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Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Actor and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson was born on November 24, 1956 in Lackawanna, New York to Alean Hudson and Ruben Santiago. He graduated from Lackawanna High School; and earned his B.A. degree in theatre from Binghamton University in 1978, and his M.F.A. degree from Wayne State University in 1982.

Santiago-Hudson first appeared in the 1988 film, Coming to America. He then played Captain Billy Cooper on the daytime drama Another World from 1990 to 1993. Santiago-Hudson made his Broadway debut as Buddy Bolden in Jelly’s Last Jam in 1992, and starred in August Wilson's Seven Guitars in 1995. He wrote the autobiographical play Lackawanna Blues in 2001, and adapted it into the award-winning 2005 HBO film of the same name. He co-starred opposite Phylicia Rashad in Gem of the Ocean on Broadway in 2004; and, in 2007, he starred in a PBS Nova documentary about the life of Percy Lavon Julian. From 2009 to 2011, he played Captain Roy Montgomery in ABC's Castle. Santiago-Hudson returned to Broadway to star in Stick Fly in 2011, and directed August Wilson’s JITNEY! on Broadway in 2017.

Santiago-Hudson’s other film credits include Bleeding Hearts, Blown Away, Domestic Disturbance, Which Way Home, The Devil’s Advocate, American Gangster, Mr. Brooks, Shaft, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Showtime’s Solomon and Sheba. He also made appearance on the television shows The Cosby Mysteries, New York Undercover, NYPD Blue, Touched by an Angel, The West Wing, Third Watch, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Showtime’s Billions, the TNT series Public Morals, and five episodes of Law & Order.

Santiago-Hudson received the 1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Performer in Seven Guitars, and was awarded the 2006 Humanitas Prize in writing for the HBO film adaptation of his play Lackawanna Blues, and the 2009 NAACP Lifetime Achievement Theatre Award. In 2013, Santiago-Hudson won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Director, an Obie Award for Direction, and was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play for the Off-Broadway production of The Piano Lesson. In 2016, he won an Obie Award for Special Citations: Collaboration of the play Skeleton Crew. He also received an honorary doctorate of letters from Buffalo State College in 2006, and Wayne State University in 2015. In 2014, The Ruben Santiago-Hudson Fine Arts Learning Center was named in his honor in his hometown of Lackawanna, New York.

Santiago-Hudson and his wife, Jeannie Brittan, have two children: Trey and Lily, in addition to his two older sons: Broderick and Ruben III.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 8, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.005

Sex

Male

Interview Date

08/08/2016

Last Name

Santiago-Hudson

Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Lackawanna High School

State University of New York at Binghamton

Wayne State University

First Name

Ruben

Birth City, State, Country

Lackawanna

HM ID

SAN06

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Puerto Rico

Favorite Quote

Love Is Love.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

11/24/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans and Rice

Short Description

Actor and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson (1956- ) appeared in dozens of feature films, television dramas and Broadway plays. He wrote 2001’s Lackawanna Blues, an autobiographical play that he adapted to film in 2005, premiering on HBO.

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ruben Santiago-Hudson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about his mother's drug addiction

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his time with his mother and siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his surrogate mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ruben Sanitago-Hudson describes his father's migration to the United States

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his father's career on the railroad

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes the demographics of Lackawanna, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls growing up in a rooming house

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls a visit from social services

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes Lackawanna, New York and Buffalo, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls the influence of his surrogate parents

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the tenants of his surrogate mother's rooming house

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his surrogate mother's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his godmother

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the integration of Lackawanna High School in Lackawanna, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the mentorship of Robert Ambrogi

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the impact of integration on the black community in Lackawanna, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his godfather's political career

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the race riots at Lackawanna High School

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his struggles at the majority-white Lackawanna High School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about interracial dating at Lackawanna High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his two eldest sons

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the State University of New York at Binghamton

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his college mentors

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his suspension from the State University of New York at Binghamton

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his return to the State University of New York at Binghamton

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his early acting experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his acting experiences in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls performing in 'Native Son'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago recalls his academic experiences at Wayne State University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls receiving his master's degree

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls moving to New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his early acting career in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls auditioning for the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his roles with the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers providing for his children

