KAREN CHILTON is a New York-based Writer & Actor. A native of Chicago’s Southside, Ms. Chilton received her M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from NEW YORK UNIVERSITY's Tisch School of the Arts and an undergraduate degree in Economics from Bradley University. She has extensive musical training from The Chicago Conservatory of Music in classical piano and has studied abroad as an America Field Service (AFS) international exchange student in the Dominican Republic. Other areas of intensive study include jazz history and dramatic writing.
Ms. Chilton’s acting credits include the New York stage, episodic television as well as featured roles in numerous independent films. She was featured in IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (FOCUS) directed by Ryan Fleck, featuring Zach Galifianakis. She was a principal in the indie release, INSIDE A CHANGE, winner of the HBO Latino Film Festival, directed by Rik Cordero. Her supporting role in the award-winning independent film, HALF NELSON, directed by Ryan Fleck and starring Ryan Gosling garnered outstanding reviews in the U.S. and abroad. “Karen Chilton projects limitless compassion and depth…” wrote INDIEwire. Critic Andrew Sarris wrote in The New York Observer: “The key to the direction of all the performances is tactful restraint and nuanced modulation. This applies to…Karen Chilton.” She was also a principle in the short film version of that feature, GOWANUS, BROOKLYN, winner of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Prize. For her lead role in the film short, STRUGGLE, she received New York Magazine’s First Run Film Festival Craft Award for Acting. The film is based on the 1970s police interrogation of black civil rights activist, Assata Shakur; it was also screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and has won numerous awards. During 2003, Ms. Chilton was selected as an Actor-in-Residence at New River Dramatists (formerly The Playwrights Project) in North Carolina.
Ms. Chilton is the author of the critically-acclaimed biography HAZEL SCOTT: THE PIONEERING JOURNEY OF A JAZZ PIANIST FROM CAFÉ SOCIETY TO HOLLYWOOD TO HUAC (University of Michigan Press). JAZZ TIMES wrote: "Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to this fine biography is that during the first 150 pages the reader is wondering why Scott isn’t better known, at least in the jazz world. But by the story’s end…the same reader knows exactly why, but is still likely to be singing her praises as a true trailblazer in African-American culture." Chilton was awarded a month-long writer’s residency at the Millay Colony for the Arts to support her work on the book, and named the Tracy and Leo Maitland Fellow following her residency.
She is also the co-author of I WISH YOU LOVE, the jazz memoir of legendary vocalist, Gloria Lynne (St. Martin’s Press). The autobiography was a critical success, receiving an outstanding review from the industry journal, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, which stated: “Full of gossip, exclamation and vernacular, it’s a book that demands to be read out loud. This is a moving tribute to the crucible of Harlem jazz.” Her essay on blues legend Bessie Smith appears in AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment (Smithsonian Books). As a freelance writer, her work has been published in numerous magazines and journals including Smithsonian and Diaspora.
Her dramatic works for the stage include a five-character drama, CONVERGENCE, winner of the New Professional Theatre Writers Festival. SAYING GRACE, a solo performance piece directed by director/choreographer Ken Roberson (Avenue Q), was performed in the Women of Color Theater Festival at New York’s landmark theater, Henry Street Settlement.
Current works-in-progress include: DARLING OF CAFÉ SOCIETY: The Life & Music of Hazel Scott, the adaptation of the HAZEL SCOTT biography currently being considered by networks as a limited TV series, HEIRLOOM, a new full length stage play--a Semi-Finalist in the 2019 O'NEILL NATIONAL PLAYWRIGHTS CONFERENCE, and AFRODISIAC (Or Let My People Flow!), a play with music centered on voter suppression; the play was a Finalist for the 2020 Goldberg Prize.
She wrote the libretto for THE SOUL NOW SINGS in collaboration with profilic pianist/composer Damien Sneed; a commission for New Yorkl Public Radio (WNYC/WQXR) and produced before a live audience by The Greene Space, the work was part of their holiday programming and was broadcast on Christmas Day. (See live footage under "New Works")
She collaborated on the text adaptation/writing for MIGRATION RHAPSODY: An Aleotoric Exploration of the Journey North through Music, Poetry and Personal Narrative with WNYC/WQXR classical radio host, Terrance McKnight--commissioned by The Musuem of Modern Art
(MOMA) in honor of the 75th anniversary of renown painter Jacob Lawrence's seminal work The Migration Series. (See live footage under "New Works")
An Audie award-winning narrator and voiceover artist, her voice can be heard on numerous national network television, radio and internet advertising campaigns. She has narrated dozens of audiobooks, including THE NEW JIM CROW by Michelle Alexander, GRACE WILL LEAD US HOME: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness by Jennifer Berry Hawes (winner of the 2020 Audie Award) and I’VE GOT A HOME IN GLORY LAND by Karolyn Smardz Frost for which she received the AUDIOFILE Magazine's Golden Earphones Award.
Her affiliations include membership in the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), Actors Equity Association (AEA), The Dramatists Guild, Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), The Toni Morrison Society, and New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT).