Sterling Houston was a prolific and innovative African-American writer born in San Antonio on December 3, 1945. During a thirty-year career in professional theater as actor, musician and writer in San Antonio, New York and San Francisco, he worked with some of the greatest practitioners of modern theater, including Charles Ludlam, Sam Shepard, and George C. Wolfe. Houston’s plays are known for biting social commentary, combined with burlesque humor and a strong sense of the power of music to communicate complex ideas. Houston premiered 30 plays since 1988. RELATIONSHIPS: GOOD AND NOT SO GOOD, a 1989 collaboration with dancer Blondell Cummings toured nationally to Minneapolis (Walker Arts Center), Philadelphia (Painted Bride), and New York (The Kitchen and Franklin Furnace). Houston earned the Individual Artist Grants from the Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs, City of San Antonio three times, and was one of only a few Texans to receive a commissioning grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance, for LA FRONTERA (1992-93), which also earned a grant from the Texas Composers Forum. He was chosen “Artist of the Year”, for 1991 by the San Antonio Business Committee for the Arts, and for 1992 by the SAN ANTONIO LIGHT. In 1997, Houston was the recipient of the prestigious Arts and Letters Award from the San Antonio Public Library, given for outstanding contributions to the arts and cultural life of San Antonio. An all-female musical retelling of the myths of traditional Texas history, HIGH YELLO’ ROSE (1992-93), toured to Austin, after a successful run in San Antonio. It was nominated for seven Alamo Theater Arts Council (ATAC) Globe awards in 1993, winning two, for Best Original Score, and Best New Script. In 1994 Houston created ISIS IN NUBIA an epic re-telling of the myths of ancient Egypt, which was co-commissioned by the Carver Cultural Center and JSPC. ISIS received the 1994 ATAC Globe award for best original music.
Houston was one of two local recipients of a New Forms Regional Initiative Grant (NFRIG) funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, for the commissioning of SANTO NEGRO, a mixed-media musical around events in the life of 16th century African saint, Martin de Porres. SANTO NEGRO also received a grant from Art Matters, Inc., and was selected by The Art Institute of Chicago to be a part of THE AMERICAS: ZONES OF CONTACT series in spring of 1995, and continued to tour to Dallas and New Orleans.
In September of 1995, Houston completed a collaboration with poet Maya Angelou in which he adapted her poem ON THE PULSE OF MORNING for a cast of nine speakers and four singers, which was then presented in concert with Dr. Angelou. In January of 1996, Houston’s play BLACK LILY WHITE LILY was chosen to open Cleveland Public Theatre’s Festival of New Plays. Houston lectured and presented on his work in theater at colleges and institutions in Chicago, New York, London, Boston, Cleveland, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. He served as a peer review panelist for the states of Nevada, Georgia and Texas, and presented on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts, Outwrite, College Art Association, and The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Association of Theater in Higher Education. In 1997 The State of Texas Legislature recognized Sterling Houston with a citation for his outstanding contributions to the cultural life of the state. In the spring of 1997 Jump-Start produced Houston’s THE ALIEN SHOW/KOOL JAMS ’99, a play with music dealing with aliens, alienation, and the coming millennium. His semi-autobiographical novella, MOAN YOU MOURNERS was published in 1994 by La Voz De Esperanza in San Antonio. In November of 1997, he completed his first novel, LE GRIFFON, a re-telling of the Frankenstein myth set in ante-bellum New Orleans which was published by Pecan Grove Press in December of 1999. That same year, Jump-Start revived La Frontera, a musical play by Houston from 1991, which also toured local schools, colleges and out of town venues. In August of 1998 a volume of Houston’s selected plays titled FOUR PLAYS BY STERLING HOUSTON was published by Urban Communications Inc. of San Antonio.
A short play, MESSAGE SENT, was commissioned by Actor’s Theater of Louisville’s Humana Fest in 2000, and is included in the anthology of that years productions. Houston received a Rockefeller MAP (Multi-Arts Production fund) grant for research and development of CAMEOLAND, a musical history of San Antonio’s African American community before integration. CAMEOLAND was presented in collaboration with the Carver Community Cultural Center, in 2003, and was cited by the San Antonio Express News as one of the ten best plays of that year. Most recently Houston has focused on writing a fictionalized family history based on family stories, and his own experiences in New York, San Francisco and San Antonio. Titled The Secret Oral Teachings of the Sacred Walking Blues, this book has recently been completed and is now in the editing stages.
Houston was one of the artistic directors and writer-in-residence for Jump-Start Performance Co., a not-for-profit presenting and producing theater company, dedicated to the exploration of alternative viewpoints in performance.