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History of the Dr. Floyd Gaffney Playwriting Competition

Dr. Floyd Gaffney was one of the four founders of the theatre and dance department in the early 1970s at the University of California, San Diego, and a pioneer of black culture and dramatic arts in the city.

Dr. Gaffney was recruited to UCSD in 1971 in response to interest in having a professor of dance and theater. There was not yet a formal department, but Gaffney was one of two instructors to offer classes in drama and dance. There was no professional black theater in San Diego before Dr. Gaffney and he was instrumental in the development of a more diversified program for UCSD’s theater and dance. Over decades Gaffney taught both undergraduate students and graduate students. He developed a reputation as a director who was able to identify talent. He was widely known as a mentor to student actors, directors and dancers, including one of the most memorable TV fathers, James Avery (“Prince of Bel Air”) and John Houston (star of “In the Heat of the Night”). Gaffney’s formal retirement came in June, 1994 when he was named Professor Emeritus.

In 2006, Dr. Gaffney was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the KPBS Patté Awards for Theater Excellence. He was cited for “35 inspirational years of galvanizing the community with socially relevant theater” and “for bringing new voices to San Diego stages.” Gaffney directed more than 80 productions for Southeast Community Theatre, San Diego’s oldest African-American troupe which started up in 1962. Under Gaffney’s leadership, the group was renamed Common Ground Theater in 2004 to better reflect its grass-roots, cross-cultural mission. He directed many shows at San Diego Repertory. One of the last highly praisedproduction at Common Ground in its first decade, Josephine Baker Tonight, was directed by Gaffney. Gaffney also enjoyed teaching theatre on open water via Seminars@Sea program. Gaffney broke into theatrical work as a dancer in his native Cleveland at the Karamu House, a settlement playhouse which became a magnet for early African-American artists. Gaffney received the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater at Adelphi University in Garden City, Long Island. He gravitated to teaching in the field and, in 1966, earned a Ph.D. in theater at Carnegie Mellon University, then known as Carnegie Institution of Technology. Gaffney had early teaching positions at Clark College in Atlanta, at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio and UC Santa Barbara. Gaffney and his wife, Yvonne, married in 1959. She was a long-time administrator at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They have been residents of Poway since the 1970s. Their four children Michele, Antoine, Brett, and Monique have strong ties to San Diego; Monique is a professor actor who trained at Columbia for her MFA in theatre and is also an alum of UCSD. Dr. Gaffney died of stomach cancer on July 19, 2007

The Dr. Floyd Gaffney National Playwriting Competition on the African American Experience at UC San Diego, now in its eleventh year, was founded in Dr. Gaffney's name to award promising young undergraduate authors with a cash prize and travel and lodging to participate in a staged reading of their play.


2007     Kato McNickle  

2008     Maya James    

2009     Paul Notice    

2010     Lou-Lou Igbokwe

2011     A-lan Holt

2012     Cerstin Johnson  

2013     Roxie Perkins

2014     Daysha Edewi  

2015     Catherine Frost

First winner of the award










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