If you have a deep love for the theatre—and especially Black Theatre—you most likely have heard of the award-winning, Detroit-born playwright Dominique Morisseau. If you haven’t, you will. The Edward M. Kennedy Prize winner (she won a year ago for her play “Detroit ’67”), is one of the most talked-about playwrights in the nation. She once told the entertainment personality LA Williams, that as a kid, she was a dancing fanatic. Now she makes words dance on paper, on stage and—most recently—on film.
Kreyolicious: As someone of Haitian descent born in Michigan, do you feel that you’re less connected to the culture of your parents and grandparents, since you’re not from a place like New York, Boston, or Spring Valley? A sociologist would probably say that children and grandchildren of immigrants from those places are more connected to the culture of their parents and grandparents.
Although there is definitely a Haitian Network of Detroit that is vibrant and alive, Haitians are for certain a very small population in Detroit. And I pretty much grew up as a Detroit girl, hearing no Kreyòl spoken but often hearing my father speak French among my uncle and aunts and grandmother. He taught me some French early in childhood but as it wasn’t my mother’s native tongue, nor did she speak it, rarely did I ever speak it as well. So yes, I felt (and sometimes still do) more disconnected to the culture. However, it is strongly in my heart and spirit to represent the Haitian ancestry that I have, regardless OF it not being in my cultural upbringing. It is in my blood and that keeps me feeling mightily connected.
Kreyolicious: I think that a lot of times when people think of creativity, they think LA, they think New York, they might even think Miami, or Portland, but rarely Detroit.
Actually, if they aren’t thinking of Detroit with creativity, they should. Detroit has always been a hotbed of the arts in music, visual art and theatre. While it doesn’t have a thriving performing arts economy, there is an abundance of creative artists living in the city and many of them were people that I grew up around and studied underneath. We aren’t just Motown. We are jazz, hip-hop, blues, electronic music. We are dance, painting, poetry. And we are theatre. It’s all very alive in Detroit and it just needs funding to become a full signature of the city.
Kreyolicious: You graduated from the University of Michigan. Looking back now, would you still have gone to college after high school, or would you have tried to go directly in the theater, as a stagehand or another entry level position to get in the industry?
Though I experienced a great battle with systemic and institutional racism while I was at Michigan, I would not trade my time [in college] for anything. I learned to be quite self-sufficient and resourceful at U of M. I found a community of students of color who were my backbone and who helped to support my art. I became a playwright as well as an actress at Michigan. And most importantly, I found my initial roots of activism there. It is not necessarily required for artists to go to college (or anyone really) in order to learn a trade like acting. But there are things I learned in college that would’ve taken me ten times longer to learn had I not gotten my degree in Theatre.
Kreyolicious: Have you visited Haiti?
I just visited Haiti last year—2014—for the first time since I was a baby. It was strange to feel so connected and yet so culture-shocked by my own people. The poverty in Haiti was deeply traumatizing for me. But the land was a gift and a dream to witness. My biggest discovery was that the people are not so easily fooled by “outsiders” nor are they trusting of Americans. There is a brutal relationship between Haiti and the developed world that has turned its back on Haitian people and I can feel it like electricity when I’m there. I was moved beyond words from my experiences. I ate very well, and felt a deep spiritual connection to the people that I was able to talk to and break bread with. I plan to write about Haiti as I dig deeper into my culture, even learning Kreyòl from a Haitian language instructor and friend. My impressions are still being discovered. It was just frankly overwhelming—and beautiful.
This concludes Part 1 of the interview with Dominique Morriseau. Be sure to check out for Part 2.
[Photo Credit: Joseph Moran (of playwright in red shirt). Monique Carboni (with green earrings) ].
CLICK HERE TO VISIT DOMINIQUE MORISSEAU’S WEBSITE.