Tag Archives: Trey Ellis

“06880” Podcast: Trey Ellis

Trey Ellis is one of the most interesting — and accomplished — people in Westport.

He is a leading chronicle of the Black experience. An award-winning novelist, Emmy and Peabody-honored filmmaker, playwright and professor of screenwriting in the Graduate School at Columbia University, he recently served as executive producer and interviewer for the HBO documentaries “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality,” and “King in the Wilderness.”

The other day, I spoke with Trey. We talked about writing, creativity, Black lives here and elsewhere, raising children in Westport, and much more.

It was a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation. Click here for the newest “06880: The Podcast” episode.

Screenshot from the Trey Ellis podcast.

Roundup: IRS, MLK, WCP, More


Congressman Jim Himes reminds residents of free tax filing resource,

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers federal and state tax help to people earning under $56,000 a year. VITA is largely virtual this year, but there are also some drop-off locations. Click here to learn more.

The Connecticut Department of Revenue Services provides free tax help over by phone. Call 860-297-5770 to schedule an online appointment.

The University of Connecticut School of Law offers federal and state tax assistance for low-income Connecticut residence by phone. Call 860-570-5165 to learn more or book an appointment.

Click here for links to more tax assistance.


“King in the Wilderness” is an Emmy-winning HBO documentary about the last 3 days of Martin Luther King’s life. At the end of the 1960s, the Black Power movement saw the civil rights leader’s focus on nonviolence as a weakness, while President Lyndon Johnson believe his antiwar activism was dangerous. King himself was tormented by doubts about his philosophy and future.

The executive producer was Westporter Trey Ellis. He’s an award-winning novelist, Emmy and Peabody-winning filmmaker, playwright, professor of screenwriting in the Graduate School of Film at Columbia University, and contributor to The New Yorker, New York TimesWashington Post and NPR.

On Thursday, February 25 (7 p.m.), the Westport Library hosts a conversation between Ellis and TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey. Registrants can view the film for one week prior to the event. There is no charge; click here to register.

The program is part of Westport READS. This year’s them is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”

Trey Ellis


The popular Westport Country Playhouse “Script in Hand” play-reading series returns Monday, February 22 (7 p.m.).

This time, audiences can hear the scripts in their own homes. The virtual performance is also available on demand any time, from noon February 23 through February 28.

This reading — “A Sherlock Carol” — should be particularly fun. It’s about a grown-up Tiny Tim, who asks Sherlock Holmes to investigate the death of Ebenezer Scrooge. Six actors take on the famed characters of Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens. Click here for more information, and tickets.

In addition, the Playhouse presents a free virtual conversation about Thornton Wilder’s timeless “Our Town” — particularly as it applies to the 21st century.

It’s this Sunday (February 14, 3 p.m.), on the Playhouse website and YouTube channel (Westport Playhouse).

Participants include Howard Sherman, author of a new book about “Our Town”; Anne Keefe, associate artistic director with Joanne Woodward for the Playhouse’s 2002 production of “Our Town,” and Jake Robards, who appeared in that show. The host is Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos.

In other WCP news, the Playhouse has announced the 13 members of its inaugural Youth Council. They include Staples High School students Henry Carson, Kate Davitt and Sophia Vellotti, plus Cessa Lewis, a Westporter who attends St. Luke’s School.

“A Sherlock Carol”


Suzuki Music Schools’ Connecticut Guitar Festival returns for a 4th year on March 5 to 7 — virtually, of course. It’s all part of the Westport-based organization’s mission to make international artists accessible to everyone — for free.

For a list of events, click here. For an overview of the entire festival and artists, click here.


And finally … pioneering jazz pianist Chick Corea died Tuesday in Florida, of cancer. He was 79.



“King In The Wilderness” Comes Home

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis. He was just 39 years old.

King was part of a generation of courageous, determined and energetic civil rights leaders. Some are gone. Others are alive — and still fighting for social justice.

But they’re in their 70s, 80s and 90s. They won’t be here forever. It’s fallen to a new generation to pass along their stories — and keep their hopes and dreams alive.

Trey Ellis is one of those storytellers. The Westporter is a leading voice of the African American experience.

Trey Ellis

He’s written movies, books, TV shows and a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. He’s been a political pundit, social critic and Huffington Post contributor; won a Peabody and been nominated for an Emmy.

He teaches at Columbia University, was a non-resident fellow at Harvard, and taught or lectured at Yale, NYU, and in Brazil and France.

