Catching up with 'Genius' grant winner Dominique Morisseau
Dominique Morisseau, the Detroit-born playwright whose plays chronicle the lives of ordinary African-Americans, won a MacArthur "genius" grant Friday, and a no-strings grant of $625,000. Morisseau, 40, is the author of, among others, "Detroit '67," "Paradise Blue," "Skeleton Crew" and "Pipeline," which is currently playing at the Detroit Public Theatre.
The Detroit News caught up with Morisseau to discuss her views on Detroit, what sparked her playwriting career, and why she refused to return calls from the MacArthur Foundation trying to tell her the good news:
So when the MacArthur Foundation got in touch, you wouldn't return their calls?
Morisseau: You know, they’re quite cryptic. They call and text, and it didn't feel at first like someone whose call I wanted to return. I didn’t know who they were. “Dominique," they'd say, "please give me a call as soon as you can," and it’d be name of a MacArthur Foundation member. And I was like -- I didn’t know this person.
But clearly foundation officials finally reached you.
I think they realized I don’t respond to that kind of thing, so they tried other tactics
They had to text and email me, saying I really needed to call them back. So I thought, OK, this might be something.
Did you know you'd been nominated?
No, I had no idea. It's all anonymous.
Do they tell you the same day they make the public announcement?
We find out a couple weeks earlier, but we’re not allowed to tell anyone.
Are you still living in New York?
No, I live in Los Angeles now. But I lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, for 15 years. I moved out here to work on (Showtime's) "Shameless" three years ago. I miss New York in a large way, but it’s a new season in my life, and LA’s the right place.
You're mostly associated with theater. Do you like writing for TV?
I do. TV’s a completely different medium, and there’s a different way of telling stories. But I’m a storyteller, and I like all avenues for telling them.
You set many of your plays in your hometown, Detroit. What do you tell your friends on the coast about the city?
I tell them Detroit is in the middle of a big moment, because it's heavily gentrifying. This is one of those times when it could be classic urban renewal, with the erasure of people already there, or it could create a new model for a true renaissance, and not just the displacement of communities.
When did you get the writing bug?
I've been writing since I was a kid -- since second or third grade. My mother used to read me poetry before I went to bed, and also read me a lot of (cartoonist) Shel Silverstein. I liked him. I also used to read a lot of mysteries.
In third grade, I was writing little novellas, the "Cabbage Patch Mysteries," and passing them around to my classmates. They were actually reading them, and wanted me to give them the next installment when it came out. I called me "a little story-pusher."
Did any particular teacher inspire you?
Ms. Willie Bell Gibson at Bates Academy. And I’m not alone in this. She’s one of those teachers no student will ever forget. She exposed me to Maya Angelou. Not only did I become a strong fan, but reading her really confirmed and emboldened the poet in me.