Artistic Statement

Artistic Statement

Even though I come from a family of evangelists and preachers, my family seldom went to church. But my parents found other ways to instill values in my younger brother and me. My mother recited bedtime prayers with us. My father held Sunday School lessons with the whole family around the dining room table. These replacements for church taught me that I didn’t need four walls, pews and stained-glass windows to receive ministry.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to think of ministry differently. In ministry, a speaker transforms the audience through story and educates them through interpretation of story, all in service of advancing a Word. Now, I see playwriting as a form of ministry. I speak through my characters and guide my audience through narrative. My Word is my own personal, nuanced form of blackness, independent of whiteness. My characters don’t talk about race. There are no white characters in my full-length work. When white characters enter an African American drama, the work transforms into an examination of race; the Black characters are defined by the white ones. As a Black artist, I feel pressure to speak for my whole race. Although Black people share common struggles, Blackness is not a monolithic experience. In my plays, I work against that pressure to show individualized experiences.

A huge part of those experiences is living in the South, where all my full-length work is set. Characters are formed by tradition. It’s in the food they cook, the way they prepare their homes for visitors, the poetic vernacular they speak, and the songs they sing. Tradition decides who is right and who is wrong.

Through my work, I preach a Blackness that is imperfect. I embrace complicated characters who buck against moral convention. In my play first year play Kenyatta’s Party, the protagonist Amiri prepares a celebration for his son Kenyatta’s arrival from prison. Amiri wants to throw the perfect party for his son to make amends for his own mistakes as a father. In the end, Amiri learns how to be accountable to Kenyatta while giving him space to move on from trauma.

My Christian upbringing led me to write about two religious families in my second year play, All to Bear in Heaven. After their patriarch’s death, the Allison sisters must give all of his belongings to their half-brother, Kimborough. When the youngest Allison child, Lovie, steals the family Bible to keep it out of Kimborough’s hands, the two families come into conflict. In the play, I make a distinction between religion, which is more of a social component, and faith, which is more personal and tends to evolve with the person.

My ministry needs a home—a church—and a congregation to sustain it. As a result, I see my work being performed in Black theatres in front of Black audiences. The legacy of African-American theatre is my foundation. I intend to preserve it by contributing my perspective to the array of diverse voices about the Black experience.