Willis Richardson (November 5, 1889 – November 7, 1977) was an African-American playwright.


Willis Richardson was born on November 5, 1889 in Wilmington, North Carolina, a son of Willis Wilder and Agnes Ann (Harper) Richardson. His family moved to Washington, D.C., shortly after the Wilmington Riots of 1898.

He attended public schools in Washington, DC including M Street High School (later Dunbar High School). While attending high school there, he was encouraged to write plays by Mary P. Burrill, one of his teachers and a playwright herself.[1]

On September 1, 1914, he married Mary Ellen Jones. This union produced three children:

  • Jean Paula Richardson (August 7, 1916–)
  • Shirley Antonella Richardson (April 29, 1918–)
  • Noel Justine Richardson (August 14, 1920–)

In 1921, The Deacon's Awakening was Richardson's first play to be staged. It was presented in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This was followed the following year by The Chip Woman's Fortune. The latter play was produced by Raymond O'Neil's Ethiopian Art Players in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and became the first non-musical production by an African American on Broadway.[2]

His play Mortgaged was presented in 1923 by the Howard Players at Howard University. It was subsequently produced by the Dunbar Players in Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1924.

""The Deacon's Awakening was recently staged August 30-September 6, 2015 by Xoregos Performing Company in its Songs of the Harlem River program in NYC's Dream Up Festival. Songs of the Harlem River will open the Langston Hughes Festival in Queens, NY on February 13, 2016.

He was awarded the Amy Spingarn Prize in 1925 for The Broken Banjo, his best known work. In addition, the play took first place in a contest held by The Crisis magazine in March 1925, where the play was published. First place prize was $75.[3] The characters that appear within the play are Emma, Matt, Sam, and Adam. The play begins with Sam, the brother of Emma, accusing Matt, Emma's husband, of murder. During the visit to Emma's house, broke Matt's banjo and enraged Matt when he returned home. In retaliation, Sam reveals that he saw Matt killing Shelton with a rock. Matt decided to locked Sam and Adam in the house until they made a pledge on the bible not to tell anyone about the murder. Emma tells Matt that they should move to another city as she didn't trust that the two would not keep their pledge. As Matt was planning to leave, Sam and Adam had brought an officer to arrest Matt.

The following year he received the Spingarn Prize for Bootblack Lover, a drama in three acts.

To supplement his income as a playwright, Richardson also worked as a "skilled helper" in the wetting division of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing beginning on 8 March 1911.

He died on November 7, 1977, in Washington, D.C.. During his 30-year career, he had written children's fairy tales, histories, and domestic plays that number 48 in total.[4] He was awarded the prestigious AUDELCO prize posthumously for his contribution to American theatre.

Selected worksEdit


  1. Perkins (Ed.), Kathy A. (1990). Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays Before 1950 (First Midland Book ed.). Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 55. ISBN 0-253-34358-5.
  2. Helen R. Houston, "Richardson, Willis", in William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster & Trudier Harris (eds), Oxford Companion to African American Literature, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 632.
  3. Richardson, Willis (March 1926). "The Broken Banjo". The Crisis: 225–228.
  4. Patton, Venetria (2001). Double Take: A Revisionist Harlem Renaissance Anthology. p. 286. ISBN 9780813529301.
  • Yenser, Thomas (editor), Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America, Who's Who in Colored America, Brooklyn, New York, 1930-1931-1932 (Third Edition)

External linksEdit

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.