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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Dec 14, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1019: Malcolm Tariq

Malcolm Tariq

Hometown: Savannah, Georgia

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Right now, I’m doing edits for a book of poems, Heed the Hollow (Graywolf Press, 2019), that will be published in November. The collection won the 2018 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, which is an absolute dream. We just chose the cover and the process is slowly making everything more and more real. I’m so thankful to have a supportive publishing team and, of course, Cave Canem.

When I’m done with edits in a month or two, I’ll go back to working on plays. Currently thinking about magical realism (whatever that means), AIDS, slavery, and the South(s). Always the South(s). I have a few ideas, but nothing concrete. Meanwhile, I wait.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  When I was very young, my mother worked at a hair salon on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in Savannah. There was an empty lot next door. One day when I was visiting the salon, I made some sort of house out of scraps, litter, and other things I found in the lot. At the time I thought it was a huge house, but that was most likely not the case. I expected the house to be there the next time I drove past. It was not. Perhaps all of my writing is a response to this intersecting expectation and destruction.

Another time, I turned my room into an art gallery with images I drew on the backs of pieces of cardboard. This is something I still do, though with better art and more visitors.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I wish more people bought and read contemporary plays. This is probably isn’t exclusively a theater issue, but a reading and a commercial issue in the United States. Long before I saw plays performed I read them. Teachers and school districts should diversify the plays they assign in schools. This is how we get more people interested in wanting to go and engage with theater. This is how we bring theatre to places where there is no theater to go to. This is how we support playwrights.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My first theatre heroes are my family. My grandmother had eight children, and all of them have children. I grew up with lots of cousins in the same neighborhood that my mother did. Living in a black working-class community was where I first learned how to tell compelling stories. Voice. Humor. Signifying. High drama. Then I found Suzan Lori Parks. Reading Topdog/Underdog made me realize that there was possibility in theatre, there was no necessary form that I had to follow.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love a good story that plays with history and form in unsuspecting ways but still delivers dramatic characterization. I love that spellbinding moment that’s supposed to get people fixed into a zone or make them cry. I’m the weird person in the back row looking at all faces in the audience, smiling.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Find whatever journey your writing is taking you on and ground yourself there. But always be prepared to venture down the unexpected. I went into college expecting to study creative writing. I studied literature instead, and spent four years barely writing. Afterwards, I had more personal direction and purpose. The writing was much more intentional.

I usually find that a healthy balance of living and writing works for me.

1. Live:

Read. Study. Listen. Read the newspaper. Study your family history. Listen to music from your childhood. Read something from a genre you aren’t familiar with. Study something you think you are familiar with. Listen for what isn’t being said when something’s being said. Read something suggested by a friend. Study a foreign concept (go to a random library shelf and draw a random book). Listen to the way you respond to those around you. Read a biography of someone you don’t like. Study craft (read interviews and essays of your favorite writers). Listen to conversations around you (write these down).

2. Write:

First some imitation, then creation. Know the rules (if you must) and break them (if you want). Know why you are doing this. Read books you are in conversation with. Study the world around that conversation. Listen to what your writing/philosophy is saying to you and the world (these may be different).

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Remember to check back in on the book late summer 2019 for preorders. I have poems from the project coming out in the forthcoming issues of The Iowa Review, Connotation Press, Washington Square Review, and American Poetry Review.

My play, Social Work, will be part of the Brave New Works 2019: Ditmas Park reading series by Brave New Worlds Repertory Theatre on March 23, 2019. This is my first public reading in New York City so I’m very excited.

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