Born in South Carolina and schooled in Harlem, Childress wrote, directed, and produced plays with the American Negro Theatre and other companies. She won a Best Play OBIE for Trouble in Mind in 1956. Childress parlayed her 10-year membership in the American Negro Theatre into a Harvard appointment to the Redcliffe Institute from 1966 to 1968.
She earned fame for writing such plays as Wedding Band (produced by Joseph Pap for the 1972 New York Shakespeare in the Park Festival with the Public Theatre), Gold Through the Trees, and Mojo. Most of her plays openly examine racism within the black community as well as subtle forms of sexism perpetuated by both men and women. Alice Childress also wrote novels, one of which, A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich, she adapted into a feature film starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield. In 1979, her novel A Short Walk received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Alice Childress was the first black woman to write a professionally produced Broadway play, and the first woman to win an OBIE award.