But his most recent project was extra-special. He served as executive producer for “King in the Wilderness.” The 2-hour documentary showed a side of the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner that’s seldom discussed today: a conflicted leader who at the time of his death was assailed by critics on both the left and right.

Ellis spent a year crisscrossing the country, interviewing 17 men and women who lived, breathed and molded the civil rights movement.

John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Marian Wright Edelman, Joan Baez — all spoke with candor and insight about Martin Luther King. Ellis also interviewed unsung heroes of the movement, like Diane Nash.

This Wednesday (June 13, 7 p.m., Bowtie Cinema, 542 Westport Avenue, Norwalk), the Westport Library and TEAM Westport host a free screening of the film. It premiered in January at Sundance, then was shown at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and New York’s Riverside Church, before airing on HBO in April.

Making the film was “the experience of a lifetime,” Ellis says. He held intimate conversations with men and women who shaped our nation’s history. He worked with rare archival footage, some of it never before seen by the public.

He helped bring nuance — and human frailty — to a man who has become shrouded in myth.

In the final years of his life, which the documentary focuses on, King was “more radical, and more disregarded” than most of us remember, or realize, says Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times and NPR.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow notes, “I consider myself kind of a King fanatic, King-ophile … And I was just shocked by  how much I leaned, how much new footage I had never seen.”

Wednesday’s Bowtie screening will be followed by a Q-and-A with Ellis.

The executive producer is proud of his film. And — because he’s a professor too — he’s eager to put his work in a larger context.

“With the state of the nation so fractured,” Ellis says, “‘King in the Wilderness’ seems ripped from today’s headlines.”

(The June 13 screening of “King in the Wilderness” is free. However, pre-registration is required. Click here for a free ticket; click here for more information.)

Trey Ellis And Martin Luther King: In The Wilderness

Fifty years ago today, a bullet ended Martin Luther King’s life — and changed the course of American history.

Two nights ago, HBO aired “King in the Wilderness.” The 2-hour documentary showed a side of the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner that’s seldom discussed today: a conflicted leader who, at the time of his death, was assailed by critics on both the left and right.

Trey Ellis

Westporter Trey Ellis served as executive producer. He’s accomplished plenty in his life. He’s written movies, books, TV shows and a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. He’s been a political pundit, social critic and Huffington Post contributor; won a Peabody and been nominated for an Emmy.

He teaches at Columbia University, was a non-resident fellow at Harvard, and taught or lectured at Yale, NYU, and in Brazil and France.

But this project was special. Ellis spent a year crisscrossing the country, interviewing 17 men and women who lived, breathed and molded the civil rights movement.

John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Marian Wright Edelman, Joan Baez — all spoke with candor and insight about Martin Luther King. Ellis also interviewed unsung heroes of the movement, like Diane Nash.

A special camera allowed Ellis and his subjects to look directly into each other’s eyes as they talked. Each 2-hour interview was thrilling.

“It was a very collaborative effort,” Ellis says of the film. He worked closely with director Peter Kunhardt (a 6-time Emmy winner) and co-executive producer Taylor Branch (who wrote the landmark trilogy “America in the King Years”).

In the midst of so many gauzy, hagiographic 50th-anniversary retrospectives, this documentary is different.

“When most people think of Martin Luther King, it’s ‘I have a dream,'” Ellis says.

“He was 25 years old when he first worked on the Montgomery bus boycott. He was 39 in 1968. His great successes were behind him. But he still kept working for social justice. He loved humanity.”

In the last year of his life, King was criticized by some whites for speaking out against the Vietnam War — and by some African Americans for his insistence on non-violence. His embrace of economic inequality issues also drew criticism.

Ellis’ film examines all of that, unflinchingly.

“He wasn’t perfect. He was human,” the executive producer says. “He was funny, irreverent, and at the end of his life he was depressed.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

“King in the Wilderness” premiered in January at Sundance. It was was shown at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History, and at New York’s Riverside Church, where on this day in 1967 — exactly a year before he was murdered — Dr. King preached a fiery sermon that denounced not just Vietnam, but America’s entire foreign and domestic policy.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Ellis says of the past year.

His adventure continues. Today he’s in Montgomery, Alabama — the city where King first preached, and helped organize the year-long bus boycott.

Ellis is there working on his next project: an HBO documentary on the history of racial violence in America.

That’s a subject as important today as it was 100 years ago.

And on April 4, 1968.

