Remembering Ujima founder Lorna C. Hill

Lorna C. Hill’s contribution to the theater in Western New York was immense. Her death from cancer on June 30 at the age of sixty-nine sent waves of shock and grief through the community. No one has made a larger contribution to the Buffalo theater community than Lorna. Since the founding of Ujima Theatre Company in 1978, she had been a constant force for the advancement of African-American theater, for social justice, for the arts, and simply for the general good.

The last time I spoke to her, days before her death, she observed, "I was arrogant enough to think we could change the world for the better." She was a gifted actor, director, playwright, and poet.

Lorna was also a larger than life personality, and certainly earns a spot on my list of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. 

On the stage, she was always vivid and arresting. Many years ago, long before everybody claimed to be a "diva," I called Lorna "Buffalo’s Diva" in the Buffalo News, a soubriquet that has often been quoted since. She was not a diva in the sense of being a ball of temperament; she was a diva in the way that Sarah Bernhardt or Eleanora Duse or Katharine Cornell were. She had an incandescent personality and audiences adored her. When she walked on stage, you knew you were in the presence of a great talent and a singular personality. In roles as diverse as Medea, or Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, or Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or in Blues for an Alabama Sky, or her own play, Yalla Bitch, she always made an indelible impression. Lorna was a remarkable talent, a dear friend, and a great Buffalonian, and we will miss her tremendously. 

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