Ed Bullins was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1935. He was raised by his mother on Philadelphia’s North side, a community considered troubled and crime-ridden. Bullins has often recounted his near fatal death by stabbing while he was a youth. Many scholars note that this life-changing experience was the thematic basis for several of his early plays. Bullins joined the US Navy after dropping out of high school in 1952, and in 1958 (after returning to Philadelphia for a short time) he moved to southern California.
Bullins first exercised his love of writing and literature while a student at Los Angeles City College. In 1964 he moved to San Francisco. A year later while a creative writing student at San Francisco State College he wrote his first play, How Do You Do? In 1965 two other plays by Bullins appeared, Dialect Determinism (or The Rally), and Clara’s Ole Man.
During his time in San Francisco Bullins became involved in the social and political activity of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and eventually served as the organization’s Minister of Culture. Bullins entered the literary world during the Black Power Movement, a period of racial pride and social consciousness. His early affiliation with community organizations intended to educate and uplift through the Arts (also known as the Black Arts Movement) greatly influenced the thematic structure of his plays. Most of the work created by Bullins confronts issues germane to the African American masses.
Throughout his career Ed Bullins has written over fifty plays dealing with the intricacies of the Black experience in America. His most anthologized play, Goin’ a Buffalo (1968), details the hard, violent life of several characters in Los Angeles. Themes of sexual exploitation, violence, and capitalism are prevalent throughout the drama. Another popular early drama, In the Wine Time (1969), is the first play of his “Twentieth Century Cycle,” (a series of twenty plays). In the Wine Time echoes Langston Hughes poem “Harlem,” which asks: “What happens to a dream deferred?” as the characters search for ways to realize their dreams in the midst of violence and despair.
Aside from his dramatic works, Bullins has also written a novel (The Reluctant Rapist) and several short stories over the years. He is the recipient of several awards and fellowships including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts playwriting grant. Ed Bullins is currently a faculty member in the Theatre Department at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. His latest work, Harlem Diva was set to be published and performed in 2006.