Grambling State University has had many great and influential people attend throughout the years, such as Erykah Badu and Doug Williams, and trailblazer Judi Ann Mason should be considered one of the greatest.
The renowned writer of television shows, movies and plays began her ascent to fame while still a student.
In 1975, at the age of 19, while attending then Grambling College, she saw a flier on the Theater Department bulletin board announcing the American College Theater Festival’s Norman Lear Award for best original comedy, which carried a prize of $2,500.
With her comedy play titled Livin’ Fat, Mason won the award and the cash prize that began her entire career.
The play, about a “poor black family facing the moral dilemma of whether to keep a large sum of money that had unexpectedly came into its possession,” was just the beginning for the young lady from Bossier City.
During her career, Mason wrote more than 25 produced plays and became one of the youngest playwrights – of any race – ever to be produced Off-Broadway, according to the Writers Guild of America, which she became a member of while still a student.
In 1976, Mason won the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award for her next play; A Star Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hole In Heaven. A year later, she was named one of Glamour Magazine’s Top Ten College Women.
Mason left Louisiana in 1977 and moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in screenwriting. Her first big break was writing for Norman Lear’s hit show, Good Times.
Over the course of her career she wrote for many television shows, including Sanford and Son, A Different World, Beverly Hills 90210, I’ll Fly Away, American Gothic, and even the soap operas Generations and Guiding Light.
Mason also worked in film and was best known for her work in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit starring Whoopi Goldberg.
As a producer, Mason is credited with giving singer Patti LaBelle her first acting role on the hit TV show A Different World.
Mason became a mentor to many young aspiring writers, as head writer for the Writers Development Program at Guiding Light and as a teacher at a number of universities, including the University of Florida and the University of Louisville.
Writers Guild Award-winning writer Tina Andrews said about Mason, “So many of us are here as writers because she was there first willing to assist our journeys. I thank God I had her powerful shoulders to stand upon.”
Judi Ann Mason died unexpectedly in 2009 at the age of 54. She was the mother of two, daughter Mason Synclaire Williams and son Austin Barrett Williams.