Category Archives: Playwright

What is an “Important” Play?

by Chelsea Sutton

This question – what defines an “important play” and what doesn’t? And do we, as playwrights, need to worry about this? It’s been…on my mind.

Yesterday I got to hear a reading of a play of mine that I hadn’t looked at in years. On a whim, I submitted The Sudden Urge to Jump for a new work series with Full Circle Players, a Riverside theatre company that is doing the good work in Riverside County to bring classic and new theatre to an area of SoCal that needs more theatre. (I grew up in the Inland Empire so I’m allowed to say this lol. Check them out in the area and support!)

The play takes place in a video store (that used to be a church) as two siblings try to pick up the pieces of their lives after their sister’s funeral. The sister may fall for the brother’s best friend in an vaguely enemies-to-lovers kind of way. The dead sister might monologue and try to control the story that is continuing after her death. There are a lot of movie references. A lot. It is ultimately about how we try to fit our lives so neatly into genres and categories and shape how things go…but that’s just not how this shit works.

I don’t know what made me specifically choose this play to submit to their call. Maybe I thought it was one of the most digestible, accessible plays I have, and knowing the Inland Empire like I do, I wanted to offer something that was…not alienating? I mean it’s about suicide, but it’s also a love story and there’s jokes so – wee! Maybe I knew that I’d never look at it again unless I had a real reason…and I hoped they’d give me a reason?

What came up for me really, as I was thinking about this play and doing a rewrite of it for the reading, was why I had kinda put it aside. I wrote the first draft of it in the first year I was in the Skylight Theatre PlayLab. It had a reading. And I remember feeling, in that group, that because it was a love story, that was at least vaguely a comedy, and was looking at things like human connection and depression…and maybe, possibly, because it was written by a (young at the time) woman, it didn’t feel…important? Despite it having a prominent storyline about suicide, it felt like fluff in the sea of other work being created in that group. And honestly, it felt like it set the tone for me for reactions in that group for the next few years as I wrote two other plays. Reactions from others, and self doubts and judgements within myself. Fluffy. Women problems. Working class problems. Not important.

So the play had another reading in Houston a year or two later. Both the original reading and the one in Houston had lovely responses. It was a crowd pleaser in general, the actors always had fun and felt connected. But still, I put it in a drawer. I decided that it was not worth investing time into, because it wasn’t about anything important.

When I look toward the “big” theatres, the ones we all aspire to be at, the gatekeeping contests and conferences, the dwindling new works development opportunities, it always seems like folks are looking for the next “important” play. The one, it seems, that is going to change the landscape of theater and American culture, that is going to solve climate change or racism or homophobia or misogyny, or, hell, cure cancer I guess. As if it is one voice that will be the hero, the savior, and not, instead, a diversity of voices in a rich ecosystem of society that will ultimately make a difference.

I write grants to pay bills, and this comes up a lot too. Every art project has to be solving some big problem and we need to show how we’re going to do that with the $500 grant. Solve the world’s problems with no money and no support. And then give us a 30 page report about it. So my mind is here all the time – trying to convince people why art is “important.” Why what I do is “important.” This happens all the time too in the theatre company I help run. Every show we ask these questions — why is this play important? Why are we doing this now?

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be part of our practice to ask these questions. We should know why we’re driven to do the things we spend so many years on! Having a purpose, a direction for our work is central to keeping ourselves focused and engaged and connected to the world. But twisting ourselves into knots to fit a box is not the way to good art. And convincing ourselves of our own importance is also NOT the way to good art or relationships or longevity.

But also…The Play That Goes Wrong is done everywhere and like…is that an important play? Please, I’d love to see an essay on that.

Do we only have room for fluffy slap stick and trauma porn? Is there nothing in between? Can we do some genre-mixing please?

I wrote a play last year that I thought had the real potential of an “important” play. It was ABOUT something real, a real problem, financial burdens, broken communities, the targeting of vulnerable women. I sent it out in earnest to the annual cycle of awards and conferences, which feel like the cost of being a playwright in this system. And usually I do this with very little expectation. Rejection, to me, is a Season. But this time…I had hope. I had an important play! If only someone would give me the space to develop it, I could change the world!

