Playwright and artistic director George C. Wolfe was born on September 23, 1954 in Frankfort, Kentucky. His mother, a teacher, was among the first African Americans to study library science through the University of Kentucky Extension Program. Wolfe’s mother became the principal at the private, all-black, Rosenwald Laboratory School, where Wolfe received his elementary education, and discovered an interest in staging and directing. As a teenager, Wolfe attended a summer theater workshop at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and began directing plays. He graduated from Frankfort High School in 1972, where he wrote for the literary journal. Wolfe attended Kentucky State University in Frankfort but, in 1973, transferred to Pomona College in Claremont, California, graduating in 1976 with his B.A. degree in theater.
Wolfe wrote and directed his first play, Up for Grabs, in 1975. In Up for Grabs, Wolfe debuted his sketch framing technique and the motif of passage through doors, which became common elements in his later works. The following year, he premiered Block Party. Wolfe completed a six-month postgraduate artist residency at Pomona College before meeting C. Bernard Jackson, who funded the first production of Wolfe’s Tribal Rites at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Wolfe staged several plays in Los Angeles before moving to New York in 1979, where he graduated with his M.F.A. degree in 1983 from New York University School of the Arts. He premiered Paradise! in 1985, and The Colored Museum in 1986, which garnered Wolfe national attention, as well as the attention of New York Shakespeare Festival founder Joseph Papp. Following the premiere of Spunk (1989), Papp named Wolfe a resident director in 1990. Wolfe won his first Obie award for Spunk’s New York production that same year. In 1992, Wolfe made his Broadway debut with Jelly’s Last Jam at the Virginia Theatre, and achieved widespread recognition when he directed the Broadway premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in 1993. He was named producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival that year and went on to produce ten seasons. Wolfe also directed the 1997 world premiere of Amistad at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, Illinois. He staged Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed at the Music Box Theatre in New York City in 2016.
In 1975, Wolfe won the Pacific Southern Regional Award for playwriting at the American College Theater Festival for Up for Grabs. The following year, he premiered Block Party, receiving the Pacific Southern Regional Award for playwriting a second year in a row.
George C. Wolfe was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 9, 2016.