Robbie Doris McCauley was born in Norfolk, Virginia on July 14,1942.
She attended public schools in Washington, DC where she first discovered her passion for writing and won numerous academic awards. After graduating Howard University in 1963, she moved to NYC and began her extensive career as an actress, director, writer, and educator. Through her work in experimental political theater, she met her life-partner Edward James Montgomery in 1979 and from this union came their only child, Jessie Montgomery. Some of the major institutions where she held faculty positions were New York University, City College of New York, Trinity College, Mount Holyoke and finally Emerson College in Boston. She retired in 2016 and spent her remaining years writing, continuing to teach workshops throughout the United States, and visiting with her family in Silver Spring, MD. She loved to dance and cook (she cooked a mean fish n’ grits!), and debate politics with her equally intellectually motivated sister, Anita.
Having been an undiagnosed (until age 20) juvenile diabetic, she was desperately ill many times in her life. In an interview for Sugar, her one-woman show about her life with diabetes intertwined with her joyous life in the theatre, she said, “It’s a brittle disease and you do the best you can. You think you’re all done, and you’ve got it under control, and then – something happens, and you end up in the ER. But you have to live your life. You can’t just sit still and wait for the next shot. You’ve got to go places, and do things.” Robbie certainly did things. She lived an extraordinarily active and hugely impactful life in the theatre as an actor, educator, director, playwright, and public intellectual.
Just this month, the Foundation for Art & Healing gave Emerson a gift, a scholarship for a theatre student in Robbie’s name, the Robbie McCauley Self Care Award, on the occasion of presenting her with a Lifetime Achievement Award. For those of you not familiar with Robbie’s work, much has and will be written in the days, months, and years ahead. Briefly, she received an OBIE Award and a Bessie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Performance for her play, Sally’s Rape. Her work is widely anthologized, including in Extreme Exposure, Moon Marked and Touched by Sun, and Performance and Cultural Politics. One of the early cast members of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf on Broadway, Robbie went on to write, direct, and perform regularly in cities across the country and abroad, most recently performing in Sugar, her one-woman show about her life-long struggle with diabetes, produced initially by ArtsEmerson in 2012 and subsequently presented at Brown University, the Hartbeat Ensemble, and at New York Live Arts as part of Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts’ City Winter Festival 2018. The Struggle Continues: Robbie McCauley: Scripts, Essays and Reflections, an anthology of McCauley’s plays and writings, with contributions by noted theatre artists, critics, and scholars, is forthcoming from TCG (November 2021).
Robbie leaves behind her daughter Jessie Montgomery, sister Anita Henderson, partner Ed Montgomery, niece Lyn Alicia Henderson, nephew William Henderson and many more cousins, friends and family. We will forever cherish her enduring impact on our family and wish our Queen of the Skies a bright and peaceful homecoming.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Robbie Doris McCauley, please visit our floral store.