As one would expect, it got a few nods, a few pats on the head, and I’ll be traveling to Alaska in June for a reading at a conference. Cool! I’m grateful! And also…it’s not an important play, obviously.

Because I don’t know what an important play is. Nor can I, the playwright, be the judge of what that is, for my work. And I’m mad at myself for spending too much time worrying about whether that play, or any play of mine, fits into a box that is always shifting.

When it comes down to it, both of these plays are wildly not important. But they are important to me. They both were written not toward some person’s agenda, but toward my own obsession and curiosity about something. And ultimately a play will never be “important” if it is not important first to you. And frankly, we don’t get to decide what the play does in the world, or how people react to it. That’s not our fucking business. And I guess I’m a little tired of putting too much of my self worth on the validation of forces beyond my control.

So is the life of a writer.

When I sat in the reading of The Sudden Urge to Jump last night, I was reminded why I wrote it. I was delighted at my (slightly) younger self for writing it, for the little quirks of love and attraction I’m drawn to writing about, about the depression and frustrations I felt at the time, and how I still feel all these things. And that the only thing that made the play unimportant was my piss-poor attitude toward it.

Will the play ever get a production? I hope so. Will it ever win awards? Nah. Will it change the world if it does? Absolutely not. But the audience laughed at jokes, giggled nervously at the awkward romantic moments, and cackled or groaned or nodded at the endless movie references (I had chats about the pop culture nods with folks after). In the talk back, the playwright of the other play presented that night and I laughed at the way our plays were paired up, the parallel themes, the dead siblings in the plays, death and religion in general. the pop references, the way they did or did not speak to each other. In the words of one audience member, his play made them weep, and mine was charming. And I’m good with that.

I’m good with that also because I saw my dad laughing. And my mother, who often asks me to write something that is not so dark or pessimistic, who I partially wrote the play for (because love story!) she turned to me after the reading with a big smile on her face. And she said “That was so great!” She delighted in a happy ending, some hope, people taking a chance on each other. And you know what? That’s enough to make it an important play to me.

Go write your weird little love story. People need that too.

Waiting for Permission

by Chelsea Sutton

I can remember almost every moment when someone has made me feel small and stupid for writing what I want to write.

These moments live rent free in my head, every time I sit down to the blank page.

At a writing workshop, a faculty person told me I was “putting on” a “quirky” sensibility, play-acting a quirky writer who writes quirky things, and that I would never succeed with this act.

Men have told me that things my female characters want don’t matter or the “stakes aren’t high enough” because the characters are unmarried and/or without children.

I’ve been told that a black comedy about criminals was good but that I was just play-acting at being a wannabe Martin McDonagh (this play was a finalist for the O’Neill).

Men have told me that my female characters are not “likable” particularly when they are not performing femininity in the way they expect it to look.

Men have asked me to think about what my plays are “about” without even trying to identify themes that are very obviously there (usually plays with all female casts).

I won’t even go into how many times people have looked down on genre (non realism) work.

I’ve heard the words “too weird” or “too experimental” or “too much (fill in the blank)” so often that every time I write I stop and doubt myself — checking myself in case I’m trying to be weird even when I don’t think the things I make are that weird. I would never call anything I do “experimental.” All I try to do is write what I’m interested in.

Everyone reading this has had an experience similar to these, or far far worse.

I’ve been thinking about these things because I recently finished a new play and had a reading at The Road as part of the Under Construction SlamFest. The play was about villains, female villains specifically, and not the Disney villains, but the ones who rip your life apart day-in-day-out. I’ve always wanted to go as far as McDonagh or Shepard or any other celebrated male writer who writes brutality and violence and ugliness mixed with humor. But there’s something inside me (possibly probably influenced by any version of the experiences above) that has stopped me from going as harsh or brutal as I could.

I’ve written violence before. My plays are dark as shit usually. But something about this play made me nervous. Every voice that has ever told me I’m just play-acting, every voice that told me women don’t act like this or don’t write like this, that women have to be likable, every voice that said they don’t like “experimental” work (does anyone even understand what that means?) — those voices surrounded this play in an intense and specific way. I could only really get pages out when I was under an extreme deadline (pages for writers group, pages for rehearsal, etc.) A deadline was the only thing that could silence the voices long enough so I could actually just WRITE IT. Because when I could write it, I could finally see it, without all the judgement.

And at the first rehearsal for the play, after we’d read it and were having a lovely chat about it, I asked the actors and director (a room full of women) if I could go further. Could I make it darker? More violent? Could I make the body count clear and HIGH by the end?

And everyone in the room said a resounding YES in unison.

And so I did.

Is the play perfect? Is it going far enough yet? Is it really truly itself yet? No. But that rewrite I did pushed it closer to its boundary. Because they said yes.

I will never forget the feeling of a room full of women giving me permission. I’m trying to reframe the negative voices as funny stories — silly interludes on the way to seeing the permission that was already mine. And yours, too.

A Four Lettered Feathered Thing

It drives my mother crazy that I did not inherit her optimism. When a rough spot appears on the horizon, she will confidently declare that “Everything happens for a reason,” and I’ll reply, “Or maybe we ascribe meaning to things in order to avoid the terrifying reality that the universe is a chaotic force outside our control or comprehension.”

She ascribes this to cynicism. I call it being pragmatic. I’m not, after all, some kind of Eyore, unable to smile and forever seeing doom and gloom wherever I look. I just can’t pretend NOT to see the infinite myriad fractures in our unpredictable existence. In fact, seeing the world this way helps me feel prepared for the rough spots—I’ve got a pocket full of “Just in case” with me at all times. (And yes, some people might call this generalize anxiety disorder, but whatever.)

The point is, when you’re a perennial pragmatist, good news feels… weird. It might even try to plant a seed of hope within your fortified heart, setting off a chain reaction that leads you to some very weird places.

That’s what happened to me last month when I found out I was a finalist for one of those “Big Deal!” awards we playwrights like to chase. I got excited! I felt hopeful! And then that hope completely disrupted my carefully balanced system.

I mean, yes, hope lifts your spirits and allows you to imagine adventure and glow and warm fuzzy feelings of the extraordinary sort! But hope also allows brings a heightened awareness of how precarious and fragile having hope actually is. To know that hope can be shattered? Leaving you right where you were, but now blisteringly aware of your own life’s newly unmet potential? YIKES!

I began to worry that I would not handle the (likely) disappointment very well. That I would sink into one of my “Who the f*** am I to think I have anything worth saying to the world?” slumps, and bum everyone out around me, and just generally be, like, really really sad, for a good long while. So then I asked, “Is this good news really just bad news in disguise? Is it actually better to have hope for a few weeks, than to not have had any at all?” Hope is a four letter word, after all…

So, yeah, I was a lot of fun, lol.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure the lack of an “Even better news!” email means that I’ve NOT gotten “The Big Thing” I was so tickled to be an actual contender for. And I’m… ok? I mean, I know I’ll be sad when the official TBNT email arrives, but the existential panic of “HOPE SO SCARY!” is gone. Which is a relief, because I was pretty sure I was going to be CRUSHED.

The whole experience just reminds me that getting close to a Big Deal Opportunity can be exciting and fun in and of itself. Who knows if I’ll ever be the playwright theatres are lining up to produce… at least I know someone is kicking my work up the ladder, right?

Spoken like a true pragmatist.

By Tiffany Antone

Continuing…

by Robin Byrd

A year ago, I went home, I had Laryngitis and was unable to love on everyone…  Laryngitis, that’s what the doctors called it – I have been having throat spasms since my time in the Army.  A few days before my flight out, my throat closed – no air. The pushing sound of me trying to force my throat open – something I learned from a Marine who blew air into my windpipe to open it the first time my throat closed.  He saved my life.  I was in AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) and all of a sudden, the water I was swallowing expelled out of my throat like a fountain as I gasped for air.

