Famous American Playwrights

Modern day movies and tele-shows may be interesting and entertaining, but the feel of sitting in a theatre and watching live characters is absolutely incredible! That is the magic that playwrights put into plays. Output of a vivid imagination and a gripping story, plays are a form of literature and are basically intended for theatrical performance. While talking about playwrights and plays, one just cannot overlook the contribution of Americans. Unless you have been living under the rock, names like T.S Eliot, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, Sarah Ruhl, Christopher Durang, August Wilson or Edward Albee cannot be unheard of. Truly outstanding in their work, American playwrights have a deep embedded insight for playwriting and a good knowledge and understanding of dramatic structure. Their play with words and sequence of the drama is so natural that at no point in their play, it seems like the characters are restricted to a particular script. Interestingly, plays by these playwrights have not just been performed in America alone but the world over. Enliven your spirit by reading about the life and works of some of the greatest American playwrights of all times. Their body of work would surely keep you entertained!

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite American Playwrights

 1 
Arthur Miller
(Playwright Best Known for His Plays “All My Sons,” “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible”)

Arthur Miller
9
Birthdate: October 17, 1915
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, United States
Died: February 10, 2005

Arthur Miller was an American essayist and playwright. Miller is credited with creating popular plays, such as Death of a Salesman, which is widely regarded as one of the best American plays of the 20th century. Thanks to his illustrious career, which spanned more than 70 years, Arthur Miller is regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest dramatists.

 2 
Tennessee Williams
(Playwright)

Tennessee Williams
7
Birthdate: March 26, 1911
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Columbus, Mississippi, United States
Died: February 25, 1983
Pulitzer Prize-winning Tennessee Williams is regarded as one of the most significant playwrights of the 20th century, and had also written short stories, essays, and poetry. He is best remembered for his plays A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
 

 3 
T. S. Eliot
(Best Known as a Leader of the Modernist Movement in Poetry)

T. S. Eliot
6
Birthdate: September 26, 1888
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: January 4, 1965
American-born British poet T. S. Eliot is best remembered for his poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, and Ash Wednesday, and his plays such as Murder in the Cathedral. He won the Nobel Prize for literature and became a prominent figure of Modernist poetry.  

 4 

Chadwick Boseman
5
Birthdate: November 29, 1976
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Anderson, South Carolina, United States
Died: August 28, 2020

A versatile actor and an inspiration for a generation of black youths, Chadwick Boseman is best remembered for portraying notable real life black figures like Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and James Brown in their biopics. His excellent performance in Black Panther, though, turned him into a household name.

 5 

Woody Harrelson
4
Birthdate: July 23, 1961
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Midland, Texas, United States

Actor Woody Harrelson has been active in the entertainment world for over 40 years now. The son of a convicted hit-man, he had a difficult childhood and grew up in poverty. However, he was determined to build a good life for himself and earned a BFA in theater before venturing into acting. He is a vegan and an environmental activist.

 6 
David Mamet
(One of the Most Prolific Filmmakers of the Modern Era Who Was Known for His Psychological Dramas)

David Mamet
5
Birthdate: November 30, 1947
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Author, screenwriter, and playwright David Mamet is best known for his Pulitzer-winning and Tony-nominated play Glengarry Glen Ross. He has written for many Broadway and off-Broadway plays and also for films such as House of Games. He has produced and written for the show The Unit and authored several books.

 7 
Eugene O'Neill
(Playwright)

Eugene O'Neill
5
Birthdate: October 16, 1888
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Longacre Square, New York, United States
Died: November 27, 1953

Eugene O'Neill was an American playwright whose works earned him several prestigious awards, including four Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and the 1936 Nobel Prize in Literature. His play Long Day's Journey into Night is frequently named among the 20th century's finest American plays. In the 1981 film Reds, Eugene O'Neill is played by actor Jack Nicholson.

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 8 
Danai Gurira
(Actress)

Danai Gurira
20
Birthdate: February 14, 1978
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Grinnell, Iowa, United States
Danai Gurira is best known as Michonne from The Walking Dead and as Okoye from the Marvel films Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. She earned a Tony nomination for writing the Broadway play Eclipsed. She has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador and promotes arts and women empowerment.

 9 
James Baldwin
(Author Best Known for His Novel 'Go Tell It on the Mountain')

James Baldwin
4
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Harlem, New York, United States
Died: December 1, 1987

Amongst the greatest writers of the 20th century and a leading literary voice in the civil rights movement, James Baldwin extensively explored issues like race, sexuality and humanity in his work. His best known work include his debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain and his books of essays Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name.

