Imani Douglas, late playwright and NYU prof, memorialized at Gallatin service

The Gallatin School of Individualized Study hosted a memorial service for Imani Douglas, who taught television writing at the school for over 20 years and worked on a range of pioneering theatrical productions.

Kristian Burt, Staff Writer

Those who knew longtime entertainment writing professor Imani Douglas gathered at Gallatin to remember her life. Students and fellow faculty shared the impact that the playwright and theater director had on their lives. (Image courtesy of Michael Wess)

Imani Douglas, a longtime member of the faculty at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, died at 67 in May. She taught entertainment writing at Gallatin during the two decades she was a professor at NYU. On Monday, friends, faculty and administrators at Gallatin attended a memorial service to celebrate Douglas’ life and share their memories of the late professor inside and outside the classroom.

Douglas’ courses, “Writing for Television I” and “Writing for Television II” focused on developing students’ script writing abilities and preparing them for careers in the film and television industry.

Before she joined NYU, Douglas worked as a playwright and director at theater productions on and off Broadway, taught at Purchase College of the State University of New York and served as the artistic director at the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art. In 2011, she received the Audelco Award for Best Director of a Dramatic Production for her work on “Dr. May Edward Chinn,” a play about Harlem’s first Black female physician. Douglas was also a recipient of the George C. Wolfe Fellowship from the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

The memorial, held at the Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts, was opened by Gallatin dean Susanne L. Wofford, who reflected on the impact Douglas made on the Gallatin community through her teaching and mentorship.

“She was one of those teachers who transforms her students but also stays with them after they graduate,” Wofford said. “Teaching a student became a life enterprise”

The memorial was hosted by Michael Dinwiddie, an associate professor at Gallatin. Dinwiddie knew Douglas for nearly 40 years. They first met in New York when Douglas provided her insights on a play Dinwiddie was working on at the Westbeth Theater Center. 

“Her first words to me were critical, cunning and correct,” Dinwiddie said at the memorial. “She wanted me to know where she stood from day one. No one was going to run over her.”

Dinwiddie later asked Douglas to come teach a television writing course at NYU, which was the start of Douglas’s career at the university and her innovative courses in television writing.

Douglas’s friends and colleagues from NYU and beyond spoke at the service. Kristin Horton, an associate professor at Gallatin, shared excerpts from letters written by former students of Douglas. Horton said that Douglas’s words and lessons will stay with her students forever.

“While I grieve her passing, I celebrate the ways in which her spirit lives on in the lives and work of the students and artists she impacted,” Horton said. “The urgent and necessary changes taking place in the field today are inspired by the vision and teaching of courageous artists like Imani, who ignite and inspire the imaginations of their students.”

Cheyenne Myrie, a former Gallatin graduate student, is the director of institutional advancement at The Theater Offensive in Boston. Douglas’s course at Purchase College, “Black American Drama,” inspired Myrie to pursue a graduate degree in Black Theater History and Narrative at Gallatin.

“I would not have the career I have without her,” Myrie said. “The passion she instilled in me around this history is still as strong and as bright as ever. I hope I can honor her memory by continuing my work in this field and sharing the wealth of knowledge she shared with me.”

The memorial featured two musical performances: “Love is Simply Heavenly,” performed by LaVonda Elam and Alva Nelson, and “Mississipi Goddam,” performed by Nora Cole and Ivan Thomas. Both songs are from “Adventures of Langston at Sea,” a play Douglas worked on about the international travels of jazz poet Langston Hughes. The two performances paid tribute to Douglas’s legacy as a Black educator and artist.

Contact Kristian Burt at [email protected].