Doctors never believe me.  They won’t even check me if I get to emergency after it stops.  Even those doctors this last time in the emergency room didn’t believe me as they watched me gasp for air.  They told me to “calm down”. Then slowly hooked me up to monitor the air, laughed among themselves (probably calling me a hypochondriac in code) until the machine called foul and the people from the front desk came back to see who was sounding like they couldn’t breathe.  The look between them – the doctors – “Oh, she really isn’t getting air…”

“No, I am not getting air, that’s why I came to emergency to pay the $200 dollar plus fee – to be seen.”

I left with a bag of medication but nothing to help with the spasms should they turn up again. They called it Laryngitis but knew there was something else going on.

I don’t know why I am thinking about this.  Maybe, because it’s the feeling I get when every avenue I try to get my work out there seems to expel my efforts like the water I was drinking that first time. The constant reconciling is enough to bust the four back wheels on a semi-truck.  All the ideas, all the words…

And yet I continue…  Here’s to continuing, out of breath and all, until…

The wolves who came to breakfast devoured the meat with the life at once, leaving scant scraps for the omega. There is a hierarchy among wolves, there is also a great sense of community.

“I have never been contained except I made the prison.” – Mari Evans

These days…

by Robin Byrd

These days…

We forget that the shutdown delayed medical care for other ailments.  No second opinions, no early detection or preventive treatment; everything was on hold for a year.  Two years later – all things exacerbated by time – we grieve the more and COVID-related takes on a deeper meaning.

I lost a cousin this month – one of the greatest minds I have ever known. I wanted more time…

Myself, I am going through the results of delayed care.  The stress of it is stifling. The constant search for water – spiritual, physical and emotional is stretching me beyond my limits as I blindly believe for a new day.  I don’t recognize myself in the mirror, I don’t turn on the camera during Zoom meetings, I rarely go out.  Groundhog Day. 

I dream I am writing… I wake to find I am not…

I am imploding with all the words…the words…the words…

These days, I am fighting to start again…again…

Ready, re-set, go…

I’m Not Waiting ‘Til They Pick Me

By AR Nicholas

We struggle to write, often looking for something to take us out of the struggle. Just
for a few minutes, we tell ourselves, then we’ll come back fresh, inspired by new ideas
of how to fix what’s not working. Despite the struggle, we are compelled to write. It is
a calling and a padded cell of our own making. We feel bad about ourselves when we
don’t write, and guilty about doing anything else unless we’ve had “a good day” and
gotten a few words out. But when we overcome the impediments of the day job,
family, illness and limited time to actually write something–that is, to pull something
out of a hat where once there was nothing– it’s the best feeling in the world.

I’ve grown to love the process of writing even when it goes nowhere. Good thing,
because the results, if measured by my work being chosen by others, is about 200 to 1.
I send plays out far and wide to be considered for festivals, readings and labs, usually
landing a rejection in reply. Mostly though, I hear nothing. At least a rejection is
acknowledgment of my existence even if there’s no guarantee someone read my play.
And I am not being wholly cynical when I tell you that not all submitted plays get
read, or that theatres have closed-minded, pre-existing agendas for programming.
I’ve been a “selector” for various theatre contests over the years and witnessed the
behavior first hand. These theatres may appear inclusive but they want their selected
playwrights to tick certain boxes. Blind submissions? There are ways around them. A
similar process goes on with union actor auditions. SAG/AFTRA and AEA mandate
auditions for projects but they’re often going through the motions. Producers and
directors know who they’re making offers to when those auditions begin.

