image via New York Times

RIP Aishah Rahman: playwright, author, professor, renaissance woman

Aishah Rahman was a playwright, author, professor, and renaissance woman who lives on through her her work.

Aishah Rahman was born in Harlem on November 4, 1936 and died on December 29th at her home in San Miguel de Allende, as the New York Times announced this week. Along with Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, and Sonia Sanchez, Rahman was part the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and described her writing style as using a “jazz aesthetic.” Rahman graduated from Howard University with BS in Political Science in 1968 and got an MA in playwriting and dramatic literature from Goddard College in 1985.

image via New York Times Rahman wrote several plays including “Unfinished Women Cry In No Man’s Land While a Bird Dies in Gilded Cage, ” “The Mojo And The Sayso,” “Only in America,” “Chiaroscuro” as well as three plays with music, “Lady Day A Musical Tragedy,” “The Tale of Madame Zora” and “Has Anybody Seen Marie Laveau?” two collections of one act plays Transcendental Blues and Mingus Takes 3. Ms. Rahman’ plays are published in Plays by Aishah Rahman and are widely anthologized in several collections including Nine Plays Moon Marked and Touched by Sun and Plays by African Americans. Her plays were produced across the United States at theaters including the Public Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, BAM and universities. Rahman published a Chewed Water: A Memoir, the story of growing up in Harlem in the 1940’s and 50s, in 2001. Her countless awards and prizes included a recognition by the Rockefeller Foundation of the Arts for dedication to playwriting in the American Theater and received The Doris Abramson Playwriting Award as well as a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.

Rahman served as director of playwriting at the New Federal Theater in New York, taught at Nassau Community College on Long Island and most recently at Brown University, retiring in 2011.

Rahman is survived by a daughter, Yoruba Richen, a son, Kevin Brown, grandchildren Thalia Zephyrine and Ishyah Yisrael and great grandchildren; Thelonious Gatling, Amir Yisrael-Mosby, Eliyahkim Yisrael, Jelani-YechiYAH, Neriyah Yisrael.

When I asked Yoruba Richen, the award-winning documentary filmmaker (The New Black)  if there was anything she wanted people to know about her mother she said, “Her plays were focused on exploring the black female experience in all its joys and pain and complexity.”

Yoruba also had these inspiring and moving words to say:

My mom was dedicated to her craft.  Despite frustrations that sometime arise in the life of an artist – she was committed to her writing and to  using her voice to contribute to some kind of understanding of those who are often marginalized.   She inspires me to be dedicated to my work and to telling stories that have often been ignored and  give voice to the voiceless.  And she instilled in me to never be bitter, to have faith and humor and generosity of spirit and, as she wrote to me one time,  to always remember- in spite all of the pain, and the misery and injustice the world is good.

RIP Aishah Rahman.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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