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Richard Wesley was born in Newark, New Jersey and graduated from Howard University. He studied Playwriting under the tutelage of Owen Dodson and Ted Shine. A member of the New Lafayette Theater from 1970 through 1973, he served as Managing Editor of its Black Theater magazine.


He was presented with a Drama Desk Award for his 1971 stage play, THE BLACK TERROR. His 1978 play, THE MIGHTY GENTS, appeared on Broadway. His 1989 play, THE TALENTED TENTH, brought him his fifth AUDELCO Award for outstanding play. In 2013, he received the prestigious Otto Award for Writing for Political Theater.


Later that same year Mr. Wesley was commissioned by the Trilogy Opera of Newark, New Jersey to write the libretto for an opera, PAPA DOC, with music composed by Dorothy Rudd Moore, and adapted from an essay by Edwidge Danticat. His second libretto for Trilogy, FIVE, an operatic interpretation of the events surrounding the wrongful conviction and imprisonment for rape and attempted murder, of five young Harlem teens, known as the “Central Park Five,” was completed in 2015 and received its world premiere in October, 2016. The composer is the highly regarded Anthony Davis. A third libretto was completed in 2016, titled, KENYATTA, with music composed by Trent Johnson. 

Mr. Wesley was brought back to Trilogy in 2017 to pen the libretto for the opera, SCOTT, GARNER, GRAY, SAYS JAMES BALDWIN with composer Dwayne Fulton, and WEB and BOOKER T, in 2018, with composer Julius Williams. 

The acclaimed Crossroads Theater of New Brunswick, NJ, premiered Mr. Wesley's political drama, AUTUMN, in 2015. The play was later produced by the Billie Holiday Theater, where it received its New York premiere just prior to the 2016 Presidential election. AUTUMN brought Mr. Wesley his sixth AUDELCO Award in 2017.

In 2019, a revamped and rewritten version, renamed THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, was premiered by the Long Beach Opera Company at the Fox Grand Theatre in Sab Pedro, California. The opera would recieve the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Mr. Wesley has shared two NAACP Image  “Best Picture” Awards for the motion pictures, UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT and LET’S DO IT AGAIN, both of which starred Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Among his other motion pictures: NATIVE SON (1984) and FAST FORWARD (1985).


In television, he has authored the scripts for the movies, THE HOUSE OF DIES DREAR (PBS, 1984), MURDER WITHOUT MOTIVE (NBC, 1992), MANDELA and DE KLERK (Showtime, 1997), and co-wrote the scripts for BOJANGLES (Showtime, 2002) and DEACONS FOR DEFENSE (Showtime, 2003). He has also written episodes for the series FALLEN ANGELS (Showtime, 1996), ONE HUNDRED CENTER STREET (A&E Cable Networks, 2000 and 2001) and MIRACLE’S BOYS (2005). DEACONS FOR DEFENSE was the recipient of the 2004 Black Reels Award for Best Screenplay.

Mr. Wesley is currently an Associate Professor in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York Univertisty, and was for eight years the Chair of the Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing there. He is a former Vice President of the Writers Guild of America, East, Inc., and currently sits on the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the Selection Committee for the Black Film Festival of the Newark Museum and the Board of Directors, Newark Performing Arts Corporation at Symphony Hall.


He is married to the novelist, Valerie Wilson Wesley.



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