Pioneering playwright, theatrical scholar Paul Carter Harrison dead at 85

ATLANTA — Theater great Paul Carter Harrison died Dec. 27 at an Atlanta-area retirement home, his daughter, Fonteyn Harrison, confirmed to The New York Times.

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He was 85, but his cause of death has not yet been determined, she added.

“We cannot express more the utmost respect and affection he had from many people in the U.S. and across the oceans, as a writer, award-winning director, teacher, colleague and friend,” the Harrison family said in a prepared statement. “For the family he was the Pater Familia.”

According to the Times, Harrison’s books, essays and award-winning plays “provided a theoretical structure for the Black performing arts” that routinely incorporated elements of African ritual and myth, which he considered inseparable from Black culture.

In a 2002 interview with the newspaper, Harrison characterized his career as “a continuous preoccupation with trying to retrieve out of this particular experience we call the American experience some traces of our Africanness in the work that we do.”

Born March 1, 1936, Harrison was a Manhattan native, who grew up steeped in New York’s theater culture and who mingled with “groundbreaking artists, writers and musicians” such as Amiri Baraka, Thelonious Monk and Ted Joans, The St. Louis American reported.

Harrison earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Indiana University and a master’s degree from New York City’s New School for Social Research, before relocating to Europe to write and direct for the theater, the newspaper reported.

When he returned to the U.S. in 1968, Harrison taught theater at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and counted Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Linda Gross, Pearl Cleage and Clinton Turner Davis among his students, the American reported.

He later taught at California State University, Sacramento, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Columbia College Chicago, and his “The Great MacDaddy,” produced by the legendary Negro Ensemble Company, earned an Obie Award in 1973.

Paul Carter Harrison is survived by his wife, Wanda Harrison; daughter, Fonteyn Harrison; and grandson, Nigel Plattel, the American reported.

Read Harrison’s complete obituary at The New York Times.

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