Ultimately, says Morisseau, both matter. She paraphrased one of her favorite expressions from the acclaimed author Junot Díaz, saying, “I’m probably not … going to get it perfect, but he basically says, ‘Monsters have no reflections in mirrors, so if you want to make a human feel like a monster, then you deny them at every cultural level representations of themselves.’ ” That’s why she wants to make sure the untold stories of people of color are represented on the stage.
In her awards acceptance speech, Morisseau explained that she was moved to write about Detroit, as part of a three-play cycle, after hearing of classmates who referred to it as “degenerate.” She later explained that her play is much more than a love letter to the city, but that “Detroit is kind of a microcosm for America right now. Everybody’s looking at Detroit, and 1967 was a defining year for that city history. So if you look at ’67 Detroit you’re kind of looking at America and how we became this irreversibly divided city and what needs to happen and what places need to be healed socially and systemically to turn our country around.”
And of the play’s cultural impact and contribution, Ted Kennedy Jr.—son of the late U.S. senator after whom Morisseau’s award is named—said, “My father believed we all need to be more aware of the historical experience. I believe a lot of Americans have no idea what happened in Detroit in 1967.”
This, of course, reinforces the importance of having diverse voices writing stories for the theater. And while Morisseau is encouraged by the success of so many emerging playwrights of color—expressing measured optimism that “the tide is turning”—she also made sure to add that “it is our job to not get complacent and to insure the tide turns even more.”
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.