He said it was a production of Tennessee Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie” that inspired him, at 18, to be a playwright. He rushed home after the performance and wrote his first play, which he titled “The Ballad of Hugo Jones.”
After high school he served in the Air Force for four years and married while based in Europe. He said in interviews that while living there his wife and their two children, whom he did not identify, were killed in an automobile accident. It was, he said, one subject he would not talk about further.
Mr. Carter took on work as an orderly at New York Hospital, where he had been born, after returning from military service in 1953. Continuing in the job until 1967, he would mine the experience in several plays.
It was during his hospital employment that he volunteered to help out at the American Community Theater in Harlem. This proved to be the beginning of his theatrical career.
Mr. Carter served for a time as playwright in residence at George Mason University in Virginia; his play “Spiele ’36, or the Fourth Medal,” about an alliance between Black and Jewish athletes at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, had its world premiere in 1991 on the university’s campus, at the Theater of the First Amendment.
His other plays include “The Inaugural Tea,” “Mirage,” “Paradise,” “Primary Color,” “Root Causes” and “Walking Graffiti.” Many have been mounted on college campuses and in repertory theaters in the United States and Europe.
Mr. Carter was a recipient of the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations. In 2001, he received the Living Legend Award at the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C.