“The Blackest thing you can be is queer and the queerest thing you can be is Black,” Tre’vell Anderson said in a 2019 OUT interview with Jordan E. Cooper, a playwright who is queer and Black.
The intersection of queerness and Blackness is vast and complex, with identities occupying their own spaces and offering their own perspectives. This community is not a monolith, but rather a tapestry of different experiences of being othered and oppressed.
We know that queer Black people (and particularly queer Black female-identifying people) are pushed to the outskirts of society and marginalized from the mainstream. But they also must combat discrimination within the larger communities of which their two identities intersect: homophobia within the black community and racism within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The theatre has long prided itself on being a tool of social change—where a collective can come together to hear stories and leave emotionally changed. But how can we move forward if we continue to hear the same stories and same voices again and again?
We’ve always needed to uplift these voices and hear these stories, but with the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests intersecting with Pride month, there is a renewed sense of urgency. The queer Black stories are here, the queer Black artists are ready—they’ve been ready—and now is the time for theatre as an institution to truly listen, to practice radical empathy, and to realize that universal lessons can be received from the specificity of these stories.
We’ve compiled a list of queer Black playwrights who center queerness, Blackness, and queer Blackness in their work. Learn about their career and work, plus how you can take action and support them right now. The exciting news is there are so many queer Black playwrights that this is by no means a comprehensive list—it's merely a starting point.
In addition to being a playwright, Aziza Barnes is an award-winning poet. From the Poetry Foundation’s website, Barnes’ work is described as such: “In poems and performances that interrogate and deconstruct assumptions around gender, race, and class, Barnes seeks to liberate and pluralize languages of identity.” Their chapbook me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun won an Exploding Pinecone Prize from Button Poetry. They are also the author of the full-length collection of poems the blind pig, and i be but i ain’t, which won a Pamet River Prize. Barnes made their playwriting debut with BLKS, which premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2017, and played MCC Theater in 2019. The play follows “three 20-somethings in New York City hunting for intimacy and purpose in a city that doesn’t seem to care,” and was nominated for a 2020 Lucille Lortel Award. Follow Barnes on Twitter and Instagram.
Want to take action with Barnes? Donate to the Black Trans Protestors Emergency Fund, a collaboration between Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, Black Trans Travel Fund, For the Gworls, and The Okra Project. Information about the fund and how to contribute can be found in this tweet.
Azure D. Osborne-Lee
Azure D. Osborne-Lee, an award-winning Black, queer theatre maker, is the founder of Roots and River Productions and was a member of the inaugural Trans Theater Lab cohort. Mirrors, Osborne-Lee’s first full-length work to receive a full-fledged production, premiered at Next Door at NYTW in February. The play, produced by Parity Productions, follows the lives of three African-American women bound by love and loss and family in a sleepy Mississippi town during the summer of 1960. His play, Crooked Parts, is a part of the 2020 Pride Plays. Osborne-Lee was a recipient of Parity Productions’ 2018 Commission for Women and Transgender Playwrights, winner of Downtown Urban Arts Festival’s 2018 Best Play Award, and the 2015 Mario Fratti-Fred Newman Political Play Contest. He was also a finalist for Theatre Viscera’s Queer Playwrights’ Contest, VanguardRep’s 2019 Summer Production, BAX|Brooklyn Arts Exchange’s 2018 Artist in Residence, National Black Theatre’s I AM SOUL Playwrights Residency, Soho Rep’s Writer/Director Lab, and a semi-finalist for the Burman New Play Award, Ars Nova’s Play Group, and New York Theatre Workshop’s Emerging Artists Fellowship. Follow Osborne-Lee on Twitter and Instagram.
The Beasts of Warren
The Crocus Eaters
Want to take action with Osborne-Lee? As he continues to create work as a Black, queer theatre maker, you can support through Venmo at @azure-osborne-lee. You can also donate to his organization Roots and River Productions.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is an award-winning playwright. In 2016, he was named a MacArthur Fellow. From the MacArthur Foundation website, Jenkins’ work is described as “drawing from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class, and race… [using] a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings.” Jacobs-Jenkins won the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play for his plays Appropriate and An Octoroon. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for his plays Gloria and Everybody. He has also won the Paula Vogel Award, a Fulbright Arts Grant, a Helen Merrill Award, the Dorothy Strelsin playwriting fellowship, the New York Theatre Workshop Emerging Artist Fellowship, and the inaugural Tennessee Williams Award.
Want to take action of Jacobs-Jenkins? Donate to the Dramatists Guild Foundation’s Emergency Grants.