 10 
Zoe Kazan
(Actress)

Zoe Kazan
5
Birthdate: September 9, 1983
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA

 11 

Jeff Daniels
4
Birthdate: February 19, 1955
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Athens, Georgia, United States

Jeff Daniels is an American actor, playwright, and musician. Over the years, Daniels has played an influential role in the American entertainment business. In 1991, Daniels founded a not-for-profit organization called The Purple Rose Theatre Company, which offers an attractive apprenticeship program for youngsters looking for a career in theatre.

 12 
August Wilson
(Playwright)

August Wilson
5
Birthdate: April 27, 1945
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died: October 2, 2005
August Wilson, also known as "theater's poet of black America,” was a renowned playwright. He is best remembered for The Pittsburgh Cycle, his series of 10 plays that focused on the 20th-century African-American community. Two of his plays, Fences and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, were turned into movies.

 13 
Neil Simon
(Playwright & Screenwriter)

Neil Simon
8
Birthdate: July 4, 1927
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: The Bronx, New York
Died: August 26, 2018

 14 
Langston Hughes
(One of the Earliest Innovators of the Literary Art Form Called Jazz Poetry)

Langston Hughes
5
Birthdate: February 1, 1901
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Joplin, Missouri, United States
Died: May 22, 1967

Langston Hughes is best remembered as a prominent leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first to write jazz poetry. He also wrote plays and short stories. He was a columnist for The Chicago Defender and wrote the iconic poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

 15 

Ernie Hudson
4
Birthdate: December 17, 1945
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Benton Harbor, Michigan, USA

 16 
Nora Ephron
(Screenwriter, Producer, Director)

Nora Ephron
4
Birthdate: May 19, 1941
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: June 26, 2012

Nora Ephron was an American writer, filmmaker, and journalist. She is known for writing films like Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally... The Nora Ephron Prize was created by the Tribeca Film Festival in her memory. Her life and work inspired the 2016 documentary film Everything Is Copy, which was directed by her son Jacob Bernstein.

 17 
Mae West
(Actress)

Mae West
4
Birthdate: August 17, 1893
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: November 22, 1980
Mae West began her career as a child actor in vaudeville. She later appeared in films such as You Done Me Wrong and Go West, Young Man. She became famous for her signature double entendres and sexual liberty she projected on screen. She also wrote books and plays later.

 18 
Tracy Letts
(Actor, Screenwriter)

Tracy Letts
5
Birthdate: July 4, 1965
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tracy Letts is a highly acclaimed American actor, screenwriter, and playwright. Letts has received several prestigious awards, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a couple of Tony Awards. Tracy Letts is credited with popularizing Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which he revived in 2012.

 19 
Lorraine Hansberry
(Writer, Theatre director, Screenwriter, Playwright, Human rights activist)

Lorraine Hansberry
6
Birthdate: May 19, 1930
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: January 12, 1965

Lorraine Hansberry was a writer and playwright best remembered for her play A Raisin in the Sun which emphasizes the plight of African-Americans living under racial segregation. At the age of 29, Lorraine Hansberry received the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, becoming the youngest playwright and the first African-American dramatist to win the prestigious award.

 20 
Lewis Black
(Comedian)

Lewis Black
5
Birthdate: August 30, 1948
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

 21 
Norman Mailer
(Author of 'The Naked and the Dead', 'Armies of the Night' and 'The Executioner's Song')

Norman Mailer
5
Birthdate: January 31, 1923
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Long Branch, New Jersey, United States
Died: November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer was an American journalist, novelist, essayist, filmmaker, actor, and playwright. A prolific writer, Mailer had at least one best-selling book in each of the seven decades post Second World War. Overall, he had 11 best-selling books in a career spanning over 60 years. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, Mailer is regarded as an innovator of New Journalism.

