I don’t want to be a playwright

by Leelee Jackson

I don’t want to be a playwright.

I am a playwright. 

I don’t need to write more. 

I benefit from reading what I’ve already written. 

“Forgotten so soon?” 

  • Comb Your Hair (Or You’ll Look Like a Slave) 
  • The Shit Show: An american Allegory or The House Across the Street
  • Yo Mama’s a Crackhead
  • Critical Race Theory 
  • What’s Love Got  To Do With It
  • Losing It
  • Ex-Factor
  • Honorable Mention

I’ve written some good ass plays. Still, I get real anxious sometimes if I’m honest. Wondering if I’m not writing good enough. Fast enough. Interesting enough for mass appeal. If I need to do more to get produced more. Write something else to be more marketable for Broadway. Then maybe I won’t get rejected so much.*

*cue The Play Game from Tick Tick BOOM

As always, I go to my literary gods for facts and truth to ground me.  

Lorraine Hansberry is my literary mother. In her short career she wrote a lot. She wasn’t just a playwright, but a true writer. She wrote everything. And gained a lot of success and notoriety in her writing endeavors simply because she was great. She was the first Black woman to be produced on Broadway. She was a critic. Essayist for a lesbian magazine. I mean, a world builder! Prolific. Prophet. Visionary. Artist. 

Lorraine Hansberry plays on Broadway:

  • Raisin In The Sun 
  • The Sign In Sidney Brustien’s Window
  • Les Blancs* 

*Les Blancs received a limited run with 30 preview shows and 40 performances. 

Lorraine Hansberry on opening night of “The Raisin in the Sun” – photo by Gordon Parks

Suzan-Lori Parks, the living goddess herself has written and published at least 400 plays if not more. Short plays. Long ones. Musicals etc. She has  written every kinda play I can think of and then some. And that’s just what’s published. Who knows what’s in those journals. She’s the first Black woman to earn a Pulitzer prize for drama and she is the most imaginative playwright to ever exist. She writes about American History as if it was a jungle gym or an amusement park. Titillating. Captivating. Perfect insight to her beautiful brain. When Solange sings “I saw things I imagined” I always think of SLP. 

SLP plays on Broadway:

  • Topdog Underdog
  • The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess*

*adaptation of a musical already written

That’s it. She is the most prolific living playwright  and her only Broadway hit received a Pulitzer! The first run stared Jeffery Wright and Mos Def! I’d offer all my college degrees to go back in time and see that play. Not even The America Play has been on Broadway!!!!!!!

Tarell Alvin McCraney won an Oscar for the hit film Moonlight which is an adaptation to his play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, a play that has never been on Broadway. His play collection Brother/Sister Plays Trilogy is the most poetic book of plays I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. He literally writes his stage directions as poems. He is the most creative living playwright whose work center queer Blackness (to me, he’s the most creative queer playwright of any race and any time). 

Tarell Alvin McCraney plays on Broadway: 

  • Choir Boy

Robert O’Hara wrote Bootycandy, Barbecue and Insurrection: Holding History, three of the most hilarious race plays I’ve ever read. He doesn’t make the audience feel bad or stupid for laughing at America. Bootycandy specifically is a series of vignettes about being Black and gay and funny. This man has not one play on broadway. 

Adrienne Kennedy, 91 years old, the innovative artists who wrote Funnyhouse of a Negro… pause. Have yall read Funnyhouse? This is the weirdest play in the world. It’s basically an episode of Black Mirror. It’s giving french film noir. Fuckin thrilling and chilling. Go read it right now! Jermery O’Harris has dedicated a chunk of energy using his platform to highlight and uplift her work. Her collection of plays is scary and interesting. She’s basically a horror writer. 

Adrienne Kennedy Plays on Broadway: 

  • Ohio State Murders*  

*Ohio State Murders received a limited run with only 44 performances and 29 previews. 

Alice Childress should have and would have been the first Black woman on Broadway. A few short years before Loarraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun hit the stage, Childress was originally set to premier her dope ass play Trouble in Mind. However it was a short lived dream when she was asked to change her perfect ending to be more digestible by a white audience and refused. 

This was over 60 years ago. 

Alice Childress Plays on Broadway:

  • Trouble in Mind* 

*Her play received a debut in 2022 receiving 20 previews and 58 performances. 

Alice Childress – photo by New Perspectives Theatre

Lastly, my brotha Amiri Baraka, aka Leroi Jones. A well rounded artists (as all poets are) who literally forced his way into success through political arts activism and saying what the fuck he wanted (sometimes about other Black playwrights that I love).  He literally is one of August Wilson’s biggest inspirations as a poet and playwright. He started an art school for youth and adults and is responsible for helping artists establish meaningful communities with like minded Black radicals with Black Arts Movement (which inspired a nonprofit I started with my friends called Black Light Arts Collective). I have spent so much money finding and collecting his plays, poems and essays. His play Dutchman is egregiously powerful! And weird and gives me permission to wonder and question race relations. He changed history. Amiri Baraka has no plays on Broadway. 

I could go on but the point is clear. I don’t know why good playwrights aren’t produced more outside of racism. And that disadvantage is hella frustrating. I’m not gonna lie about it. But the silver lining to being overlooked and underbooked is this: being a playwright means to write the play. I’m learning how important it is for me to focus on that and trusting the rest to fall into place. 

Don’t get discouraged. Fall deeper into the story. So deep that it’s real. 

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