C.A. Johnson is the Tow Playwright in Residence at MCC Theater and a Core Writer at the Playwrights Center. Most recently, audiences saw her play All the Natalie Portmans at MCC Theater, which followed 16-year-old Keyonna as she navigated life being “too smart, ‘too gay,’ and too lonely to fit in,” with her rom-com muse Natalie Portman as her guide. Johnson’s aim as a writer is to ”write honestly about the lived lives of women. I have beliefs about those lives, about what it means to be socialized to care for others first (often to our own detriment). I also have beliefs about what it means to love a woman and what it means when a woman gives you her love—how that is no simple offering.” Previously, she has been the P73 Playwriting Fellow, The Lark’s Van Lier Fellow, a Dramatists Guild Fellow, a member of The Civilians R&D Group, a member of The Working Farm at SPACE on Ryder Farm, a Sundance/Ucross Fellow, and a Sundance Theatre Lab Fellow. Follow Johnson on Twitter and Instagram.
All the Natalie Portmans
An American Feast
I Know I Know I Know
Want to take action with Johnson? “I’m directing everyone who loves me, my work, and/or black queer bodies to consider donations to The Okra Project.”
Carmen LoBue is a writer, director, producer, actor, teacher, and social activist, creating stories that give voice to social and political injustice. With a personal ambition to “heal the world” with their art, LoBue is telling stories that give voice to underrepresented groups, including the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, and womxn of color. While LoBue is known for their screen work, including the docuseries HERassment, their play Will You...Hold My Hair Back is a part of the 2020 Pride Plays. Follow LoBue on Twitter and Instagram.
Will You…Hold My Hair Back
Donnetta Lavinia Grays
Donnetta Lavinia Grays (also known as Gap Toothed Griot) is a Brooklyn-based playwright, screenwriter, and award-winning performer. In an interview with The Interval, Grays says of her work, “My inspiration is drawn from the personal but also from the world around me and the political…Largely what I am attempting to do with my work is bring that black lady queerness into spaces where we’ve traditionally been ignored or invisible.” In February, Where We Stand, a solo show that Grays wrote and direct, had its world premiere co-produced by WP Theater and Baltimore Centerstage. Described as “an epic fable of penance filled with humor, heart, and music,” the show was nominated for a 2020 Lucille Lortel Award and Grays received a Distinguished Performance Award nomination from the Drama League. Grays is the inaugural recipient of the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award. She is also a Space on Ryder Farm Working Farm Resident, member of Time Warner Foundation WP Playwrights Lab, Civilians R&D Group, an Actors Studio Playwright/Directors Unit, and terraNova Collective Groundbreakers Playwright group alumna. Follow Graves on Twitter and Instagram.
Warriors Don’t Cry
Last Night and the Night Before
Laid to Rest
The Review of How to Eat Your Opposition
The New Normal
The Cowboy Is Dying
Want to take action with Grays? Donate to Trans People of Color Coalition and The Ali Forney Center. Of The Ali Forney Center, Grays says, “Undoing anti-queerness and anti-blackness but focusing on the need to house homeless queer youth is at the root of their mission.”
Donja R. Love
As an Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker, Donja R. Love writes specifically for and about Black and queer folx. Love’s play one in two played at the Signature Theatre in fall 2019, and examines the CDC statistic that one in every two black gay men nationally will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. one in two is a part of the 2020 Pride Plays lineup, which will stream at Playbill.com/PridePlays Friday, June 12. Love is also known for The Love* Plays, a trilogy that explores of queer love at pivotal moments in Black history: Sugar in Our Wounds, set during the Civil War; Fireflies, set during the Jim Crow South; and In the Middle, during the Black Lives Matter movement. He was the recipient of the 2018 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award and the 2017 Princess Grace Playwriting Award. He’s the Lark’s 2016 Van Lier New Voices Playwriting Fellow, The Playwrights Realm’s 2016–2017 Writing Fellow, and the 2011 Philadelphia Adult Grand Slam Poetry Champion. He’s the co-founder of The Each Other Project, an organization that helps build community and provide visibility, through art and advocacy, for LGBTQ people of color. You can also support Off Book, the podcast he co-hosts with Amber Iman and Drew Shade. Follow Love on Instagram.
