It is very easy to understand how Dominique Morisseau makes impacts on our collective communities as well as theatre.  She is a voice of social, political and personal change. She represents Detroit, the Midwest, the auto industry worker, the schoolteacher, the woman, the black woman, the street poet, the Haitian immigrant, the inaccurately represented, the policed, the subjugated and underestimated, the intelligentsia, the PEOPLE. Dominique Morisseau is that child grandparents and close relatives held up at parties and said, “This child here is going to continue our fight. She’s going to bring nuance to our persons. She’s going to demand complexity and she will never never be afraid to show our love for each other or the rage we sometimes feel toward the inequities of this world. She gets it. This child. She’s a fighter.” I’d argue that Dominique was born to impact. I would certainly argue that.

I’m not sure when and where I originally met Dominique, but I certainly knew she existed. The word on the theatre street was unanimous. There was this activist-poet-actress-playwright down at the Public Theater Emerging Writer’s Program who was worthy of a hand-bump and definitely a Facebook friend request. The word on the street was she was the truth. Now I’m always wary when people brand someone as the “truth”. It’s usually a moniker given to artists who do good work, but normally are much more tapped into “what can be produced”.  So after meeting Dominique that initial time and feeling I had reconnected to one of those fiercely intelligent, wise and warm sistas I grew up around in the Midwest, I knew she was indeed the “truth.” After seeing the reading of Detroit ’67 at the Public several years ago (my first encounter with her playwriting) and experiencing the heart, authenticity and fire of her words as well as the audience’s overwhelming excitement of them, I knew she was most definitely, no holds barred, the absolute “truth.”

My affinity for Dominique grew after that. She became sister, friend, fellow scribe and collaborator. It was no surprise that whenever there was some attack against the humanity of a black or brown person (and there are lots of them) I somehow found myself wanting to touch base with Dominique. She is always on the pulse, she is always thinking and meditating about the black experience, the human experience. She is always ready to fight injustice. She is always ready to shut down mis-truths. She is always… ready. Hell, if I said to Dominique let’s start a cultural revolution in order to kick-start a new world, she’d be ready (wait, we’ve had that discussion). After the Zimmerman verdict in 2013 Dominique was the first playwright I called. I told her I wanted to commission several diverse playwrights to write theatrical reactions… before I could finish my pitch she had already said Yes and that she was thinking the same thing.  Those plays became Facing Our Truth. When I told Dominique that several black women playwrights were asking me about curating works by and about them, she said, “I know they are! Let’s do it!” Those plays became UnTamed: Hair Body Attitude – Short Plays by Black Women. That’s just Dominique.

And let me not forget about the impact of her plays.  Sunset BabyDetroit ’67, Blood at the Root, Skeleton Crew, Pipeline, Night Vision… each of which drops us in the middle of worlds that matter deeply to Dominique (and should matter to us). Worlds that explore political loyalty and legacy, the aftermath of revolution on family, gender equity and queer identity in the black community, labor rights, institutional policing of black and brown bodies in our streets and schools, and love, her plays always shine a light on that delicious thing called love.

I don’t know how Dominique does it all. Writing the books for musicals, the overwhelming demands of writing for television, writing new plays, curating theatre events, participating in writer’s groups, writing articles that bring attention to the underbelly of the white gaze in audiences, traveling to cities to support the efforts of emerging artists in productions of her plays, attending the opening of her plays. I don’t know how, but she does it all. But you know what I believe? Dominique’s art and her person are interchangeable. There is no separation between the two. Dominique lives and breathes her art. She is driven by justice and equity. She is fueled by the history and the future of her people.  I imagine she begins her day that way and ends it that way.

When I think of Dominique, her work and her leadership I think of Pearl Cleage, Assata Shakur, the Temptations, Lorraine Hansberry and Fannie Lou Hammer. I think about those great artists, thinkers and revolutionaries who devoted their entire lives to the cultural, political and personal empowerment of black people and how Dom (as many of us call her) has willingly climbed on their shoulders. Dominique is not a game-player, she’s a game-changer. And I am incredibly thankful for her and inspired by her. When Dominique walks into a room, don’t be mistaken, she is there to demand truth and to change the game.

This article is part of our 2017 Samuel French Awards Series, honoring Ken Ludwig, Dominique Morisseau and Chris Miller & Nathan Tysen. To learn more about the Awards, click here.

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