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Playwrights' Perspectives

Playwright's Perspective: Danai Gurira

I think of myself as a kind of “cultural schizophrenic,” caught between two very different cultures. I was born in the Midwestern United States and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. Sometimes these two radically different cultural identities merge in me, sometimes they seem to run along parallel tracks that won’t intersect — sometimes they fight each other, sometimes they try to peacefully coexist.

Can you fully assimilate without your true home, whatever and wherever it may be, calling out inside you, ignored and yet insistent?

Familiar, a celebration at its core, invites us all to peer inside an African home in America. It also seeks to evoke a healing of the pains and wounds that plague most families. In the process it asks a question perhaps haunting to many in America — how do you create a home in a world that’s new and unfamiliar? Can you fully assimilate without your true home, whatever and wherever it may be, calling out inside you, ignored and yet insistent?

I hope the Chinyaramwira family you meet on this stage is startlingly familiar — surprising in just how “devastatingly normal” they are. I also hope, as with every piece I write, that something is learnt, exchanged, and realized around the experience of these peoples — the specificities, and peculiarities, in this case, of the African in a Midwestern suburb.

I always vowed I would never write a play inspired by my own family, by things deeply close and familiar to me. I would create narratives focused on more “vital” issues. But while at the wedding where this play came to mind, I suddenly saw the clash of cultures raging in and around me, and felt at once just how infuriating, crazy-making, and contradictory it all is — and just how beautiful. I remember feeling that exact way when I read my first Chekhov play. I imagined Anton Pavlovich staring at a family close to his own and shaking his head with joy and tears and saying, “My people, my people.”

And though this is a play inspired by my people and not a direct depiction of them, it is definitely my “My people, my people” play. I broke my vow. So now all I can do is hope that by the end, in some way large or small, they will feel a lot like your people too.

Danai Gurira
November 2015