I don’t say these things to depress you. It’s taken me a very, very, very long time to
accept that the likelihood of a visionary Artistic Director discovering my work and
plucking me from obscurity is pretty much nil. And the older I get, the less likely it is.
Honor Roll, the advocacy collective of female playwrights over 40, has said as much,
which is why they formed to fight ageism and sexism in theatre. But I’m over 60, now,
so probably a lost cause. Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also developed a true
love of writing for writing’s sake. But I also write because I want to share my thoughts
with other people. In theatre, that means a reading or production, when there’s an
opportunity for me and other humans to be in conversation about things we think
matter. So what happens when those opportunities don’t arise? Sometimes having
written is not enough and I need to find a way to get my words into the world.

The pandemic showed just how vulnerable the performing arts are to plague. But the
truth is, and for lots of different reasons–ticket prices, cheap streamers, the cost of
gas and childcare and other logistical hassles– it was increasingly difficult to get butts
in seats even before Covid hit. When it did and theatres shut down, theatremakers
sought other outlets and many found ways to share their work online. Zoom became
the go-to for readings and productions of various sorts. Previously filmed and taped
plays were brought out of the archives and streamed while some new work, when
able to be captured safely, found its way online as well.

You may be done with Zoom plays but even NY Times critic Elizabeth Vincentelli,
says online theatre is not going away. There are audience members who claim they
will never sit in a theatre again, who actively search out plays they can watch from
home. Yes, it’s difficult to get people to watch them sometimes but is it any easier to
get people to drive 45 minutes to a theatre? It will likely depend on what the play is,
who’s in it, etc. but I’m not talking about the star-studded, LORT, extravaganza. I’m
referring to the new play by the unknown playwright starring no name actors. That
play doesn’t get the buzz and it doesn’t get the butts.

So if you’re tired of waiting to be chosen, I’m making a pitch that you get your work
out using Zoom or other online tools. Take advantage of what these platforms offer
rather than falling victim to them. Turn them on their heads. And you can do it inexpensively–possibly even for free. I know because I did it with my one hour Rom-
Com, BRIDE & ZOOM, and we had a blast.

A Zoom account is free. You can record what happens on Zoom onto a hard drive.
Decent audio quality is well within reach with a few adjustments in preferences. And
once all is captured, you can edit what you’ve recorded using the editing software that
came with your computer. Put some titles on it and if you’ve hired non-union actors,
you may have created something that was entirely free. Of course you should pay
actors and if you’re not directing, you should pay your director and because you’ll be
editing the recorded footage, you will likely need to pay an editor, unless you want to
teach yourself. But you can produce your work and post it online for free.

Now consider producing for a 99 seat black box. Let’s say your show runs Fri-Sun for
4 weeks with a ticket price of $25. The max box office take would be $29,700. But you
know you won’t sell all those tickets, at least not at full price. And the cost of
producing the show will far exceed that amount, between renting the theatre (low
end $10K for 5 weeks), hiring tech–lighting, sound, costume and production design
(all in, maybe $12K)–actors (depends on how many but let’s say three AEA actors for
rehearsal period and the run, maybe $8K), not to mention building the sets ($5K),
equipment rentals, insurance, props, craft services… you are looking at a LOT of
money, close to $40,000, that you cannot get back from ticket sales unless your show
is a giant hit and goes on to theatrical success all over the country. Spending that on
ourselves should give any of us pause. Talk about a vanity production!

On the other hand, BRIDE & ZOOM was a union show conceived and written for the
Zoom format and produced for $6000, which included a website and professional
Zoom and Vimeo accounts. We used the SAG-AFTRA microbudget contract for
projects under $20K. (Note: The AEA and SAG-AFTRA contracts, are a moving target
so if you want to use union talent, read the fine print) and employed eleven actors!
B&Z was shot out of order with extensive editing so the SAG-AFTRA contracts were
the only option for us, which turned out to be fortunate. The project was eligible for
film festival submissions and has been official selected at a couple so far. The thing
to remember with the SAG-AFTRA microbudget contract is, if you, as producer, have
the opportunity to make money by posting your project for sale online, you need to
discuss with the SAG-AFTRA rep before you do so.