one in two
Sugar in Our Wounds
In the Middle
Erika Dickerson-Despenza is a Blk, queer feminist poet-playwright, cultural worker, educator, and grassroots organizer. Dickerson-Despenza says of her work, “My thematic obsessions deliberately center Black women’s land legacies, stored body knowledge of ancestral memory, girlhood trauma, maternal bonds, ritual, religion, and distinct experiences of environmental racism.” Read her full artistic statement here. Dickerson-Despenza has written a water tetralogy examining water as a reflection of Blk women’s bodies as sites of consciousness development and exile during key events in Black History: ocean’s lip/ heaven’s shore (the Middle Passage), took/tied hung/split (Jim Crow,) shadow/land (Hurricane Katrina), and cullud wattah (Flint Water Crisis). She also has the 10-play Katrina Cycle (which includes [hieroglyph]), focused on the effects of Hurricane Katrina and its state-sanctioned man-made disaster. She's a 2020 L. Arnold Weissberger Award Finalist, the recipient of the 2019 Princess Grace Playwriting Award, and the 2019-2020 Tow Playwright-in-Residence at The Public Theater. She is 2020 Grist 50 Fixer and was a National Arts & Culture Delegate for the U.S. Water Alliance's One Water Summit 2019. She was a Writers’ Gathering Jerusalem Writer-in-Residence, New York Stage and Film Fellow-in-Residence, New Harmony Project Writer-in-Residence, Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow, and The Lark Van Lier New Voices Fellow. She is also an associate organizer with the #LetUsBreatheCollective, a Chicago-based alliance of artists and activists. Follow Dickerson-Despenza on Twitter and Instagram.
ocean’s lip/ heaven’s shore
Want to take action with Dickerson-Despenza? Donate to Minister Candace Simpson of Bed Stuy, a Black, queer abolitionist womanist spiritual leader (Cash app: $CandaceSimpson, PayPal: CandaceSimpson), BYP100, and The Okra Project/Black Trans Solidarity Fund (PayPal: btsf).
Griffin Matthews is a writer, actor, director, and producer. He, along with his husband, Matt Gould, wrote the book, music, and lyrics to Witness Uganda (titled Invisible Thread for its Second Stage production). The musical is based on Matthews' personal experience of traveling to and volunteering in Uganda, and his organization UgandaProject. The musical received the Richard Rodgers Award as well as ASCAP’s Harold Adamson Lyric Award and Michelle and Dean Kay Award. In a 2019 interview with Playbill, Matthew says, “ … if you’re wondering why there aren’t more black musical creators, it’s not because we don’t exist, it’s because the business is not set up for us to succeed.” Follow Matthews on Twitter and Instagram.
The Family Project
Harrison David Rivers
Harrison David Rivers is the winner of the 2018 Relentless Award for his play the bandaged place, which he describes as “a brutal and lyrical play about the things we hang on to and the price of moving forward.” Based on personal experience with domestic abuse, the play follows a man who leans on his grandmother and daughter as he tries to heal from an abusive relationship. Rivers was named a runner-up for the 2018 Artist of the Year by the Star Tribune and a 2017 Artist of the Year by City Pages. He has received McKnight and Many Voices Jerome Fellowships, a Van Lier Fellowship, an Emerging Artist of Color Fellowship and residencies with the Bogliasco Foundation, the Siena Art Institute, the Hermitage, and Duke University. Harrison was the 2016 Playwright-in-Residence at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Keep up with Rivers on his website.
Rivers’ artistic statement includes,
“I write for the theater because theater is the most human
thing I know.
I write to assert my humanity in a country that tells me
[and others who look like me]
that our lives don’t matter.
I write to assert that my black queer body
[and other black queer bodies]
are worthy of narrative space.”
See his full artistic statement on his website.
When Last We Flew
And She Would Stand Like This
Where Storms Are Born
A Crack in the Sky
This Bitter Earth
To Let Go and Fall
Want to take action with Rivers? Donate to Penumbra Theatre.
Jeremy O. Harris
Jeremy O. Harris is a playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He made waves with his professional playwriting debut, Slave Play, at New York Theatre Workshop in 2018, which then moved to Broadway in 2019. The play, which explores racial trauma and power dynamics centered in interracial relationships, was nominated for a 2020 Lucille Lortel Award. As Slave Play was wrapping up its world-premiere run and Harris’ next play, “Daddy,” was preparing for a co-production between Vineyard Theatre and The New Group, he said in a 2018 interview with Playbill, “[In the theatre] we can actually see psychology manifest itself on stage and our bodies mirror that psychology. The only way we’ll know the subjectivity of others is by sitting with their psychology for two hours, without a filter.” In March, Harris signed a two-year deal with HBO that included development of a new pilot, a co-producing role on Euphoria, and a discretionary fund for theatrical projects. He is also co-writing the upcoming film Zola, co-written and directed by Janicza Bravo. He is the winner of the 2018 Paula Vogel Playwriting Award. Follow Harris on Twitter and Instagram.
Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1
Jordan E. Cooper
Jordan E. Cooper is a playwright, screenwriter, and performer. In 2019 he was named to OUT Magazine’s Out100 list, the publication’s annual compilation of the year’s most impactful and influential LGBTQ+ people. His play Ain’t No Mo, a satirical odyssey depicting a great exodus of Black Americans, made its world premiere at The Public Theater in spring 2019. Written in repsonse to the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, Ain't No Mo gives a nod to George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum, offering a series of vignettes that imagines if Black Americans were to depart from this country filled with injustice. Cooper received a 2019 Obie special citation for his work as playwright and actor in the play. At the Public Forum: Queer & Now, Cooper gave a speech entitled What a Queer Future Looks Like to Me, stating, “A queer future to me looks like all Black lives matter. It looks like trans women of color not being slaughtered by insecure and fragile cis Black men as often as the sun wants to shine another side of the world.” Watch the full speech here. Follow Cooper on Twitter and Instagram.
Ain’t No Mo
Want to take action with Cooper? Donate to @bailoutnycmay on Venmo.
Korde Arrington Tuttle
Korde Arrington Tuttle is a multidisciplinary maker, poet, and theatre artist (playwright, librettist, performer, curator of emotional space), whose primary material is language. Their debut collection of haiku and photography, falling is the one thing i, was published in 2018. They’ve also written for TV shows Soundtrack and Them: Covenant. In February, Goodman Theatre presented the world premiere of Tuttle’s graveyard shift, which was written in response to the 2015 murder of Sandra Bland. The play “…was born out of the impulse to humanize the hashtag,” Tuttle said in an interview with Strange Fire Collective. “[eye] wrote the story to illuminate realities of black life in [a]merica.” Tuttle is also a resident artist at Lincoln Center Theater and Ars Nova. They were the recipient of the 2018 New York Stage and Film’s Founders’ Award as well as the Jody Falco and Jeffrey Steinman Commission for Emerging Playwrights at Playwrights Horizons. Follow Tuttle on Instagram.
Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)
Want to take action with Tuttle? Donate to @qu33rituallysp3aking on Venmo. qu33ritually sp3aking is a nu media project Tuttle is building that centers on healing for queer people of color. It launches at the end of the month.
Michael R. Jackson
Michael R. Jackson is a composer, lyricist, and playwright. He won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Lambda Literary Award for his musical A Strange Loop. The musical was also nominated for a 2020 Lucille Lortel Award and Drama Desk Award, after premiering at Playwrights Horizon (co-produced with Page 73) in July 2019. Featuring a cast that included Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Larry Owens, and Jason Veasey, “the musical explores the thoughts of Usher, a Black, queer writer working a job he hates while writing his original musical: a piece about a Black, queer composer working a job he hates while writing his original musical.” In a 2019 interview with Playbill, Jackson said, “It’s really important for me to create a context for thinking about the human condition that takes into account a black and/or queer person’s personal take on it. There’s something of value in seeing that reflected onstage.” Jackson was the recipient of a 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant from the American Theatre Wing as well as the 2017 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award. Follow Jackson on Twitter and Instagram.
A Strange Loop
White Girl in Danger
The Kids on the Lawn
Want to take action with Jackson? As he continues to create work that centers on queer, black voices, you can support through his Venmo at: @Michael-Living
Patricia Ione Lloyd
Patricia Ione Lloyd made her professional playwright debut with Eve’s Song at The Public Theater in 2018, where she was also the Tow Playwright in Residence. Eve’s Song follows a Black family as they navigate love, family dynamics, politics, and the spirit world with the weight of the outside world seeping in to their home. In a 2018 interview with Playbill, Lloyd says, “I always write stories about women that people don’t think about. I feel like I write about the parts of a woman’s life that people forget.” Watch Lloyd speak more about her own life and experiences with her TedxBroadway talk, “Where Does Your Soul Live?.” Lloyd was a 2017 Playwrights Realm fellow and a 2016 Sundance fellow for Eve’s Song, a 2017 New Georges fellow and a 2017 Dramatist Guild fellow for her musical Household Magic, a 2016 New York Theater Workshop fellow, and a 2015 Emerging Writers Group fellow at The Public Theater. Follow Lloyd on Twitter and Instagram.
This Trains Is Bound for Glory
Dirty Little Black Girls.
The Re-occurring Resurrection of Sweet Leticia Jesus Brown
Want to take action with Lloyd? Donate to The Black Mama’s Bail Out Initiative by the National Bail Out.
