Hughes and Hurston began writing Mule Bone in March 1930. They wanted to write a comedy about African-American life that didn't consist of racial stereotypes. They decided to base the plot on a folktale Hurston had collected in Florida during one of her anthropological field trips. The two writers dictated their work to Louise Thompson, who typed it.
Their work was almost completed in June, when Hurston went away for the summer. She took her notes and said she would return in the fall, and they could finish the play. When Hurston came back, she would not return telephone calls from Hughes. She felt he wanted Thompson to be considered a third collaborator in the project, a proposal to which she strongly objected.
Concurrently, Hughes was in the process of severing his relationship with their common literary patron, Mrs. Rufus Osgood Mason. Reviewers have conjectured that Hurston may have been trying to protect her own relationship with Mason by shunning Hughes.
Hurston submitted Mule Bone for copyright in October 1930, listing herself as the only author. In January 1931, Hughes found that a copy of Mule Bone had been sent to the Gilpin Players, an all-black theatre company in Cleveland, for their consideration—bearing only Hurston's name. Hurston told Hughes she hadn't sent them the play, an assertion that was true, but Hughes was furious. He sent a copy for copyright under both their names.
In the meantime, the Gilpin Players wanted to stage the play. The play was still somewhat rough, but Hughes was in Cleveland, and he offered to help rewrite portions of the play. Hurston sent a telegram advising that she refused to allow the production. A day later, she sent another telegram authorizing the production on the condition that she be allowed to work with Hughes on changes. That same day, Hughes received a letter from Hurston saying that no part of the play had been written by him.
In light of all the off-stage drama, the Gilpin Players decided not to proceed with their production. The copy of Mule Bone in the Langston Hughes papers at Yale University has a hand-written notation by Hughes: "This play was never done because the authors fell out."