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his experiences as a soap opera actor

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers auditioning for August Wilson

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls marrying his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson explains the origin of his twins' names

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his wife's career

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the black theater community

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his role in 'Jelly's Last Jam'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers lessons from Gregory Hines

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson explains his choice of roles

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his approach to film roles

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls acting in August Wilson's 'Seven Guitars'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls starring on the television show 'Castle'

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his early directorial career

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about his film roles

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls creating the stage play 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the first production of 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls performing 'Lackawanna Blues' in Hollywood

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the film adaptation of 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls the national response to 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ruben Hudson-Santiago remembers a lesson from August Wilson

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes the legacy of his surrogate mother

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the influence of everyday life on his writing

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers directing 'Gem of the Ocean'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers directing August Wilson's plays, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls the obstacles to his production of 'Jitney'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the preservation of August Wilson's plays

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the interpretations of August Wilson's plays

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes the cost of a Broadway production

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers directing August Wilson's plays, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his directorial style

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls a lesson from his surrogate mother

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about his commitment to acting

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls directing 'The Piano Lesson,' pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls directing 'The Piano Lesson,' pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his play, 'Your Blues Ain't Sweet Like Mine'

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his creative inspiration

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his TED talk

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson shares his advice to young actors

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the importance of black theater

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about modern racism, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about modern racism, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his advice to a group of black construction workers

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about standing up for yourself, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about standing up for yourself, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson shares his advice to African American actors

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the current black television networks

