David E. Talbert

David E. Talbert delivered the Spring Commencement Address at Morgan State University on May 21, 2022.

David E. Talbert

Talbert’s love of writing began to take shape while attending Morgan State University and later New York University where he graduated from the school’s accelerated film program. While his education opened his mind to creative possibilities, Talbert acknowledges he has learned everything he knows about his craft from doing the work itself. Guided always by instinct and what moves him, Talbert approaches his writing from the inside out. His plays, films, and books often draw from his own personal life and experience. Born into a family of pastors and preachers, Talbert learned early on that comedy and drama were essentially two sides of the same coin. Looking back on the most influential characters in his own narrative, the sermons of his uncle and great-grandmother impressed upon him at a young age the power of words and the emotion they can elicit. Talbert’s writing has since been grounded in truth and from a space of hope and inspiration.

The genesis of this playwright is as remarkable as his genius. With an invitation to the theater while living in the Bay Area, Talbert was immediately moved by a creative passion to write his own play. Sitting down with an idea that very evening, his first play, Tellin’ it Like it Tiz, opened a year later at Berkeley’s Black Repertory Theatre. The play would go on to tour across the country for two years, beginning Talbert’s 30-year career as one of the highest grossing and most recognizable writers, directors, and producers in American theater.

Today, Talbert is heralded as one of the most prolific theater-makers in America. He has written and produced 14 national tours, breaking box office records and capturing the hearts of audiences around the world. Talbert has garnered 24 NAACP nominations and won Best Playwright of the Year for The Fabric of a Man, and he has won the NAACP Trailblazer Award for his contributions and accomplishments in theatre. He has also received the New York Literary Award for Best Playwright of the Year for his musical, Love in the Nick of Tyme. His impressive list of blockbuster national tours also includes his most recent giant, What My Husband Doesn’t Know, starring Morris Chestnut.

In 2008, Talbert made his feature film directorial debut with the Sony Pictures comedy First Sunday, which he also wrote and produced, starring Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan and Katt Williams. He then went on to direct Fox Searchlight’s Baggage Claim, which marked one of the few times a filmmaker has adapted and directed his own novel. In 2016, Talbert wrote and directed the holiday film, Almost Christmas for Universal Pictures with an all-star cast including Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union and Academy Award winner Mo’Nique. The film became the highest grossing and most critically acclaimed theatrical release of Talbert’s career up to that point. All three of these feature films debuted as the #1 Comedy in America.

Talbert most recently wrote, directed and produced Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, Netflix’s first original live-action musical. A 20-year passion project in the making, Talbert created a completely original and inclusive cinematic holiday experience for every family that was a hit among critics and audiences alike. Debuting in over 190 countries and translated in 32 languages. The fantastical holiday tale follows an eccentric toymaker (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker), his tenacious granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills), and a magical invention with the power to reunite their family and change their lives forever. The film also stars Emmy Award winner Keegan Michael Key, Tony Award winners Phylicia Rashad and Anika Noni Rose, and Golden Globe nominee Hugh Bonneville. This musical spectacle features original songs by EGOT winner John Legend and eight-time Grammy winner Philip Lawrence. The groundbreaking film was nominated for 10 NAACP Image Awards and shortlisted by the Academy for Oscar contention. Talbert previously collaborated with Netflix in 2017 when he directed and produced the Ted Melfi-penned original film, El Camino Christmas starring Luke Grimes, Tim Allen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dax Shepard, and Jessica Alba.

In addition to his work in theater and film, Talbert is also the best-selling author of three novels: Baggage Claim (2003), Love on the Dotted Line (2005), and Love Don’t Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales (2006), which he wrote with Snoop Dogg.

Recognizing his growing global audience, Talbert recently inked a multi-year first-look deal with Netflix, launching Golden Alchemy Entertainment, a partnership with his wife and producing partner Lyn Sisson-Talbert. Through the deal, the Talberts will write, direct, and produce event films, as well as launch the careers of underrepresented filmmakers through their producing projects. Talbert is currently writing to direct two features for Netflix as well as the musical series Madelyn Square Garden for Disney+.

Grateful to be doing the work that he loves and understanding the challenges many face in the entertainment industry, Talbert recently launched Lights Camera Access (LCA), a mentorship program designed to give students who are underrepresented in the entertainment industry access, insight, and employment opportunities. He is also an active participant in the Motion Picture Academy’s Gold Mentorship Program.

Talbert and his wife and producing partner, Lyn Sisson-Talbert, reside in Southern California with their son, Elias.