Rick Hellman
KU News Service

Is today Langston Hughes’ 117th or 118th birthday?

Fri, 02/01/2019



LAWRENCE – Wikipedia lists writer Langston Hughes’ birth date as tomorrow — Feb. 1, 1902. And while the date is unquestioned, the year is. Just last year, digital scholarship revealed Hughes was almost certainly born a year earlier, in 1901.

That’s just one of the developments that a consortium of scholars, entrepreneurs and artists in his hometown known as the Dream Documentary Collective is documenting in their ongoing effort titled “I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled.” They hope to complete the film next year and to have it shown it on public television.

It’s also one of the current projects of Oscar nominee Kevin Willmott, who serves as its co-director. Willmott is co-screenwriter of “BlacKkKlansman,” co-written and directed by Spike Lee. It won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Willmott is also professor of film & media studies at the University of Kansas.

“I am honored to be a part of this project,” Willmott said. “Langston Hughes is a personal hero of mine. One of the first books I read as a kid was his ‘The First Book of Negroes.’ As a Kansan, the fact that I live in his hometown makes it even more important to tell this story.”

Willmott’s co-director on “Langston Hughes Unfurled” is his film & media studies colleague, Associate Professor Madison Davis Lacy, who is a four-time Emmy Award-winning producer and director of documentaries for television and elsewhere. Lacy won Emmys for his work on PBS’s “Eyes on the Prize,” “Free to Dance” and “Richard Wright — Black Boy” as well as AMC’s “Beyond Tara—The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel.”

The documentary team also welcomes Global Recording hip-hop artist and Michigan-based entrepreneur “Willie the Kid” Jackson and his business partner, Jonathan Jelks, as associate producers on the project with the aim of heightening awareness among Generation X, Generation Z and Millennials.

“As an African-American writer and creative, my inspiration stems from the legacy of Langston Hughes. I got involved with this project as a tribute to his work. This homage is long overdue,” Jackson said.

The Lawrence Arts Center is also part of the consortium.

If you’d like to interview Willmott or Executive Producer Randal Maurice Jelks, KU professor of African & African-American studies and American studies, about the Langston Hughes Project and the writer’s ongoing relevance, contact Rick Hellman, 785-864-8852 or

Video: Movie trailer created by Theo "Tekh Togo" Jones.

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