We are kicking off Black History Month with a tribute to Errol Hill that was written by Professor Baron Kelly of our Department of Theatre and Drama.
A Thousand Thank-yous to Errol Hill
By Professor Baron Kelly
UW–Madison Department of Theatre and Drama
In 2001, during my last year of doctoral studies at UW–Madison, I had the good fortune to have the late Sally Banes as my professor and graduate adviser. Dr. Banes suggested that I contact her colleague Errol Hill (1921-2003) about my recent Fulbright Award to Norway. Trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Yale University, Dr. Hill then lectured and taught across the Caribbean, New York, and Nigeria before becoming a drama professor at Dartmouth College (1968-1989), where he served as department chair for several years. He was the first African American faculty member to gain tenure at Dartmouth. He was an emeritus professor when he died.
More than 20 years later, I still count myself lucky that I made that initial phone call to Dr. Hill. As I was going to Norway to gather research for my dissertation on the Scandinavian career of the African American actor Earl Hyman, I was honored and blessed by the generosity and warmth Dr. Hill extended to me, a budding dissertator. He generously welcomed numerous calls from me to talk about Hyman, who he had written about in his book, “Shakespeare on Sable.”
During spring 2011, as fate would have it, I was a sabbatical replacement at Dartmouth College and was able to spend time with Dr. Hill’s widow, Grace Hope Hill. Between teaching assignments, I spent many mornings and afternoons studying Dr. Hill’s monumental theatre collection that is housed at Dartmouth. His rigorous scholarship helped to set the standards for my further explorations of Black theatre over the coming years. To this day, I continue to embed the scholarship of Dr. Hill in my lectures and teachings of African American theatre history.
Errol Hill would have been 101 years old this year. A century after his birth, he still stands as one of the preeminent giants in the field. His landmark “History of African American Theatre” with James Hatch (1929-2020); his work as a playwright; his foundational study, “Shakespeare in Sable”; his pioneering book, “The Jamaican Stage, 1665-1900”; his many edited collections of plays by Black dramatists; as well as his monumental theatre collection — all of these contributions have shaped the development of the field in innumerable ways for thousands of scholars and students who never had the chance to meet him. Thank you, Dr. Errol Hill.