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Stephen McKinley Henderson

MA 1977, Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts

Professor, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

Stephen McKinley Henderson notes first that he’s a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, and then simply adds, “I also work as an actor.”

That’s a modest introduction to his work. Henderson has performed in six Broadway shows and was nominated for a Tony Award in 2010 for his portrayal of Jim Bono in August Wilson’s Fences.

“Two of the highlights of my career are working with Pulitzer-winning playwright August Wilson on several productions and also being part of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, written by Tony Kushner,” notes Henderson, who was profiled in The New York Times for his deep relationship with Mr. Wilson’s work.

His list of acting credits and awards is long. As an educator, he shares his acting and directing skills with students of all ages, both at the University of Buffalo and in workshops, master classes, and informances throughout the nation. Read on for Henderson’s responses to our version of the Proust survey.

Purdue Influences

Heading the Black Drama workshop during Tony Zamora’s years as director of the Black Cultural Center and working with Joe Stockdale and Jim O’Connor during their years in the Graduate Theatre Department were richly rewarding. 

Purdue Memories

The greatest highlight of my years at Purdue was being part of the National Conference on Paul Robeson in 1976, headed by Dr. Samuel Hay, director of [what was then called] the Africana Studies and Research Center. That and meeting my wife of 36 years, Pamela Reed Henderson.

Purdue Now

When I think about Purdue now, the lifelong friendships forged during the toughest periods are meaningful to me.

Greatest Achievement

Aside from my family, I would have to say directing a play in Britain and for the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival about the life of Muhammad Ali. Spending time with him in England in 1993 and seeing the look in my son’s eyes live in my heart as if they happened yesterday.

Person I Admire

A man named Randall Robinson who formed the organization TransAfrica in the 1970s. It became a major force in initiating economic sanctions against South Africa and ultimately getting Nelson Mandela released from prison.

Idea of Perfect Happiness

My idea is that it couldn’t exist without something to juxtapose it with in comparison. It’s like the thorn on the stem of the rose; however, if there could be individual happiness and world peace that would be delightful. The greatest joy I have felt is romance. Our memories of youth are greater than the actual moments at the time we lived them. The completion of a job well done is wonderful. The reward of a life well lived is heaven.

What I’m Reading

I am currently enjoying two wonderful memoirs: Spencer Haywood’s The Rise, the Fall, the Recovery and Stages: A Life in the Theatre by Joe Stockdale. I was also enlightened by reading Beth Henley’s play, The Jacksonian.

Profession I’d Like to Try

Creative retirement. No, seriously though, probably conflict resolution and mediation. I think it’s a high calling.