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"A play means nothing on page. A play is nothing until people do it."
—Charles Fuller

Charles Henry Fuller, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 5, 1939, the child of Charles H. Fuller, Sr. and Lillian Anderson Fuller. Fuller was the oldest sibling of three and a foster brother to around 20 children throughout his life.

Fuller spent most of his high school days in the Philadelphia Roman Catholic High School library in competition with his friend Larry Neal. They were avid readers in a friendly battle to see who could finish reading all of the books in the school’s library first. When Fuller and Neal realized that none of the literature in the library had been penned by Black writers, the two charged themselves with eventually filling this void.

Fuller’s knack for writing did not only stem from his love of literature; it also stemmed from his interest in romance. Fuller was originally a poet. He crafted poems to impress girls throughout his high school years. Fuller’s high school experiences set the foundation for his career as a writer.

Following high school, Fuller attended Villanova University from 1956 to 1958. He left Villanova and enlisted in the US Army, spending the next four years stationed in both Japan and South Korea. As a result of his service, many of Fuller’s plays revolve around themes of war and the military and are largely influenced by his own experiences. In 1962, Fuller returned to civilian life in Philadelphia and shortly thereafter finished his schooling, this time at La Salle College (currently La Salle University).

Throughout the 1960s, Fuller mostly wrote poetry, short stories, and essays until he began to write short plays for a theatre group in Philadelphia. This theatre group grew to become the Afro-American Theatre of Philadelphia. Fuller founded and served as co-director of that theatre until 1970, when he moved to New York to devote his full self to playwriting.

The 1970s led to a slew of off-Broadway successes. The Perfect Party, The Brownsville Raid, and Zooman and the Sign were all produced at the Negro Ensemble Company. Zooman and the Sign won Fuller two Obie Awards, an award given for off-Broadway productions. Fuller’s career was supported by Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1975, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1976, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977-1978.

In 1981, Fuller’s dear friend Larry Neal died of a heart attack. The next year, A Soldier’s Play, written in honor of Neal, ran off-Broadway and would earn Fuller the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A Soldier’s Play opened on November 20, 1981, at the Negro Ensemble Company and would go on to run for 468 performances. A Soldier’s Play also won the 1982 New York Drama Critics’ Award for Best American Play, as well as the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Mystery. Columbia Pictures offered Fuller a movie contract that led to his penning the screen adaptation of the play, now titled A Soldier’s Story. His screenplay would receive an Oscar® nomination in 1985.

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