Fuller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1939, the son of Charles H. Fuller, Sr. and Lillian Anderson. He attended Roman Catholic High School and then Villanova University (1956—1958), then joined the U.S. Army in 1959, serving in Japan and South Korea. He left the army in 1962, and later studied at La Salle University (1965—1967), earning a DFA. He co-founded the Afro-American Arts Theatre in Philadelphia in 1967, co-directing it until 1971. He later moved to New York City. He now lives in Philadelphia.
Fuller vowed to become a writer after noticing that his high school's library had no books by African American authors. He achieved critical notice in 1969 with The Village: A Party, a drama about racial tensions between a group of mixed-race couples. He later wrote plays for the Henry Street Settlement theatre and the Negro Ensemble Company in New York, who have performed several of his plays. His 1975 play The Brownsville Raid is based on the Brownsville Affair, an altercation between black soldiers and white civilians in Brownsville, Texas, in 1906, which led to an entire black regiment being dishonorably discharged though later pardoned in 1976.
He won an Obie Award for Zooman and the Sign in 1980, about a black Philadelphia teen who kills a young girl on her own front porch, and whose neighbors eventually rise up against him after being goaded out of their apathy by the girl's father with a sign. Zooman presents himself as a helpless product of his society, but his victim's father convinces their neighbors that they need to stand together and achieve justice.
His next work, A Soldier's Play, told the story of the racially charged search by a black captain for the murderer of a black sergeant on a Louisiana army base in 1944, as a means to discuss the position of blacks in white society. Although the play enjoyed a long run, Fuller has said it never played on Broadway because he refused to drop the last line, "You'll have to get used to Black people being in charge." It nevertheless was a critical success, winning Fuller a Pulitzer in 1982, and being produced as the 1984 film A Soldier's Story, for which Fuller himself wrote the screen adaptation. His screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Writers Guild of America Award, and it won an Edgar Award. After this play, Fuller switched his focus to movies for several years, saying "I always wanted to reach the most people with my work. Not enough people go to the theater." He has since written other works for the stage, but they have not been critically acclaimed.
Of his methods for advancing the African-American cause, Fuller said in a 1982 interview, "My argument is on the stage. I don't have to be angry. O.K.? I get it all out right up there. There's no reason to carry this down from the stage and into the seats. And it does not mean that I am not enraged at injustice or prejudice or bigotry. It simply means that I cannot be enraged all the time. To spend one's life being angry, and in the process doing nothing to change it, is to me ridiculous. I could be mad all day long, but if I'm not doing a damn thing, what difference does it make?"
Fuller has received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, State of New York and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has also written short fiction and screenplays, and worked as a movie producer. In 2010 he published his first novel, Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me, a work of children's fiction written for his two sons. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, East.