Playwright, poet, critic, and novelist, Bill Harris, is a Professor of English at Wayne State University in Detroit. He was formerly Production Coordinator for Jazzmobile, and the New Federal Theatre, both in New York. His plays have had more than one hundred productions nationwide.
His latest book Birth of a Notion; Or, The Half Ain't Never Been Told, A Narrative Account with Entertaining Passages of the State of Minstrelsy & of America & the True Relation Thereof, has been published by Wayne State University Press. It is a critical look at black identity in American history and popular culture as told from a performative African American perspective. Focusing on the middle 18th century when minstrelsy was king, it is a hybrid combining prose, poetry, play script, and screenwriting techniques to signify on ideas of “blackness” and “whiteness” through various characters and voices.
Just Like In The Movies an excerpt from a novel in progress was anthologized in Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams, edited by M.L Liebler.
Published plays include: Stories About the Old Days, Riffs and Coda. Anthologies containing his work include The National Black Drama Anthology: New Plays for the Black Theatre (Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone), Voices of Color: 50 Scenes and Monologues by African American Playwrights (scene from Coda), both edited by Woodie King, Jr., and African American Literature (He Who Endures), edited by Al Young.
Stories About the Old Day, which starred the late jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, and Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone, with Denzel Washington and S. Epatha Merkerson as its leads, premiered at the New Federal Theatre in New York. Queen of Sheba, and BOO! A Musical Fantasy had their debuts at the St. Louis Black Repertory Company.
An excerpt from Coda, a full-length drama with music, which was written with the assistance of a Guggenheim Foundation Award, was presented on Bravo, the Canadian cable network. Another play Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil aired on the Public Broadcasting System in a half hour version. The International Radio Programming Festival awarded Trick the Devil the 1997 Silver Medal it for Drama.
Harris has had two books of poetry published: The Ringmaster’s Array, poems honoring visual and musical artists, and Yardbird Suite: Side One, a collection about the life of jazz musician Charlie Parker, which won the 1997 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award.
Wayne State Press has scheduled for publication in 2012 Booker T. & Them: A Blues, an examination in long poem form of the era of Booker T. Washington. He is currently working on three novels, one set in 1954, a second in 1854, and the third, the story of a young blind entertainer rising to fame during the 1940s and 50s.