Langston Hughes at Karamu House

Excerpt from From Karamu Theater Hall of Fame:

In 1961, Hughes was commissioned (by Karamu) to create a gospel drama for Christmas. He wanted to make African-American gospel music the heart and soul of the drama and based his play, “Wasn’t That A Mighty Day,” on the theme of the Nativity story. The musical later became known as “Black Nativity.”

The literary works of Hughes, a poet, writer and playwright, are studied and discussed in high school classrooms and university lecture halls across the country. Hughes, who attended Cleveland’s Central High School from 1916 to 1920, is one of the most popular and influential writers of the 20th century.

For many years, Hughes was a familiar face at Karamu, where he taught art classes while in high school. He wrote his first play at Karamu, “The Golden Piece,” in 1921. He wrote and debuted several other works at Karamu. Hughes also became a member of the Karamu Players, a theatrical troupe.

Although Hughes traveled the world and moved to New York’s Harlem neighborhood as an adult, he never forgot Cleveland or Karamu. He continued to visit Karamu throughout his life as he sought inspiration for his writings and even penned a poem celebrating his long-time special relationship to Karamu founders, Russell and Rowena Jelliffe. Karamu’s library is furnished with two large wooden tables engraved with African carvings. The tables were commissioned by Hughes.

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