Penny was born in Opelika, Alabama. As a toddler he moved to the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was raised. A 1957 graduate of Pittsburgh's Central Catholic High School, Penny had childhood aspirations of joining the priesthood.
Penny was in the original cohort of faculty hired in 1969 by Jack Daniel, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of students at the University of Pittsburgh (UP), where Penny began teaching as an associate professor in 1969. Penny was a founding member of UP's Africana Studies Department, now known as the Black Studies Department, and served as its chair from 1978 to 1984.
"In terms of his professionalism, he was as close as someone can get to being an unrecognized genius. He appeared to be a simple man, but was actually quite complex," Daniel said. "As a person, with his theatrical influence, he was genuinely in touch with the human side of all of us. He was thought-provoking, forever challenging, dedicated, sincere and warm, with a kind of stick-to-itiveness -- someone who always kept his eye on the prize."
Dennis Brutus describes his former colleague "as a person who inspired his students. He was always encouraging and helpful. As a poet myself, I can say he also was a fine poet, in the black poetic tradition, who inspired others to write, especially through the Kuntu Writers Workshop. And he was a man who was an inspiration to young people in terms of his activism and community activities."
In 1968, Penny and his friend August Wilson, a fellow Pittsburgh poet and playwright, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater, which staged performances until the mid-1970s. Dr. Vernell A. Lillie founded the Kuntu Repertory Theatre in 1975 as a way of showcasing Penny's plays. Penny was the playwright-in-residence for the Kuntu Repertory Theatre. Today, the theatre continues to hold performances of Rob’s plays.
In 1976, Penny and Wilson co-founded the Kuntu Writers Workshop, which Penny coordinated until his death on March 16, 2003.
The 62-year-old poet, playwright, teacher, and activist died of a heart attack at his Hill District home on March 16, 2003.
Rob Penny's plays have been nationally produced in such theatres as the aforementioned Kuntu Repertory Theatre, Chicago's ETA / Creative Arts Foundation, Inc. New York's New Federal Theatre founded by Woody King, Jr. as well as Brooklyn, New York's celebrated Billie Holiday Theatre, the world premiere of 'Nefertari Rising last year was also directed by Woody King, Jr. Hotep, Oba, Yebo.
Penny wrote more than 30 plays and 300 poems. Below is a number of plays written by Penny: • Bad News • Blue Yonder • Boppin' With The Ancestors • Coon Can • Dance of the Blues Dead • Deeds of Blackness • Depths of Her Star, The • Dianne's Heart Dries Out Stifi More • Good Black Don't Crack • Good Quick Feel-and Then We Build upon a Plan, A • Life Rise • Little Willie Armstrong Jones • Night of the Hawk • Republic of New Africa, The • Sugar and Thomas • Take on a Life • Trip, A • Uhh Survival Energy • Up to Life • Way, The • Who Loves the Dancer
Pittsburgh City Council honored Penny by presenting the Penny family with a key to the City of Pittsburgh for his commitment to social activism, dedication to encouraging youth, and contributions to the greater Hill District community. July 29, 2008 was officially the City of Pittsburgh's Rob Penny Day.
Since 2004, the African-American Council for the Arts PIttsburgh has presented an annual Rob Penny Lifetime Achievement Award.
- Black Tones of Truth. Pittsburgh, PA: Oduduwa Productions, 1968.
- Poems for Reading at a Sharpeville Commemoration (pamphlet; with Chris Gilbert, Dennis Brutus, Maisha Baton, Ann Sawyer Berkley, and Joyce Ficklin). Pittsburgh, PA: Department of Black Community Education, 1986.
- Romance, Rhythm and Revolution: Selected Poetry of Rob Penny. Magnolia Press, 1990.
- Pain in My Heart. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2001
- Good Black Don't Crack. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2001.
- Murderer on the Hill District. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2002.
- Diana's Heart Dries Out Still More. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2002.
- Sun Rising on the Hill District. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2004.
- Boppin' with the Ancestors. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2004.
- Little Willie Armstrong Jones. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2004.
- Conner, Lynne (2007). Pittsburgh in Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-4330-1.
- ↑ Dyer, Ervin (March 18, 2003). "Obituary: Robert Lee 'Rob' Penny / Founder of Kuntu Repertory; poet, teacher and activist". Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh). http://www.post-gazette.com/obituaries/20030318penny0318p1.asp. Retrieved October 2, 2005.
- ↑ Robert Lee "Rob" Penny, AACTA Pittsburgh. Web, Mar. 31, 2013.
- ↑ 'Romance, Rhythm and Revolution: Selected Poetry of Rob Penny (Hardcover). Amazon.com, Web, Mar. 31, 2013.
- ↑ Search results = au:Rob Penny, WorldCat, OCLC, Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 13, 2015.
- Robert Penny 3 poems at The Headless Way
- Robert Lee "Rob Penny at African American Council of the Arts Pittsburgh
- Obituary: Robert Lee "Rob" Penny, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 18, 2003.
- "Death of a Poet: Rob Penny told the story of the black experience," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 19, 2003.
- In Memoriam - Rob Penny, Pitt Chronicle.
- Obituary: Robert Lee "Rob" Penny, University Times, March 20, 2003.
- Robert Lee "Rob" Penny in Chicken Bones: A journal
- Plays by Rob Penny
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