Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious. This missive stayed with me. It haunted, excited and scared me. It comforted, confused and annoyed me. Then suddenly it occurred to me why all of these intense and mixed emotions had hit me all at once and plagued me so immensely. Be notorious is what I’d been told to do my entire life.
When I was 8 years old, I told my Mama that I wanted to sing and dance and act on the stage. To my surprise, she was none too pleased and said something to the effect of, “No, I don’t want you to do that. The world doesn’t expect Black folks to be good at anything other than singing, dancing and acting a fool for them to laugh at.” Wait a minute, what? If it’s what I want to do and the world expects me to do it, then what’s the problem?!?! Color me baffled!
Flash forward to the end of 5th grade: On the last day of school, I told my beloved teacher, Mrs. Link, that I would miss her over the summer and wanted to be a teacher just like her when I grew up. I smiled waiting for some sign of blissful and inspiring approval. Instead, she kneeled down to meet me at eye level and said, “No. Don’t become a teacher. You have too much to offer the world, far more than I ever did. Don’t waste it.” Wait a minute, what? You’re an amazing teacher! You’ve taught me all kinds of really great things! You’re nice, friendly and have such a bright and colorful room! Why wouldn’t you want me to be that to some other little kid someday?!?! Color me perplexed!
Obviously, when my Mama and Mrs. Link shared these pearls of wisdom, they were coming from a place of love and, more importantly, from a deeper understanding of race, class, and gender politics of the world. Unfortunately, their well-meaning words were far too grown-up for my supple young mind to comprehend. And to be honest, it wouldn’t be until I attended college and graduate school at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin that much of what they were trying to say about being a Woman, being Black, and being a Black Woman started to make sense.
It was at UT, that I studied with such amazing artists, scholars, and social activists as Jill Dolan (feminist scholar), Fran Dorn (actress), Amparo Garcia-Crow (playwright, director, producer and actress), Joni Jones (playwright and performance ethnographer), and Ruth Margraff (playwright). These women cracked open my core, shook things up, and poured me back into myself. They saved my life. They taught me that the very act of embracing, developing and standing up for my voice was a simple and necessary act of notoriety. One, that the world needed much more of, if we were ever to truly see progress for women and people of color.
Today, I define myself as an artist, specifically a race conscious feminist playwright. When pushed toward social specificity, I’m a Black Woman Playwright. When pressed for political identification, I'm an African American Female playwright. And when faced with some hot mess patriarchal, sexist, racist foolishness, Imma Nigress, whose word is her sword: be warned!
I say all of this to prepare you for what’s ahead. On Wednesday, August 1st at 7:30pm a revolution is coming to DC: History Matter/Back to the Future presents Scenes by Historic Women Playwrights: Read by Luminaries of the Stage at Georgetown University. Over the next several days, I’m going to introduce you to the Steering Committee, the brilliant women behind this event and the great work they’re doing in support and promotion of women playwrights. You'll get to read a Behind the Scenes Interview, meet the lovely Dramaturg and learn more about the amazing playwrights whose works are being featured. So clear your calendars, folks, and stay tuned!