda (1969, published in A Black Quartet: Four New Black Plays, 1970) were conceived and performed. Other published plays include The Monster (Drama Review, 1968), (M)Ego and the Green Ball of Freedom (Black World, 1968), and What the Wine-Sellers Buy (Samuel French, 1974).

From 1979 to 1981 Milner lived in California, teaching creative writing at the University of Southern California and doing community work. Milner has since returned to Detroit, where he remains and where he feels he can better visualize the chronology of his stories. Milner feels his creative energy can feed on the unique experience of life in his hometown.

Milner's life and art reflect the driving force he calls for in his critical writing. In “Black Magic, Black Art”(Negro Digest, Apr. 1967; Black Poets and Prophets, 1972), Milner proclaimed that Black Art must affirm, inspire, and touch the souls of Black people. Milner's Roads of the Mountaintops (1986) deals with the internal struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr., following his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. What the Wine-Sellers Buy, which earned over a million dollars in 1974, deals with a young Black man choosing between good and evil while simultaneously addressing the issue of Black male responsibility. Checkmates (1987), which starred Denzel Washington, portrays the potential strength of Black love. Don't Get God Started(1988) is a gospel-tinged musical play done for the family singing group the Winans.

A lesser-known work from Milner's career is his short story “Junkie Joe Had Some Money,”which was anthologized in Langston Hughes's Best Short Stories by Negro Writers (1967). Perhaps Milner's most significant contribution to the field of African American letters is Black Drama Anthology (1972), coedited with Woodie King. One of the earliest and certainly one of the most respected anthologies of Black plays, it documented important works by Milner, Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, and Langston Hughes, among others.


Subjects: Literature — United States History.

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