Leslie Lee Biography
Click here to read the New York Times Obituary Article
Tony-Nominated Playwright, Leslie Lee, passed away at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City due to complications from congestive heart failure on January 20, 2014, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as he was making final revisions to his musical about King (written in collaboration with Charles Strouse), currently titled Before the Dream.
Mr. Lee, a highly esteemed playwright of national and international reputation, was born in Bryn Mawr, PA. Writing widely for Theatre, Television and Film, he lived and worked for most of his professional life in NYC.
After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and English from The University of Pennsylvania, he worked for several years in cancer research at Wyeth Laboratories in Villanova, PA. He earned his Master of Arts degree in Theatre from Villanova University.
A much sought after and admired teacher of dramatic writing, Mr. Lee taught for The Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing Program at the NYU Tisch School the Arts, MiddleSex Community College, Hunter College, Wesleyan College, Rutgers University, The New School University, Goddard College, The Negro Ensemble Company, and The Frederick Douglas Playwriting Workshop. In 2008, the U.S. Department of State sent Mr. Lee as a Cultural Envoy to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to teach Playwriting at the Intwasa Arts Festival.
His many plays include: The First Breeze of Summer; Black Eagles; Elegy to a Down Queen; Between Now and Then; The Book of Lambert; Colored People's Time; The Ninth Wave; Blues in a Broken Tongue; Legends; Mina; Sundown Names and Night-Gone Things; The War Party; The Rabbit’s Foot, a new version of the musical Golden Boy with songs by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams; Phillis, a musical in collaboration with Micki Grant, and an adaptation of August Strindberg's play, Playing with Fire. He most recently wrote Apples and Oranges, Cherokee Rose, and a musical about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., titled Before The Dream, in collaboration with composer/lyricist Charles Strouse, which had a recent pre-production reading in New York.
His acclaimed play, The First Breeze of Summer, originally produced by The Negro Ensemble Company, won an OBIE Award for Best New American Play and the Outer Critics Circle Award. Subsequently, the play was produced at the Palace Theatre on Broadway, where it received a Tony Nomination for Best Play, and was filmed and presented for the PBS Great Performances Series. It enjoyed a successful 2008 revival with The Signature Theatre Company, starring Leslie Uggams.
His Television and Film projects include: an adaptation of Richard Wright's short story, Almos' a Man, with LeVar Burton, selected by the U.S. Department of State and shown at the Ionesco Film Festival in Paris; The Killing Floor with Alfre Woodard and Moses Gunn for American Playhouse PBS, winner Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award; a co-adaptation, with Gus Edwards, of James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain; Two Mothers, Two Sons; The Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment; Langston Hughes: The Dreamkeeper, a documentary for PBS; Summer Father; Ralph Bunch: An American Odyssey; and Born to Trouble: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written in collaboration with Jill Janows and nominated for best documentary writing by the Writers Guild of America. Further TV work includes, The Vernon Johns Story with James Earl Jones and Mary Alice, and scripts for the NBC soap opera Another World. His 2009 travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, to conduct research for his screenplay on Alexander Pushkin, titled Pushkin, was sponsored by a Likhachev Foundation Cultural Fellowship.
Mr. Lee’s other prestigious awards include, the Arthur Miller Outstanding Playwright's Award from the University of Michigan, the National Black Theater Festival August Wilson Playwriting Award, the Isabelle Strickland Award for Excellence in the Field of the Arts, and the Joe A. Callahan Award. He received a Rockefeller Foundation Playwriting Fellowship, a Shubert Foundation Playwriting Grant, and a Mississippi TV Award. He received special mention for an award among Black Film-Makers. He was honored with The Knights of Columbus and Kappa Alpha Psi Awards, and on the Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts Walk of Fame. Mr. Lee was named a Kentucky Colonel. Most recently his career was celebrated by two Audelco Awards and the NAACP Image Award.
A longtime member of New Dramatists, he has served as head of its Alumni Association. He was a founding artist of La MaMa e.t.c., and an active playwright since the 1970s for The Negro Ensemble Company (NEC). Recently he has been the Executive Director of NEC and a Playwright-in-Residence with The Signature Theatre Company. He directed three plays by Sophia Romma: Coyote Take Me There, Defenses of Prague, and Sickle. The Black Rep in St. Louis and Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey, among countless others, have produced many of his plays.
The long and successful career of playwright Leslie Lee has enriched media, artists and audiences. He is beloved and celebrated for his writing, teaching and sharing of ideas and stories that profoundly explore the many challenges involved in efforts to attain human equality, respect and love. His vision is an inspiration, greatly celebrated and loved. It will endure.