Critical and audience acclaim aside, "Lackawanna Blues" was Ruben Santiago-Hudson's tribute to the community in which he grew up.
And the tenderness he holds for that community repeatedly surfaced Tuesday at Buffalo State College, where he conducted a workshop with theater students and later answered questions from an audience.
The 1974 graduate of Lackawanna High School is scheduled to visit his alma mater tonight, to talk to students about his accomplishments and encourage them to pursue their ambitions. That session starts at 6:30 p.m. in the school auditorium and is open to the public.
"It's good to be home," Santiago-Hudson said, adding that this flight was the first time he actually could see his old Wasson Avenue neighborhood from the plane. "I have never had a day this clear, this pretty."
Santiago-Hudson retains his vision of beauty for his community, although the boarding house where he once lived has been demolished and the area, in general, has declined since the heyday of steelmaking.
"We have to remember where we come from, who we are," he said. "Don't ever let people on the outside define who you are, because I wasn't supposed to make it at all. But I had a community holding me up, refusing to let me fail."
His Obie Award-winning "Lackawanna Blues" is set in the 1950s and '60s, when his First Ward neighborhood was strictly defined by segregation. What started out as a one-man play debuted in February as an HBO movie, with Santiago-Hudson penning the screenplay and serving as an executive producer.
Santiago-Hudson said a college instructor told him he wasn't a writer.
"Never tell a student that they shouldn't or they can't," he said. Tell them there are some problems, "but encourage them to move forward."
While "Lackawanna Blues" probably is the work most most recognized by the hometown crowd, Santiago-Hudson's career has been long and varied.
Going back to the 1980s, his big and little screen credits are many.
Someone asked him about working with Christopher Reeve in the television remake of the thriller "Rear Window." It seemed like the focus was on Christopher Reeve, the questioner observed.
The focus was on Reeve, Santiago-Hudson confirmed.
"Unless it's an independent film . . . film is generated by name," he said. "It's all star-centered."
Not that Santiago-Hudson has a problem with that. "You know your job; you know your place," he said, adding that you take your money and support your family.
Theater is his real love, however; in 1996, he won a Tony Award for Best Featured Performer in "Seven Guitars."
"Stage is where all is even," said Santiago-Hudson.