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Vanessa Bell Calloway Returns to Karamu with 'Letters From Zora'

Actor Vanessa Bell Calloway is back at Karamu House, the place where her career in performing arts began.

“I had it in my head what I wanted to do, what I wished I could do, but Karamu actually made that a dream come true,” Calloway said.

At age 12 her mother brought her to Karamu, the oldest African-American performing arts theater in the country in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood. She first took dance lessons and later became involved in plays and the dance company.

“My very first paid performance was 'Peter and the Wolf,'” Calloway said. “We went to the Kansas City Symphony orchestra and danced with them.”

Calloway went on to study at Ohio University, and she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. After college, she moved to New York City. She has since performed in plays (on and off Broadway), TV shows and films, and she now lives in Los Angeles.

“My dream was so real, it was like I could reach out and touch it,” she said. “I just wasn’t going to be satisfied until I did what I wanted to do.”

Calloway returned to Karamu this month to present the story of author and activist Zora Neale Hurston, in the one-woman show, "Letters From Zora."

Karamu also inducted Calloway to its hall of fame during this homecoming.

“Letters From Zora,” written by Gabrielle Denise Pina and directed by Anita Dashiell-Sparks, brings together letters Hurston wrote and stories from her life. Hurston began her literary career in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance and died in 1960. “Barracoon,” her story about the last know survivor of the Atlantic slave trade, was recently published posthumously.  

“Letters From Zora” debuted in 2012, and the team has brought it to several cities.

Calloway won an NAACP Theatre Award for the role, and she hopes to bring the play to New York City in the future.

“We can still pull so much from [Hurston] about strength and courage… and standing in your own space,” she said.

“Letters From Zora” runs Thursday through Sunday at Karamu.


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