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his family

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$6

DAStory

10$1

DATitle
Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his father's career on the railroad
Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls creating the stage play 'Lackawanna Blues'
Transcript
So, he went to Florida, Chicago [Illinois], then Buffalo [New York] with Pedro [ph.], got that job. He had like three jobs he said before the week was over and he had to choose, so he chose the railroad. He liked the sound of the train, you know, and he--and that's where he spent his--he--and they never promoted him. He kept the same job. They gave him a raise, a little raise, but he said every year, they would bring a new young white guy in to be his boss and he would have to teach the guy how to be his boss. The guy would ask him to do something with a certain tool and he'd say, you know, "No, no, no--you don't--you don't--you don't do this like that. You, you take the--you hit with this? No, you don't move it. You, you don't (unclear), but if I move this, you--show you how to do it." And he--my father [Ruben Santiago] would show him and the guy would say, "Oh, okay, now I know," every other year. And I think what broke his heart more than anything 'cause he gave his life to the railroad and, you know, he wasn't one of them sit in the house kind of guys on the railroad, he was a track man. That means, anything going wrong with the track, you take care of it. So, in Buffalo in the winter when the track is supposed to switch so the train can go to the destination, when it get icy, it won't switch, so he had to make it switch. He had to go on there and thaw it, beat the track over, get it lined up, lock it in, and watch the train make that move, and then he can go back to--so, and that's what he did his whole, whole career. And he said the thing, the biggest thing that hurt him there, 'cause in the summer they would hire--if your kid was a college kid, the railroad would give you a job for the summer. You could work with your father, make five dollars, four dollars an hour, which was a lot of money in 1974, and they wouldn't--they never hired me. And he took me to his boss, to the big Penn Station--Penn, Penn Central--New York Central Railroad offices in Buffalo. It's, it's now abandoned, gorgeous building, took me up to the biggest boss up in an elevator and--, "This my son, you know, he, he go to college, he, he going to--he very smart, you know. He can working, too." They never hired me. He did it twice and they didn't hire me and that hurt him. And he never said anything until he was almost gone, you know, when he was like in his sixties, he admitted it to me. He said it hurt that they didn't hire me and they hired everybody else's son. Every white guy that brought his son got hired, but not me. And even--he even had me come to his job and meet him while he was working on the tracks, "Meet me at so and so," and I would meet him and took him--meet his foreman and say, "Put a word in for my son. He's good. He's in college." Never hired me, and that hurt him, you know.$I wanna talk about 'Lackawanna Blues' [Ruben Santiago-Hudson]. When did you start writing it?$$I started writing it--I tried--I tried to start writing it in, in college, but I wasn't sincere. I was afraid to expose a lot, so I, I put it away pretty fast. One of the teachers said I was the worst writer he had ever seen and I should forget about that, you know. It's like I should forget about Shakespeare [William Shakespeare]. I mean, the whole way is forget about it, forget about it, forget about it. You know, you never tell a kid that. So, I didn't write again, but I kept telling Nanny's [Rachel Crosby] stories, anybody that would listen, subway down the street. I just--even today, you know, I still tell Nanny's stories as you can tell in this interview. And I was telling it to Rosemarie Tichler and John Dias at The Public Theater [New York, New York] and George [HistoryMaker George C. Wolfe] was in charge of The Public, "You gotta go tell George." I said, "George has heard these stories." "You gotta go tell--just tell him the one you just told me." So, we go into George's office and I tell the story, George says, "Yeah." He says, you know, I'm tir- he said, "I'm tired of hearing these stories, you know. You need to go write them down." I said--you know, "They, they would probably be a great story and everybody need to hear and quit telling me and quit telling him." And I said, "Yeah, somebody gotta write it." He said, "Yeah, you," and walked out of the room. "I gotta go to this other meeting." And I'm like, we gotta get somebody to write this story. So, I think a week later, I got a commission from The Public Theater, a couple thousand dollars or something to write this play. So, I said, wow, I got accountability and responsibility, I gotta--I gotta do this thing. I just gotta find a writer. I'm not a writer. So, we hired a grad student from Columbia University [New York, New York] to transcribe what I was putting on the tape. They said, "What do you need?" I said, "A tape recorder, my harmonica, and a light in the room," and I just start telling stories into the mic- microphone and she typed them out and typed them out all wrong. If I say something, she would correct it. Like if I say something like I heard somebody say at the rooming house like heard them fool got drunk, cut each other throat. She would write I heard those fools had gotten drunk last night and cut each other's throats. No, heard them fool got drunk, cut each other throat last night. So, I had to start writing it to correct her, and that's how I started writing it.$$And this was about what time?$$This was--this was '90-something, '98 [1998], '90-something. And then my boy, Bill Sims, Jr., who did all the music, I called Bill Sims, I said, "Man, bring your guitar in here, man. I want you to play woodshed a little bit while I--while I do this monologue. I want you to hear this monologue." And Bill would come sit in that corner with his guitar and start playing. "Do that again, do that again, do that again." I would do it again and he would do a different thing to it. Or he would be playing and I say--and then I would pick up my harmonica and start playing, and we just start gluing it together, gluing it together. And I had a director who I brought in from Binghamton [State University of New York at Binghamton, Binghamton, New York], and George came to hear our first--my first pass at it, some of my stories with this director and he was a musical theater guy and he needed a break. He wanted a break. He had just moved to New York [New York] and he was a guy that I really liked at school, but we had fallen out and come back together. He was a director and they brought in from U--UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California], and he was teaching at Wagner College [Staten Island, New York]. Anyway, I brought him. He said, "Please, man, I want to get to The Public Theater. Please, I'll do anything. I'll direct the workshop, I'll do," George watched my first presentation. He said, "I need to see you in my office." I went to his office, he said, "What is that? This is not a musical comedy. This is the story of your life. What, what are you doing?" And I was like, "What do you mean?" He said, "Who, who is the director?" I said, "He's a guy I know." Well, he said, "Get him out of here. Get him out of here. Do your story. Quit playing at it. If you're gonna do your story, do your story." And I said, "All right," you know. So, he made me get real serious about it. So, I quit making everything comedy and let you laugh at the realities. If you laugh, you laughed at my characterizations or something, somebody might say--like, Ol' Po' Carl might say, "Your mama was a fine woman. Her lips was--she had the big pooty lips, look--lips was kind of like blue like she had been drinking black berry brandy," and you will laugh. Or Old Paul or, or, or, or Ol' Po' Carl would say, "Yeah, I went to New York, went up to the entire state building." You know, he was a (unclear) guy, so that would make you laugh instead of me joking everything. Just tell a story, the way it is. So, George kind of turned that around in me and Bill just got tighter and tighter. And then we brought in--George gave us a wonderful director, Loretta Greco to guide it. This is my story, but she--I needed a guiding eye, and she was a good guide for it.