The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard, who passed away today at age 73, is remembered for many classic film roles and triumphant plays which embodied a gritty American aesthetic.
But he was also a pivotal contributor to the development of Off and Off-Off Broadway theater in New York City during the 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, I think it’s fair to say we would not have such a healthy independent theater scene without his influence.
This morning I looked at his early work in a New York City in this series of tweets. Here’s the tweet series along with some additional information:
PODCAST The enduring legacy of the Algonquin Round Table and the brilliant (and sometimes forgotten) people who made it famous.
One June afternoon in the spring of 1919, a group of writers and theatrical folk got together at the Algonquin Hotel to roast the inimitable Alexander Woollcott, the trenchant theater critic for the New York Times who had just returned from World War I, brimming with dramatically overbaked stories.
The affair was so rollicking, so engaging, that somebody suggested — “Why don’t we do this every day?”
And so they did. The Algonquin Round Table is the stuff of legends, a regular lunch date for the cream of New York’s cultural elite. In this show, we present you with some notable members of the guest list — including the wonderful droll Dorothy Parker, the glibly observant Franklin Pierce Adams and the charming Robert Benchley, to name but a few.
But you can’t celebrate the Round Table from a recording studio so we head to the Algonquin to soak in the ambience and interview author Kevin C. Fitzpatrick about the Jazz Age’s most famous networking circle.
Are you ready for a good time? “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” — Dorothy Parker
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Since I was a teenager, I’ve had an affinity for writer Langston Hughes, the revolutionary jazz poet who was born 115 years ago today in 1902. I grew up in Springfield, Mo., about an hour away from Langston’s birthplace in Joplin. One of the brightest lights of the Harlem Renaissance grew up here?, I frequently pondered in English class. In fact, Hughes is considered Joplin’s most famous son.*
But you don’t need to follow Langston’s footprints back to the Ozarks. Celebrate his birthday with a mini-walking tour, four Manhattan addresses that were pivotal to Hughes’ development as an iconic African-American voice and a star of the Harlem literary scene–
Young Langston in college, 1928
181 W. 135th Street— Langston’s first exposure to Harlem’s creative energy was as a Columbia University student in 1921, wandering the street, hoping to see “Duke Ellington on the corner of 135th Street, or Bessie Smith passing by, or Bojangles Bill Robinson in front of the Lincoln Theatre, or maybe Paul Robeson or Bert Williams walking down the avenue.” [source]
Before moving into Columbia’s Hartley Hall (1124 Amsterdam Avenue), however, Langston took a room here at the YMCA, known for its live drama productions and art shows. He didn’t need to stroll around to find Robeson; he got his start acting in productions at the YMCA.
Dapper gentlemen: At a 1924 celebration in Langston’s honor, at the home of Regina Andrews on 580 St. Nicholas Avenue. The author is to the far left, followed by future sociologists Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier; novelist and future doctor Rudolph Fisher; and Hubert T. Delany, who would become a New York justice in 1942, appointed by Fiorello La Guardia.
634 St. Nicholas Avenue— Although Langston would rent out a studio in 1938 down the street at 66 St. Nicholas Avenue, he frequently stayed at this address in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem, the home of his friends Toy and Emerson Harper. (He referred to them as ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.) Hughes later moved with the couple to another address…
515 Malcolm X Boulevard(at W. 135th Street) — The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of the New York Public Library, is Hughes’ final resting place. His ashes are contained underneath the foyer floor, beneath an inscription: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” But the library always had a long association with Hughes. His ‘poetry-play’ ‘Don’t You Want To Be Free‘ played to sold-out crowds in the basement of the library in 1938. The play co-starred Robert Earl Jones, the father of James Earl Jones.
You can find a far more in-depth walking tour of 1920s Harlem here.