Posted by: Khepera | Monday, 12 July 2004

Ron Milner: playwright, mentor…ancestor

It has taken me a couple of days just to be able to put down some words on this. Ron was a friend, and mentor, a friend of my father’s before. He was how I was introduced to Black theater. I last sat with him, over breakfast, in 2001, when I was in Detroit for a high school reunion. He had graciously agreed to look at one of my plays, and we talked for a few hours. Ron was a living lesson in elegant simplicity, an expression of the raw essential. He succeeded in the rarest of endeavors — following his muse, doing it HIS way, a beacon of the premise and value of CRAFT, and a testament to the paramount importance of character and substance…in the person, in the character, in the play…

Plot was not his paradigm, so I expect he will not be planted in one. Rather, he will be wrapped in his story, buried in the adulation of those who knew his work, and ushered into the company of ancestors, knowing he made a contribution to his people and the planet, comfortable he needs no other monument.The vacuum left, is Nature’s impetus drawing the next one forth as a node in the lineage…let each of us strive to fulfill that at least as comprehensively as Ron did.

My candle is within, and I stoke/protect that flame more doggedly now….

Jamal Ali


Ron Milner, Detroit Playwright of

Don’t Get God Started and Broadway’s Checkmates, Dead at 66

By Kenneth Jones
July 12, 2004

Ron Milner, the African-American playwright whose Checkmates had a run on Broadway in fall 1988, died July 9 at a Detroit area hospital of complications from liver cancer, according to The Associated Press. Mr. Milner, a Detroiter who enjoyed regional success with plays — including productions in his hometown — was 66.

Among his plays are Who’s Got His Own, What the Wine-Sellers Buy, Season’s Reasons, The Warning-A Theme for Linda, Jazz-Set and Roads to the Mountaintop (a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). He also penned the book to the gospel musical, Don’t Get God Started, written with the gospel family the Winans.

In his career, he received the John Hay Whitney and Rockefeller fellowships and taught creative writing at the University of Southern California, Wayne State University and Michigan State University.

Checkmates, which starred Paul Winfield, Denzel Washington, Ruby Dee and Marsha Jackson, and concerned two couples with differing values, was written under an NEA grant and first produced by Chicago’s ETA Theatre.

His longtime friend and collaborator Woodie King Jr., of the New Federal Theatre, staged the Broadway run of Checkmates, which ran August-December 1988.

“He was an exceptionally well-trained artist by going to the libraries,” King, of New York City, told the press the after Mr. Milner’s death. “His training was through libraries and extensive readings.”

Mr. Milner is survived by three sons and two daughters, the AP reported.

A memorial service was scheduled for July 13 at 8 PM at Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit. Mr. Milner was to be cremated and a funeral service was planned for July 14.


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