The Lawrence Arts Center has received a $50,000 Media Development Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support preliminary planning, research, and documentation for the production of a two-part documentary film on the life of Lawrence native, Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes (1902-1967) achieved renown for being the first African American to make a living solely from his writing. In a career that spanned over forty years, Hughes distinguished himself in poetry, short fiction, the novel, plays, news columns, autobiography, character sketches, librettos, anthology-making, children’s literature, history, screenwriting, translations, and folklore, earning the unofficial but honorific designation of Poet Laureate of Black America. The scholarly attention given to Hughes’s life and art over the years has resulted in a number of interpretations of his public and private selves that have implications for humanistic study, several of which have been the focus of documentary films. And yet, the general impression that Hughes’ was just another, if foundational, Harlem Renaissance poet remains.
The Dream Documentary Collective was formed to create a two-part documentary film about Hughes’s life and art that dispels this overly simplistic representation of Hughes’s career in the mainstream media. In collaboration with the Lawrence Arts Center, the Dream Documentary Collective proposes to explore the multiplicity of ways in which Hughes constructed his identity, participated in the international arts scene, and engaged with the American dream. The Dream Documentary Collective consists of: Randal Jelks, Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas; Madison Davis Lacy, Filmmaker and Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas; Edgar Tidwell, Professor of English at the University of Kansas; Darren Canady, Assistant Professor of Playwriting in the English Department at the University of Kansas; Carmaletta Williams, Professor Emeritus of English and African American Studies at Johnson County Community College; Tess Banion, film producer and fundraiser; Elena Lacy, Researcher; and Sarah Bishop, grant writer and fundraiser.
Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities will enable the Dream Documentary Collective to bring nine of the leading Hughes scholars in the nation to Lawrence, Kansas during Free State Festival 2016, the Lawrence Arts Center’s film, music, art, and ideas festival, which runs from June 20th-25th. Scholars will gather to discuss the preliminary treatment for the film, to develop an outline for the full screenplay of the film, and to conduct a series of public panel discussions about Hughes’s life and work as part of the Free State Festival’s ideas programming. The Lawrence Arts Center and the Dream Documentary Collective look forward to working together to continuing to seek grant funding as well as investments from corporate sponsors and private donors to complete this project. PBS’s award-winning American Masters television series has already expressed interest in broadcasting the completed film.
This project would not be possible without the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Foundation for the Humanities was founded as an independent federal agency by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, the first grand public investment in American culture. The law identified the need for a national cultural agency that would preserve America’s rich history and cultural heritage, and encourage and support scholarship and innovation in history, archaeology, philosophy, literature, and other humanities disciplines.