Set in Memphis in 1968, I Am A Man is the story of a fairly simple, fairly idealistic union president, T.O. Jones who leads 800 sanitation worker to strike but gets swept up in events that runaway with him like a maverick tornado. The title is taken from the strike placards worn by striking workers.
OyamO was born September 7, 1943 to Earnest, a steel worker, and Bennie Gordon, a housewife, in Elyria, Ohio in a household of six siblings. Almost immediately, his family moved to a predominately white school system which challenged the students to excel. In high school, he spent time writing stories and poems and wrote for the school paper.
After graduation from high school he attended Miami University of Oxford, Ohio before dropping out due to frustration with the curriculum and the conservative atmosphere. He became a member of the Black Theatre Workshop in Harlem which was an appendage of the New Lafayette Theatre.
His real name is Charles Gordon which is so similar to that of playwright, Charles Gordone (No Place to Be Somebody, 1969) that he changed it to “OyamO”, which developed from a skewed interpretation of his University of Miami-Ohio t-shirt. The capitalized “O” is his own touch.
In 1969, he published The Breakout which was printed in Woodie King and Ron Milner’s Black Drama Anthology . By this time he had already won both the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships.
He returned to college taking courses at New York University and Brooklyn College, earning a B.A. in liberal arts from the College of New Rochelle in 1970
In 1978 he was accepted into the graduate playwrighting program at Yale University based on the strength of his writings and publications. In 1981 his The Resurrection of Lady Lester premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre and received favorable notices. It was also presented at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s. This story dealt with Lester Young, the famous tenor saxophonist.
After graduation from Yale, he continued to write and publish. His works were also produced at various theatres including the Manhattan Theatre Club. During the 80s he taught workshops and as an adjunct professor, instructor and guest lecturer at various colleges and universities such as Princeton and the College of New Rochelle. In 1989 he began teaching at the University of Michigan and eventually became an associate professor of theatre and English.
In 1992 he completed I Am A Man, a work commissioned by the Working Theatre in New York City. I Am A Man opened at the Meadow Brook in Rochester in February 1996 and at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
His Famous Orpheus was produced at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor, the Crossroads Theatre in New Jersey and will be presented again at the Karamuu House in Cleveland.
He is currently working on a film adaptation of the I Am A Man and a separate program for the Famous Black American Anthology series, both for Home Box Office. Stanford University and the Seattle Children’s Theatre have also commissioned him to write plays.
He just completed his new play, Pink and Say, a play about two boys, one white and one black during the Civil War. The play was commissioned by the Seattle Children’s Theatre.
About I AM A MAN
May 2, 1994 – opened at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
March 8, 1995 – opened at the Arena Stage in Washington DC.
November 9, 1995 – opened at the Trueblood Theatre at the University of Michigan with Wallace Bridges as T.O. Jones and Joseph Moore as Swahili.
Special thanks to Wallace Bridges, a frequent visitor to TheBlackMarket.com, for his contributions to this profile.
For more details on the work of playwright OyamO, take a look at Wallace Bridges’ web site at http://www.izzy.net/~bridgesweb.