 22 
Edward Albee
(Playwright)

Edward Albee
4
Birthdate: March 12, 1928
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Virginia, United States
Died: September 16, 2016

 23 
Ruth Gordon
(Actress)

Ruth Gordon
4
Birthdate: October 30, 1896
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Quincy, Massachusetts, United States
Died: August 28, 1985

 24 
Tony Kushner
(Playwright, Screenwriter, Writer, Music educator)

Tony Kushner
5
Birthdate: July 16, 1956
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: New York City

 25 
Matthew Cowles
(Television actor, Film actor, Stage actor)

Matthew Cowles
4
Birthdate: September 28, 1944
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New York City
Died: May 22, 2014

 26 

Colman Domingo
4
Birthdate: November 28, 1969
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

 27 
Ossie Davis
(Former actor who appeared in films with wife Ruby Dee)

Ossie Davis
4
Birthdate: December 18, 1917
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Cogdell, Georgia, United States
Died: February 4, 2005

 28 
Aaron Sorkin
(Playwright)

Aaron Sorkin
4
Birthdate: June 9, 1961
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, United States

Aaron Sorkin is an American filmmaker, playwright, and screenwriter. He won the Academy Award for writing the popular film The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin is credited with popularizing his trademark extended monologues and fast-paced dialogue in films. He is also known for using single tracking shots of long duration where multiple characters enter and exit the conversation.

 29 
Elaine May
(Actor, Film director, Screenwriter, Writer, Playwright)

Elaine May
4
Birthdate: April 21, 1932
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

 30 

Joyce Carol Oates
4
Birthdate: June 16, 1938
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lockport, New York, United States

 31 

Carrie Hamilton
5
Birthdate: December 5, 1963
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA
Died: January 20, 2002

 32 
Sidney Sheldon
(Writer, Screenwriter, Novelist, Playwright, Film director, Actor, Television producer, Author)

Sidney Sheldon
4
Birthdate: February 11, 1917
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Chicago
Died: January 30, 2007

 33 

Stephen Tobolowsky
5
Birthdate: May 30, 1951
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Dallas, Texas, USA

 34 
Howard Zinn
(Historian)

Howard Zinn
4
Birthdate: August 24, 1922
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: January 27, 2010

Born into a Jewish working-class, immigrant family in Brooklyn, Howard Zinn was initially dragged into communism. He was part of the U.S. Army during World War II and later established himself as a historian. Of his many books, the most popular has been A People's History of the United States.

 35 
Lillian Hellman
(Dramatist and Screenwriter)

Lillian Hellman
4
Birthdate: June 20, 1905
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana
Died: June 30, 1984

 36 
Thomas Harris
(Writer, best known for a series of suspense novels about his most famous character, Hannibal Lecter)

Thomas Harris
4
Birthdate: September 22, 1940
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Jackson, Tennessee, United States

 37 
Jim Beaver
(Actor)

Jim Beaver
4
Birthdate: August 12, 1950
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Laramie, Wyoming, USA

 38 
Thornton Wilder
(Playwright)

Thornton Wilder
3
Birthdate: April 17, 1897
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin, United States
Died: December 7, 1975

 39 
William Goldman
(Novelist)

William Goldman
4
Birthdate: August 12, 1931
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Highland Park, Illinois, USA
Died: November 16, 2018

 40 
Amanda Palmer
(Singer, Street artist, Composer, Pianist, Musician, Playwright, Blogger, Songwriter)

Amanda Palmer
4
Birthdate: April 30, 1976
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City

 41 
Robert Greene
(Writer, Playwright)

Robert Greene
4
Birthdate: May 14, 1959
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, U.S.

Robert Greene is best known for his international bestsellers such as The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War, and The Art of Seduction. Some of his books have been banned in American prisons and have been described as manipulative, while some have been mentioned in popular songs.

 42 

Melvin Van Peebles
4
Birthdate: August 21, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

 43 
Howard Ashman
(Playwright, Lyricist & Stage Director)

Howard Ashman
4
Birthdate: May 17, 1950
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: March 14, 1991

 44 

Patrisse Cullors
4
Birthdate: June 20, 1983
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, U.S.

 45 
Tovah Feldshuh
(Television actor, Film actor, Writer, Playwright, Stage actor)

Tovah Feldshuh
4
Birthdate: December 27, 1952
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York City

 46 
John Patrick Shanley
(Screenwriter, Playwright, Writer, Film director, Theatre director)

John Patrick Shanley
3
Birthdate: October 3, 1950
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: The Bronx

 47 

Ethan Phillips
4
Birthdate: February 8, 1955
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Garden City, Long Island, New York, USA

 48 

Taylor Negron
4
Birthdate: August 1, 1957
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Glendale, California, United States
Died: January 10, 2015

 49 
Rupert Holmes
(Composer)

Rupert Holmes
4
Birthdate: February 24, 1947
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cheshire, England, UK

 50 
Patricia Wettig
(Actor, Playwright, Stage actor, Television actor)

Patricia Wettig
4
Birthdate: December 4, 1951
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Cincinnati