Playwright Marcus Gardley Talks About New Play

Hailed by critics as the next August Wilson, Gardley has a new play starring Phylicia Rashad and a promising career ahead of him.

Marcus Gardley; Phylicia Rashad in 'Every Tongue Confess'

TR: There seems to be a journalistic impulse that started all this for you. How did you first learn about the church burnings that inspired Every Tongue Confess?

MG: When I was in high school in 1996, I was watching the news one night, and there was a report about a church burning. It sparked my interest in a unique way, more than any news report ever did before. So I recall week after week, running home after school to watch the news because there were 300 churches that had burned. Every day there was another church being burned. And they couldn’t find the person, and I could not believe it. They weren’t really trying.

TR: What’s next for you?

MG: I usually work on three plays at the same time so when I get writer’s block, I can move to another show. I’m working on a trilogy that’s based on the migration of black Seminoles from Florida. I became real interested in this after reading all of Toni Morrison[‘s books] in one summer. I got fascinated by all-black towns. The first incorporated all-black town is in Oklahoma, where my dad’s people are from. These are my ancestors. I started writing a play about them; it just flowed. One play turned into two; two turned into three.

TR: How did you get started writing plays?

MG: I thought I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. I guess [the poet in me] liked the sound of it. Then I thought, Oh no, I don’t want to gas people. I want to make people dream. I want to inspire people, give them hope, talk about difficult things. Ask big questions. When I discovered playwriting, everything began to fall in place. It’s been a very tumultuous journey. I’ve done everything on the fly.

Abdul Ali writes about arts and culture for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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