I started writing a rom-com as antidote for my pandemic gloom, and then realized
Zoom was the perfect place for it. If not for the pandemic, I would never have
thought to re-envision BRIDE & ZOOM for Zoom itself. But having produced for live
theatre, I can tell you producing for Zoom was a lot easier, not to mention cheaper.
And taking control of my writing felt empowering.

We all want someone to love our work and produce it for us, but in the absence of
that benevolent someone, it comes down to, “If not you, who?” Producing your show
online is a way to avoid the gatekeepers.

AR Nicholas is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and consultant who, during the
pandemic, created Bride & Zoom, a “vidgie” written for and shot on Zoom
(BrideandZoom.org). She is preparing her 3rd feature film, @oldladiesfindmoney. More at:
https://arnicholas.com, https://linktr.ee/ARNicholas

The Balance Scale…

by Robin Byrd

Fifty years from now, what will literature say about us?  Will it be a balanced story?  

I am hoping that the travailing in the spirit that I have been doing will break something up.  I don’t have it in me to compromise on what stories want to come out of me.  I am learning to not subconsciously self-edit.

An Even Chance

This pandemic has changed me; I have an even lesser tolerance for inauthenticity in any way.  It’s been a battle and a journey to learn where and how grief has touched my work – changing it forever; instead of trying to muzzle it, I’ve learned to embrace it.  There is a sound to loss, an indelible mark, an imprint, a key, as it were, that opens one up to hidden jewels.  Regaining the parts of myself so covered in stones, it took this pandemic to unearth them.  I have literally found snippets of writing while going through a box under a box under a box. This snippet of writing is exactly what is needed in a play, “Sweet Lorraine’s Bag of Water,” that I’ve decided to revisit.  I remembered writing it and it was on my mind.  I was annoyed that it was lost to me, finding it by chance was delightful.  I wrote it while attending a theater conference some years ago.  It will be nice to get back to attending in-person conferences one day, they are a great source of inspiration.  There is nothing like being around a large group of theater artists.

It is good to know that I am finding more balance in myself and looking forward to seeing the change it brings to my work…

Happy New Year, may it bring you joy and many opportunities to share your work.

Terms of Use…

In the beginning I separated the art from the day-to-day

But the days began to run into each other

And there was less and less time for…art

No time for refreshing

Or indulging in the high of creating worlds or music

Then the sky fell

And the only thing that mattered other than digging myself out from under the rubble

Was the art that I had neglected again

All I wanted was to see violins fly and hear the sound of tuning instruments

Smell the notes in the air and rosin on the bow

To read over one more time

The terms of use…

Use at your leisure

Use for air

Use for food for the soul

Use for dream fodder

Use to fly…

just use…

I think I can crochet the holes shut on these wings

the wind is picking up

and this dirt is falling off in clumps; it’ll sure fall off when I hit the air

Got my D string restrung, bouncing off that G just right

Someone is talking…

They want to be put on the page…

“Catch ya when I get to the mountaintop”

Crash Landing on Plot

by Kitty Felde

I’ve been thinking a lot about plot.

A writer friend recently had a zoom performance of her play, a lovely piece about the power of grief and recovery. The last scene is a reprise of the top of the play, flashed back in time, full of the ugly and raw emotion of loss. Several “critics” urged her to expunge the scene. “It isn’t needed,” said one. “Anticlimactic,” said another. What they were saying was that the script didn’t follow the classic Greek model of rising action, climax, and denouement. Or, the penis model, as I like to call it.

Instead, the writer used a circular structure for the play. Which, some argue, is a more organic way of writing for the female storyteller. Yes, you start at point A and return there, but the protagonist hasn’t necessarily “learned something” or “changed,” which are requirements for the official “circular” plot. The writer just finished the story. Period.

The writer rejected the criticism, by the way.

Sticking to the Aristotelian structure has become even more formulaic in recent decades, something I call the “Save the Cat” effect. The popular book by Blake Snyder has become a template for most movies and far too many plays. It’s gotten to a point that I can pretty much predict exactly what will happen next – something I do, by the way, that drives my husband crazy.

Until I watched Crash Landing on You.