(For more information on HBO’s “King in the Wilderness” — including viewing options — click here. For an interview with Trey Ellis and Peter Kunhardt about the film, click below.)

Old Mill Rocks

Alert “06880” reader Trey Ellis is a nationally known writer, political pundit, social critic and university professor.

He’s also a Westporter, with a pretty good eye for our town’s natural beauty.

Yesterday, he snapped this image from Old Mill Beach.

Click on or hover over image to enlarge. (Photo/Trey Ellis)

Click on or hover over image to enlarge. (Photo/Trey Ellis)

Once again — as with all his work — Trey’s perspective is special, and unique.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Trey Ellis Tells Tuskegee Airmen’s Tale

Trey Ellis had done a lot of things in his life.

He’s written movies, books and TV shows. He’s been a political pundit, a social critic and a Huffington Post contributor. He’s won a Peabody, been nominated for an Emmy and shortlisted for a PEN Award.

Trey Ellis

Trey Ellis

He teaches at Columbia University, was a non-resident fellow at Harvard, and taught or lectured at Yale, NYU, the University of New Mexico, and in Brazil and France.

But until a decade ago, the Westport resident had never written a play.

That’s when the Lincoln Center Institute commissioned a work by Ellis about the Tuskegee Airmen. He’d already earned honors for a 1995 HBO film on the African American pilots who overcame fierce racism to become one of World War II’s finest US fighter groups. They never lost a bomber.

Ellis and Ricardo Khan turned the movie into an hour-long play, called “Fly.” Originally aimed at students, a longer version was staged a few years later at the Vineyard Theater in Massachusetts, then the Crossroads Theater in New Jersey — one of America’s leading black companies.

It’s since moved on to Ford’s Theatre in Washington — where several of the real Tuskegee Airmen saw it — and the Pasadena Playhouse.

Ellis is very proud of “Fly.” The other day — quoting Martin Luther King — he noted that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice. However, the playwright added, recent racial strife in America has made stories like the Airmen’s more relevant and important than ever.

Fly - Trey Ellis

Now “Fly” — which the New York Times called “a superior piece of theatrical synergy” — is coming to the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street. It runs March 11-27.

Ellis will be there. So will his family — including his son Chet (the name of one of the show’s main characters), and Chet’s friends.

But there’s one more place Ellis would like to see it produced: the Westport Country Playhouse.

“I go to as many productions there as I can,” the playwright says. “I would love to bring this to my adopted hometown.”

Amanda Freeman’s “Parentables” Posts

Amanda Freeman spent 10 years “trying to get out of New York.” She had earned her MFA in creative writing at Columbia, and enjoyed teaching the subject at CUNY — particularly to low-income women. But the final straw was an “awful experience” trying to get her daughter into kindergarten.

Her husband — the writer/commentator/professor Trey Ellis — fell in love with Westport. A year ago, they moved here. “I would have gone anywhere,” Amanda admits.

Though the city is more exciting for adults, she and Trey love seeing their children walk out the door to play outside. The kids are taking full advantage of so much that Westport offers.

Amanda Freeman, Trey Ellis, and their blended family.

As they do, Amanda writes.

Her specialties are blended families and single parenting. Like any good writer, she’s focusing on what she knows.

Her first husband left to pursue another relationship — while Amanda was pregnant. She raised her daughter alone (with help from friends and family).

When her daughter was 18 months old, Amanda was writing a single parent’s guide to New York. She met a single dad: Trey. The rest is history — and a blended family. (Their kids are now 13, 10 and 6.)

Amanda’s guest posts on the New York Times Motherlode blog caught the eye of folks at Parentables, a TLC blog. This summer, she joined the staff. Now, in addition to her teaching and parenting gigs, she blogs 3 times a week.

Oh, yeah. Amanda is also working toward her Ph.D. in sociology. Her focus: the American family.

Amanda has blogged about “sweaty palms at 1st grade orientation,” “commuting with your toddler” and “what happens when a tomboy gives birth to a princess.” (As a one-time “militant feminist,” that topic is intensely personal for her.)

Amanda writes about “things that people think, but are afraid to say out loud.” Her posts certainly resonate. Around town, women offer critiques and suggest story ideas.

Amanda Freeman

As a sociologist — and a parenting blogger — Amanda has a unique eye on Westport’s “mommy culture.” While a number of women hold full-time jobs – many in New York City — plenty of others have chosen to stay home. (While only about 7% of the national population of middle- and upper-class mothers don’t work outside the home, in Westport it’s much higher.)

