Richard John Nelson (born October 17, 1950) is an American playwright and librettist. He wrote the books for the musicals James Joyce's The Dead and the Broadway version of Chess.
Nelson was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Viola (née Gabriel), a dancer, and Richard Finis Nelson, a sales representative.
He married Cynthia Blair Bacon on May 21, 1972; they have two children.
For three years, Nelson was the chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama.
Nelson received the 2000 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical for James Joyce's The Dead. He received the Olivier Award for Best Play for Goodnight Children Everywhere (1999). He received a Giles Cooper Award in 1987 for Languages Spoken Here and in 1989 for Eating Words. He was nominated for the Tony Award, Best Play, for Two Shakespearean Actors (1992) and the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding New Play for Some Americans Abroad (1990). In 2008, Nelson was honored with the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a Grand Master of American Theater.
In early 2007, Frank's Home, about two days in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, played at Playwrights Horizons. In an interview in The Brooklyn Rail at the time of its debut, Nelson offers advice to young writers: "My advice is always to write, to write what really matters. I ask my students two questions: Why did you write it? And should I watch it? People ask about structure, form, character development, and I’m not even sure what all of that means. Try not to second guess yourself. Form will come if you focus on what you want to say with truth and honesty. Structure is the hand that holds up what you want to say."