Crash Landing on You



It’s a South Korean episodic drama about a poor little rich girl out paragliding and gets blown across the DMZ to North Korea. It’s wonderful – funny, not too scary, full of social and political commentary, but mostly a love story. It’s also incredibly well written by veteran screenwriter Park Ji-Eun.

The show is a worldwide hit. Viewers in India are reportedly learning Korean. A fan in the Phillipines has written a song about the show. Even Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross is a fan.

And here’s the thing: I could never predict what happens next. I was continuously surprised and delighted. As a writer, I kept asking myself, “how did she do that?”

It’s not just me. A playwriting pal had exactly the same reaction. Neither of us can figure out the structure of the story, yet we couldn’t stop watching. What magic is Park Ji-Eun using? And more importantly: can we steal it?

My playwright pal and I have decided to make a formal study of the series, each of us taking one episode and dissecting it, then comparing notes. We’ll likely be applying whatever structure secrets Ji-Eun uses in our next plays.

And here’s the good news: there’s rumors of a second season!

Are you a circular writer? Have you rejected Aristotle’s triangle of plot structure? Have you gotten pushback? Is there a better way to tell a story?

And can you figure out the structure in “Crash Landing on You” on Netflix?

Kitty Felde is a playwright, podcaster, and children’s mystery writer. Her second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union comes out this summer.


Thoughts on Black Stories…

There is always discussion on the right or wrong/ness of other ethnicities writing stories outside of their ethnicity.  As writers, we all know that you have to write the stories that want to be told through you.  Not long ago, black stories were only allowed to be told through white writers as black writers were considered “less than able” to tell our own stories. A classic black story is Sounder which garnered both Golden Globe and Academy Award Nominations for the late Cicely Tyson, an extraordinary actress who lived with purpose.  Had the story not been written, she would have never had the opportunity.  The white author of Sounder admits the story came from his black school teacher.

“But one night at the great center table after he had told the story of Argus, the faithful dog of Odysseus, he told the story of Sounder, a coon dog.  It is a black man’s story, not mine.  It was not from Aesop, the Old Testament, or Homer.  It was history – his history.” – Sounder by William H. Armstrong 

The unfortunate thing was that author couldn’t seem to remember his teacher’s name to give him actual “story by” credit.  Undoubtedly, the story of Sounder was to be shared, had to be shared… And, we are grateful for this sharing. 

Serendipitously, I caught a Close/Up with the Hollywood Reporter Writers Roundtable  on YouTube hosted by Scott Feinberg with: Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Radha Blank (The Forty-Year-Old Version), Sam Levinson (Malcolm & Marie), and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami*, Soul), the segment discussed some interesting insights on working through the Pandemic safely, directing their own screenplays (*One Night in Miami is directed by Regina King), the change in how the work is seen by the audience and the question of who should write what.  The writers are very candid. 

The challenges will not go away over night or over decades- it has seemed -but we must try to do our best in telling our stories and pushing to not limit ourselves or the work.  Being Black can mean, in a lot of cases, that we are mixed with other things; we have the right to write those stories too. 

As a people, we are affected by the mutation of Eugenics and how that has wounded us – from our ancestors to ourselves and to our sons and daughters. Sterilization / castration without consent is something that still happens.

“Then he grabbed stuff, this and that and that and this and this and that and that and those – Scissors.  He inserted them and CLIPPED!! Babies, I thought of babies.  I looked him in the eye, this white man who was raping me with stuff made of steal.  He looked at me.    An expression.    A small detectable grin. ‘Oops!’ he said.” – Oops! by Robin Byrd

Some of these stories are hard to tell; we wonder why it’s still happening. Fighting for equality promised to us by law is exhausting…

“but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ i havent conquered yet/ do you see the point my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender/” – For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

We have the right to tell the truths of our people and to write about how we are surviving more things than being shot in the streets, in our homes… We have the right to be awake without apology…

We also have the right to walk in love without that being mistaken as a pass for more abuse…

More books to read:

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts.