Members of the CBW honor fellow Black writers who made an impact.
In a historically exclusionary industry, each generation of successful Black writers paves the way for a new one to follow. In honor of Black History Month, Connect asked members of the Committee of Black Writers (CBW) about the Black writers past and present who sparked their interest in writing or otherwise influence their craft. The responses ranged from the iconic to the intimate. Through direct mentorship, broader advocacy, or an exemplary career, these Black writers are an inspiration.
Robert Townsend inspires me because he’s a risk-taker. In 1987, he bet on himself to make his film, Hollywood Shuffle, which he produced, directed, starred in, and co-wrote with Keenen Ivory Wayans. Without adequate funding, he used credit cards to fund this classic. Robert Townsend inspires me because he’s a visionary. He believed that a Black superhero wasn’t an unimaginable leading man when he created The Meteor Man in 1993. This film not only showed that it wasn’t far-fetched to see a Black superhero, but it also paved the way for films like Blade and the beloved Black Panther. Simply put, Robert Townsend inspires me to subvert expectations, champion diversity, and to dream big. Thank you, Mr. Townsend. —Kendra Chanae Chapman
When I think about Black writers who inspired me, at the top of the list is the first one I met, Joe Wilson. The show was NCIS: Los Angeles. At the time I was a set PA, looking to leave for something more creative. Though production was the way I entered the business, it was never where I wanted to stay, but I never saw a way out of it. Then I met Joe, who I believe was story editor at the time. I was introduced to him during one of his episodes and I immediately felt connected—another Black man from a similar home and background, working and thriving in a field that I wanted to be a part of. Joe was always available to listen, offer advice, and provide encouragement. I know this sounds like an ‘Ode to Joe,’ but the truth is, most of my achievements can be traced back to motivating conversations with him. I’ve known Joe for a long time. I still reach out when I need to, and he’s always taken my call. At the end of the day, thanks to Joe and those like him, I hope that I can also be an inspiration to people like us. —Adam G. Key
Jonathan I. Kidd and Sonya Winton-Odamtten
Lorraine Hansberry’s play inspired Nina Simone to write the impactful song "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" as much as Jonathan I. Kidd and Sonya Winton-Odamtten have encouraged me to be a television writer by embodying the essence of those lyrics. Today, many recognize them as co-executive producers and writers for HBO’s acclaimed sci-fi horror series Lovecraft Country, but I had the pleasure of meeting them seven years ago. They were staffed on a spinoff of CBS’ mothership NCIS. Even then, they were highly skilled, whip-smart, and could work at the clipped pace network television demands. Sonya and J were busy on script but dedicated time to allow me to shadow them in the writers’ room. They gave me invaluable advice on how to survive as an emerging writer. They prepared me to rise above room politics and respect others while honoring myself. They take that belief system outside of work, as expressed by their philanthropic endeavors, including the support of Black healthcare workers impacted by COVID-19. They keep their word, practice what they preach, and are consistent role models. The path they are paving makes it easier for others coming up behind them, which, I think, is by design. Sonya and J, thank you for all you continue to do for us. —Chris Erric Maddox
Shonda Rhimes rocked my world. In March of 2005, I watched the series premiere of Grey’s Anatomy because my friend T.R. Knight was on the show. I expected to watch one episode, but Shonda’s funny, heartfelt, incisive writing hooked me. I’m still watching 17 seasons later. It was the first show I saw with multiple Black characters who were all doctors. Now, with her Shondaland empire in full force, this multiple award winner has given birth to more than a dozen TV shows including Scandal, Private Practice and Inventing Anna (as creator), and How to Get Away with Murder, For the People, The Catch, and Bridgerton (as executive producer). How does she do it? T.R. says, “Shonda’s brilliance lies in her ability to know our hearts—the pain, fear, hope and love within— and through her storytelling, find the unexpected ways we reveal ourselves to one another.” —Steve Harper
Yvette Lee Bowser
The ‘90s ushered in an era of television that was raw, revealing, and revolutionary. From that period, one particular sitcom planted a proverbial seed in a young, Black, would-be writer: namely, me. It featured twenty-something neighbors collectively navigating love, careers, and the various idiosyncrasies of life in a big city. No, it wasn't Friends. It was Living Single. Fresh, funny, and authentically Black. I fell in love with the show so much that it became the first time I researched the actual creator. She was twenty-something TV writer and producer Yvette Lee Bowser, who made history as the first Black woman to develop a prime-time series. With Living Single, Yvette showed audiences sides of us that we simply weren't used to seeing. She earned our laughs and our respect. Her distinct voice continues to influence young Black creatives across the television landscape. I'm proud to be one of them. —Khaled Ridgeway
Black in the genre space isn’t new! Monica Owusu-Breen is a master of storytelling and is known for such shows as Alias, Lost, and Fringe. She co-created the NBC supernatural drama Midnight, Texas, and was showrunner for Stumptown’s second season. She’s a Black woman who has swung with the Genre Giants. Before working for her, I was a fan. Her episodes were always the realest. She can find human stories in a supernatural shantytown and nail explosive action set pieces with kick-ass women taking down the Big Bad. She’s always been vocal and proud about her Ghanaian and Spanish roots. Working for her as a writer has been a master class on breaking story, working with big budgets and crews, nurturing your writers’ room, and maintaining a family life from pilot to post. She’s someone who practices what the industry preaches and is just wavy tbh. —Xavier Stiles
The mission of the CBW is to empower, increase visibility, and create career and networking opportunities for Black writers in Hollywood. To learn about ways to get involved, visit the CBW’s contact page.