By Emily Banks Wooten
Thanks to the support of the local community as well as his friends and former classmates who raised $50,000, the newly endowed Don Wilson Glenn African American Playwright Scholarship at the University of Texas has been created and the first scholarship will be awarded in 2023. An annual playwrighting competition in Glenn’s name is being sponsored by the UT Department of Theatre and Dance and will determine each year’s scholarship recipient. Glenn will serve as a judge on the competition panel.
Born and raised in Livingston, Glenn is an award-winning African American playwright of Native American descent from the Apalachicola Band of Creek Indian Tribe of East Texas. A 1984 graduate of Livingston High School, Glenn went to the state finals at UT as a senior drama student with a play in which he adapted and starred. He has continued his passion for theater arts in the 38 years since, with no signs of stopping.
“The UT-Austin scholarship idea originated with Ryan Stubbs during the beginning of the 2020 pandemic. Ryan then graciously invited a few LHS friends to share in his vision of getting the scholarship endowment funded,” Jessica Dunn Guilbeau, a member of the scholarship committee and a classmate of Glenn’s, said.
“Basically, we were a group of 1980s close-knit LHS childhood friends who were very proud of Don’s lifetime of work in the theater arts. As kids of the 1980s, we all grew up in a loving community with both shared and diverse experiences, who, over the years, no matter where we lived, no matter where life took us, we somehow managed to remain lifelong friends. In a nutshell, Ryan invited the group to share in his vision and everyone was excited to help in any way they could,” Guilbeau said.
“Laura Walker was the chairperson who kept us focused and on track. Sadly, in June 2021, we lost Donna Cryer Lawson, who was an integral member of the group. She was a voice of reason who always weighed in with the right suggestions for our success. After her loss, we decided to continue on in her honor,” Guilbeau said.
In addition to Stubbs, Guilbeau, Walker and Lawson (in memoriam), other members of the scholarship committee are Kimberly Camp Orr and Kimberly Robertson Jackson. An interesting note that Guilbeau shared is that everything was electronically accomplished by Zoom meetings, Gofundme, Facebook and word of mouth.
“We had lots of hits and a few misses, yet the group persevered with Don’s blessing and got the job done,” Guilbeau said.
Listening to the life stories of the multi-generational matriarchs of his family as a youth, Glenn gained inspiration and began writing “American Experience” plays that he hopes bless, encourage and entertain his audiences.
With extensive theater credentials, Glenn received the 2002 AUDELCO Award for Excellence in Black Theatre for “American Menu,” receiving Best Playwright, Best Director, Best Ensemble Cast and Best Dramatic Production of the Year. He received the 2003 Outer Critic Award Nominee for American King Umps.
He received the 2019 Mario Fratti & Fred Newman Political Play Award for his play “American Summer Squash: Katrina 2005 Raw.” Additionally, he was the 2020-2021 season recipient of the Meyer Memorial Trust-Oregon Cultural Trust and the Cultural Coalition for his winning proposal of “Troy USA,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida that he co-authored with Dmae Roberts. It will open in the Summer of 2022.
One of Glenn’s current works in progress is “Walking through Portland with a Panther, The life of Mr. Kent Ford, All Power to the People,” a one-man show based on the life and times of Kent Ford, the leader of the Portland, Ore. Chapter of the Black Panther Party from the 60’s through the early 80’s. It will open in the Spring of 2022 at the Vanport Mosaic Festival in Portland.
Another of his works in progress is “Martha Bakes: A biography of a Revolution and Insurrection that never Happened,” a one-woman show that takes a satirical lens to American Colonial HerStory. Part historical biography and part cooking show, the audience is invited into the relationship between Martha Washington, the original First Lady, and her dower slave Oney Marie Judge during an imagined slave revolt on Mount Vernon. The play begins with Martha, the fresh widow of George Washington, socially distancing herself during a fictitious slave uprising on Mount Vernon. The slaves have learned the contents of George’s will declaring that the over 350 enslaved bodies on the plantation are to be set free –upon the death of Martha. Enduring her newfound circumstances with a pleasant disposition, Martha bakes a three-course meal during the revolt as she barricades herself in the kitchen, and with each preparation reflects on her influential role with scant representation in the creation of the nation.
“That the suffrage and abolition movements are not always easy bedfellows echo the legacies of racism, sexism and voter suppression that our nation is still struggling to unpack today,” Glenn said. It will open during the 2022-2023 season.
His work has been produced in theaters across the country, including the Woodie King Jr. New Federal Theatre, Mrs. Gertrude Jeannette’s H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, Theater For The New City, PassinArt Theatre Company and Vanport Mosaic Producer Damaris Webb.
Glenn received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. He has served as the President and Artistic Director of the Angelina Community Theater in Lufkin.