When Kimba Henderson was a young child, her mother required her to pick three articles from the newspaper every Sunday and write summaries of the events. This, in tandem with the criminal accounts she heard at home from her mother’s dictation as a court reporter, were the origins of Kimba’s love of storytelling. She first began writing and producing her own plays as a middle schooler, heavily influenced by the scintillating drama of Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon’s novels.
A Graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Dramatic Writing Program, Kimba is both a playwright and screenwriter. One of her first plays at NYU about an African American woman who grew up in an all-white town and decides to go to an HBCU, sparked an unexpected and lively debate in her class. Initially, Kimba slid down her seat nervously at this reaction until her professor gave her a quiet nod and wink, as if to say, this is exactly what theater is meant to do. As Kimba puts it, that’s when she realized the power of her words to “make people feel and discuss.”
When I ask Kimba what she’s drawn to write about, she talks about legacy and the reverberating consequences of the choices people make. Thematic to her creative explorations are questions of cause and effect: “How does it [legacy] live? How does it haunt you? How do you rise above it or escape it?” In her award-winning solo show, WOMEN ON THE VERGE, she examines a family of women, all with disparate tales, and how their choices ultimately affect the central character Vanessa and the woman that she becomes.
Her play THE RECKONING, produced by the Robey Theater Company at the Los Angeles Theater Center, is about a Black family running a crawfish farm on a former plantation in Louisiana. This is a family play that has gothic influences and features plantation ghosts who carry secrets and their own agendas for sticking around.
Kimba, an African American writer, who grew up living in an upper middleclass neighborhood of San Diego and going to private school, recognizes the tacit desire of the industry to demarcate the boundaries of identity for writers of color. We discussed at length the issues of representation and the question of who gets to write what story? Her take—and I agree–is that historically, white people have always been telling the stories of people of color and now it can often feel as though they desire diverse voices but still want to control the transmission. Meanwhile, the white power structure continues to write (and project) the stories of marginalized people. She says, “It’s another form of racism or othering” and as a writer “your brand goes beyond your ethnicity and culture.” Kimba is first and foremost a storyteller, and she doesn’t limit her content to her own lived experience. Instead, she does her due diligence in getting to know her characters and their environment through her research. It goes without saying that her lens as a Black woman informs her perspectives and renderings of character.
Kimba reflects on her writing life during the pandemic. Despite all the madness of COVID and amidst the murder of George Floyd, she used the forced quarantine to hunker down and generate. She says “Crazy doesn’t shut me down. Crazy makes me curious”. And Thank God for that, because her latest play reflects her skill for telling complex multi-character drama with humanity and humor to boot. RED HARLEM, developed with the Company of Angels’ professional playwriting group, highlights the true story of the Communist Party’s recruitment efforts in the 1930s by casting a propagandist film with Black performers from Harlem that was written by Langston Hughes and shot in the Soviet Union. The intersectionality of race, class, nationality, and politics are seamlessly woven into a fascinating tapestry that depicts a virtually unknown bit of history.
In addition to her playwriting, Kimba has written for True Crime and Origins docuseries. Her latest collaboration was writing the introduction to the upcoming book “Black Hollywood” which re-imagines classic films with Black actors through iconic photography. This book will be released in October.