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Don Evans: Scholar Who was a Founding Member of the Black Arts Movement

Shola Adenekan

Don Evans, who has died aged 65 after a heart attack, was a leading African American playwright, whose works evoke the black American experience from slavery and segregation to the present day. He was also an expert on the impact of black theatre on the American public.


A notable member of the black arts movement in the 1960s and 1970s, he was a founding member of the Black Theatre Network and the African Grove Institute for the Arts. His plays were staged in repertory theatres across Europe and the United States, and he was always keen on directing college and university productions.


A passionate student of Shaw and Shakespeare, Evans was a board member of the US National Shakespeare Committee, and saw himself in the tradition of Shaw and Moliere.


One of his best known plays was It's Showdown Time, which transferred The Taming Of The Shrew theme to a black neighbourhood in Philadelphia. Evans retained the main theme of a good, but simple, man out to tame the fieriest woman in town.


His other notable works included One Monkey Don't Stop No Show, a comedic spoof of a middle-class black family, and A Love Song For Miss Lydia, about southern blacks who made their way north after the second world war.


Donald T. Evans was born in Philadelphia and served in the US marine corps. In 1962, he graduated from what is now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, and later took two master's degrees in theatre arts from Temple University, Philadelphia. He made his Manhattan debut at the Theatre de Lys in 1973 with Orrin, a vignette of black, upwardly-mobile domesticity upset by the return home of a prodigal son.


Evans directed the college theatre at Cheyney, then joined the faculty at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) in 1972 as associate professor of African- American studies, remaining for 30 years and later chairing the department.


As an adjutant professor at Princeton, he conducted seminars on African American theatres and film criticism, as well as taking charge of senior research projects. In 1984, he toured India as an art fellow of the US Information Agency, and conducted workshops on American theatre in major cities and universities across the country.


As a community arts advocate, Evans served as artistic director for the Ohio-based Karamu House Performing Arts Theatre and the Hansberry Arts Workshop. His critical writings and essays have appeared in various publications.


He is survived by three children.


Don Evans, writer, born April 27 1938; died October 16 2003


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