Those stay-at-home moms “help make the schools fantastic,” Amanda says. “So many women volunteer so much time and energy and expertise.”

However, she says, “it does create a special social culture. Sometimes I feel like I’m just darting in and out of the schools.”

Every woman makes her own choice. For Amanda, blogging about parenting is a great option.

“So much of parenting is frantic,” she says. “You just try to get through the day.

“Writing about kids makes me hyper-aware. I like being able to reflect on parenting, and writing helps me do that. I appreciate that opportunity.”

As do countless readers — on Amanda’s road, back in New York City, and around the country.

Trey Ellis’ Long, Literary Road To Westport

Trey Ellis is an American Book Award-winning novelist, Emmy-nominated screenwriter and Columbia University professor.

Trey Ellis

His books, articles and blog posts — on fatherhood, politics, the black middle class, race relations, pop culture and much more — make him a familiar face on TV and radio shows, and in the pages of newspapers and magazines, as varied as “All Things Considered,” the New York Times, Playboy, Salon and the Huffington Post.

He wrote the screenplay for the HBO film “The Tuskegee Airmen”;  completed a screenplay for Morgan Freeman, and adapted a novel for Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Spike Lee.

He’s lived in Italy, France and Japan. He speaks Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

He surfs, snowboards, and does advanced yoga.

And, since September, Trey Ellis has been a Westporter.

Growing up in Hamden, Trey “jumped over Fairfield County” on his forays into New York City. But he says he “always liked the idea of Westport.” When he remarried 2 years ago, his blended family drew him here.

Amanda Lynne Freeman

He wanted room — and good schools — for his own 2 children, and their newest son. His wife, Amanda Lynne Freeman — who writes about parenting and relationships — is getting her Ph.D. in sociology at Boston College. And teaching at John Jay in New York.

Westport was a natural fit.

The fit became even more natural when — looking at rentals — Amanda mentioned to one homeowner that she was reading The Three Weissmans of Westport.

“My daughter wrote it!” replied Shirley Schine. (Trey then learned that her daughter, Cathleen Schine, now lives in Venice, California — where he also spent several happy years.)

So here he is. It’s been a wonderful move, Trey says.

“I like the peace and quiet. It’s amazing to look up at a red-tailed hawk, dodge deer, see a hedgehog — and then be at Columbia in less than an hour.”

He calls Westport “clean, progressive and artistic. There are great schools, and very pleasant people. I’m a booster of Westport.”

That may be because, when he and his wife were searching for rentals, they met so many Westport boosters.

“Everyone seemed to have moved here from the city. They all went so far out of their way to help us. It was almost like they’d gotten a hidden memo, to do whatever they could for us.”

Trey Ellis several years ago, with his daughter Ava and son Chet.

Trey is black. His wife is white. Their child is Chinese. Though the specifics of their family are unusual, he says, “people here are open to everything. We’ve met Brazilians, Indians, you name it. There are a lot of international people, and a lot of people who have lived abroad.”

He worried how quickly his children would adapt. The answer: very quickly.

His 8th grade daughter and 5th grade son have gotten involved in school plays, soccer, dance and tennis. His kindergartener has plenty of play dates.

“There’s a lot of color in the schools,” Trey says. “It’s not necessarily black — but there is an international influence there too.”

And — just like New York — there are many blended families.

Though he has a seemingly endless number of projects — a new play premieres at Ford’s Theater in September, and he’s finishing another movie — he’s already looking ahead.

Among Trey Ellis' works are the books "Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single Fatherhood" and "Platitudes: The New Black Aesthetic," and the screenplay for "Tuskegee Airmen."

“The book I want to write is ‘My Gay Dad,'” Trey says. His father came out when Trey was 21, and died soon afterward of AIDS.

The book would combine familiar themes — masculinity, fatherhood, the black experience — with a son’s memories. “He taught me about sweetness and softness,” Trey says with pride.

Though he loves Westport, and his family easily adapted to life here, Trey misses some elements of urban life.

“New York is magical at night,” he says. “And museums — it’s hard to find time to get there. I thought I’d have time to do all that. I’m still looking for the perfect balance. My life revolves around the train schedule now.”

He laughs. “I’ve become the guy who races through Grand Central.”

Still, he’s having a great time. He works on the train. He works in the quiet hours in Westport. His family is happy.

And for Christmas, they got him a kayak and paddleboard.