Along with his daughter, he is survived by his second wife, Wanda Malone, and a grandson.
Mr. Harrison was prolific, writing plays, essays and movie scripts, and in 1968 Howard invited him to join its theater department. He arrived for his interview just days after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which set off unrest, including looting and burning, on the streets just outside the university’s gates.
Inside them, he found a student body already putting the heady ideas of Black thinkers like Stokely Carmichael and Amiri Baraka into action. The Black Arts Movement was transforming wide swaths of literature and performance, and Mr. Harrison was eager to be a part.
Inspired, he began writing essays that tried to give an intellectual framework to what he was seeing onstage. Already well versed in European traditions, he explored African myths and rituals, identified their vitality in art forms like jazz, and advocated for a new generation of artists to embed them within their own work.
He also shook up the Howard theater scene. The department, he said in a 2002 interview, had mostly put on plays by white writers. He insisted on replacing classical works with plays by Black writers, including himself — a position that soon brought him in conflict with the department chair.
Mr. Harrison quit in 1970 and planned to return to Europe. But he received an offer to teach at California State University, Sacramento, a job that would get him close to the vibrant Black arts scene in the Bay Area, and he accepted.
He later taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and at Columbia College Chicago, where he remained until he retired in 2002.
By then, Mr. Harrison had become something of an intellectual father figure for a generation of Black writers, directors and performers, who flocked to hear him speak. Unlike them, however, he shunned the spotlight, preferring to be known through his work.
“I’ve never been an actor,” he said in a 1997 interview. “I’m principally a playwright. I like anonymity. I’m a good deal more reserved.”
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