2006 Port Townsend Writers’ Conference attendee Dominique Morisseau can speak to the importance of sharing truth through literature. Her choreopoem The Blackness Blues was produced at the University of Michigan in 1999—a time when attempts at ending affirmative action were being met with widespread student protests. Morisseau’s work filled a campus hunger for African-American theater and received wide critical and popular response, winning an NAACP Image Award.
Morisseau is an actor, director, and writer who writes about standards of identity, and where African-American women fit in a world of Eurocentric ideas about beauty. Currently based in Brooklyn, much of her work continues to be set in the Midwest. Her play Retrospect for Life, set in Detroit, features five women of starkly disparate backgrounds stuck inside an abortion clinic as protests rage outside. The women must learn to work together, and help each other survive. “No matter what socio-economic status people have, being in an abortion clinic levels the playing field,” Morisseau says. (The play is also noted for its modern take on ancient Greek choral technique. The clinic receptionist provides spoken-word commentary on the dramatic action as it unfolds.) Another play, Black at Michigan, recreates the events of campus protests at the University of Michigan through Chara, a student struggling to remain enrolled without financial aid.
Morisseau performs her spoken-word poetry all over the country. Her dramatic work has been seen at the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, the National Black Theater Festival, and the Cherry Lane Theater in New York City, among others. She remains proud of her award-winning collegiate plays, but adds: “I had that young writer’s arrogance—the belief that because my work came out of me that that’s what it needed to be. I didn’t revise. I’ve grown to understand that what comes out of you might be a nice place to begin, but it certainly ain’t the finish line.”