Chiquita Mullins Lee
– About the Playwright –
Chiquita Mullins Lee is a writer and performer living in Columbus, Ohio. Her plays have been presented as part of Contemporary American Theatre Company’s Shorts Festival 2000 and 2004. Her critically-acclaimed one-man play, Pierce to the Soul, received its world premiere at CATCO in 2010.
She also wrote and performs in Faces of Grace, a solo piece about women from the Bible, and To Hear Ruby Sing, a stage presentation based on the biography of operatic soprano Ruby Elzy. Chiquita co-wrote 12, a three-woman show about girls on the threshold of womanhood, and Myrlie, Coretta and Betty: the Mothers of the Civil Rights Movement, in which she portrays Coretta Scott King.
Chiquita’s non-fiction work has been published in Fifth Wednesday Journal and was nominated for a Push Cart Prize. Her poetry has been published in the anthologies Red Thread/Gold Thread and Cyclamens and Swords. She wrote scripts for the Chicago-based program, TechKNOWKids, which received an Emmy nomination. She won individual artist fellowships from the Greater Columbus Arts Council in fiction and playwriting and from the Ohio Arts Council in fiction and non-fiction. She was the 2007 Ohio Arts Council summer writer-in-residence at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Massachusetts. As a roster artist for the Ohio Arts Council’s Artist-in Residence program, she has taught creative writing in schools throughout Ohio, in addition to serving as a teaching artist at the Wexner Center for the Arts and at Thurber House.
Formerly of Atlanta, Chiquita worked as a producer/director at WDCN-TV in Nashville where she developed public affairs and instructional programs and produced documentaries on the Jubilee Singers and on the history of black music in the Country Music Capitol of the World/Music City – Nashville, Tennessee. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, a Master of Arts degree from Ohio University and a second master’s degree from the Ohio State University. After working for six years as project coordinator for Ohio’s Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, she was hired full-time to serve as Arts Learning program coordinator at the Ohio Arts Council.
Chiquita is a member of New Covenant Believers Church where she has contributed to the church magazine and the Drama Ministry.
Elijah Pierce and Chiquita Mullins Lee
by Bill Childs, Dramaturge
African-Americans Elijah Pierce and Chiquita Mullins Lee hail from the South. Mr. Pierce grew up in rural northern Mississippi; Chiquita grew up in urban Atlanta. A generation or two, a social revolution and an economic transformation separated their respective Southern experiences.
Mr. Pierce was born in 1892, just as Mississippi was leading the region in establishing Jim Crow laws, the statutes that segregated white from black in public facilities throughout the American South. These laws remained in place until the Civil Rights Movement forced the states to rescind them in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Pierce learned to carve from his uncle and how to barber from a man in Baldwyn, Mississippi. He took much pride in his art and his craft.
Chiquita was born a couple of generations after Mr. Pierce, in an urban setting that marked the South’s transformation from a region strangled by an agricultural straight-jacket and stifling racial relationships to a more modern economy (based much on air conditioning) that promoted more fluid race relations.
Like Mr. Pierce, Chiquita heard the calling to be an artist. She has been a producer and director in Georgia, Tennessee, and Ohio. By the 1990s she was winning writing fellowships (including one from the Greater Columbus Arts Council in 1995) and excellence in art awards (including one from the Ohio Arts Council in 1997 for fiction and another in 2006 for creative non-fiction). She writes fiction, plays, and teleplays for children, teens, and adults.
Mr. Pierce came to his artistic awards much later in life. Indeed, as the play will reveal, it took him awhile to realize his calling. After the First World War, he joined the Great Migration of black Southerners to the Midwest. Something like one to three million African-Americans left the South during the next 2 decades (around 6 million overall between 1900 and 1950). These migrants were looking for better economic opportunities and less racial conflict; some, like Mr. Pierce, found both, some found neither.
About the time Chiquita was growing up in Atlanta, Mr. Pierce became an institution in the Long Street-Mount Vernon area of East Columbus. He was respected as a barber, preacher, and artist.
Mr. Pierce was “discovered” in the mid-to-late 1960s by a white man (Boris Gruenwald, a Yugoslavian graduate student sculptor at The Ohio State University), who promoted Mr. Pierce’s art internationally. Art critics analyzed the barber’s carvings, and there was some controversy over whether his art (and that of other African American folk artists) was “primitive” or not. Discerning critics realized, however, that Mr. Pierce’s art connected his personal experiences and observations with the African American cultures of narrative (oral tradition), religion, magic, and locale. Mr. Pierce’s animal carvings, particularly, represented figures in African American folklore. Alligator (1974), for example, reflected how the creature got his rough skin (Br’er Rabbit was involved).
In 1982, the day after the time depicted in the play, Mr. Pierce was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship (as one of 15 master traditional artists). Mr. Pierce died in 1984.