Lloyd shared with us, “I want to stress that this org now has even more of an impact due to black moms and caregivers being arrested during protests, and because this org also helps and acknowledges and includes QUEER and TRANS WOMEN.” She also highlighted this quote from an Essence article:
“There are over 230,000 women incarcerated in jails and prisons, which is a 750% increase from 1980. More women are incarcerated in jails than state prisons, which stands in contrast to trends in incarceration amongst men. The 114,000 women—30% of whom are Black—are often held in cages simply because they do not have the funds to bail themselves out. The National Bail Out (NBO) is a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a movement to end pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration all while supporting Black communities. As a tactic, they have bailed out countless numbers of Black mothers from jail over the years for mother’s day through their annual #FreeBlackMamas campaign.
"In light of the novel coronavirus—which is posed to have devastating effects on those incarcerated—NBO is not only bailing Black mothers and caregivers out of jail, the coalition is providing weeks of groceries, assistance with rent, and providing holistic support services to all those that they free from jail to help them weather the outbreak.
"Legacies of structural racism, exploitative capitalism, and hetero-patriarchy all intersect to shape the realities of mass incarceration for Black mothers and caregivers. Nearly 60% of women in jails have not been convicted of a crime and are waiting on trials. Jails are known to be especially dangerous for women, including those that are queer and trans.” You can read the full article here.
Robert O’Hara is an award-winning playwright and director. He received the NAACP Best Director Award for his direction of Eclipsed, a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play for Antebellum, and an Obie for his direction of the world premiere of the critically acclaimed In the Continuum. In a 2017 interview with Playbill O’Hara says, “Being African-American, being gay, being both a writer and a director—I just see things differently. My motto is that I won’t be limited by your imagination nor my own.” As a director, he has helmed shows including Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, Kirsten Childs’ Bella: An American Tall Tale, Nikkole Salter and Danai Gurira’s In the Continuum, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays (Part 2), and Colman Domingo’s Wild With Happy.
Insurrection: Holding History
Zombie: The American
An American Ma(u)l
Want to take action with O’Hara? Donate to The Emergency Release Fund, a mutual aid fund dedicated to getting LGBTQ+ and medically vulnerable individuals out of Rikers Island and ICE detention.
Rodney Hicks is a performer, playwright, and director. As an actor, he was in the original Broadway company of Come From Away, the original and closing Broadway cast of Rent, the 2000 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Scottsboro Boys. Hicks has also written several plays, including Just Press Save, which was a 2018 semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Playwriting Conference and is part of the 2020 Pride Plays. Follow Hicks on Instagram.
Just Press Save
Ms. Pearl’s Cabaret
Staceyann Chin is a poet, playwright, and spoken word artist. As a writer, Chin has published numerous books and chapbooks including The Other Side of Paradise - A Memoir, Crossfire: Litany for Survival, and Wildcat Woman. “An out poet and political activist since 1998,” Chin has appeared in Off-Broadway solo shows and at the Nuyorican Poets Café. In an interview with the Observer, Chin says of her work, “I started to write in America from a place of resistance. I write to make the world better. I write to set things right.” She co-wrote and performed in the original cast in the Tony-winning Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, for which she won a Drama Desk Award. She was also the recipient of the 2007 Power of the Voice Award from The Human Rights Campaign, the 2008 Safe Haven Award from Immigration Equality, the 2008 Honors from the Lesbian AIDS Project, and the 2009 New York State Senate Award. Follow Chin on Twitter and Instagram.
Want to take action with Staceyann Chin? As she continues to center queer, black voices in her work, you can support her Venmo at @Staceyann-Chin or on Zelle and PayPal at [email protected].
Tarell Alvin McCraney
Tarell Alvin McCraney is well-known for winning the 2017 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar as a co-writer of Moonlight along with Barry Jenkins, but his roots are firmly planted in theatre. In fact, Moonlight (which also took home Best Picture) is based on McCraney’s autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. In a 2019 interview with Playbill, McCraney said, “Theatre is medicinal for people to understand themselves, understand the community, and understand and deal with the traumas of their lives.” Audiences saw McCraney’s Choir Boy on Broadway with the 2019 Manhattan Theatre Club production, which was nominated for a 2019 Tony Award. The play, which marked McCraney’s Broadway debut, follows a queer, black student navigating his choir community at an elite prep school. McCraney was a 2013 MacArthur Fellow and has been the chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama since 2017. Follow McCraney on Twitter and Instagram.
Ms. Blakk for President
Head of Passes
The Brothers/Sisters Triology:
The Brothers Size
In the Red and Brown Water
Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet