Supplemental Materials for Say Word! > Blurring Shine
Zakiyyah Alexander is a writer and actor. She is the author of: 10 Things to do before I die (Second Stage Uptown), SICK? (Summer Play Festival), THE ETYMOLOGY OF BIRD (Hip Hop Theater Festival, Providence Black Repertory Theatre), BLURRING SHINE (Market Theater, Johannesburg), SWEET MALADIES (Rucker Theatre), something new, YOU ARE HERE, and THE FOCUS. She is currently working on a musical with Imani Uzuri (featuring the poetry of Sonia Sanchez), and the play black Picasso. Her work has been seen and/or developed at: WET, A Contemporary Theater (ACT), Classical Theater of Harlem, The New Blackfest, Bristol Riverside Theater, Philadelphia Theater Company, The Humana Festival, Penumbra Theater, The Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Rattlestick Theater, Hartford Stage, 24/7 Theater Company, the Hip Hop Theater Festival, Vineyard Theater, the Women's Project, Gale GAtes et. al, La Mama Theatre, Greenwich Street Theater, etc. Awards include: Helen Merrill Emerging Playwriting Award, ACT New Play Award/Lorainne Hanseberry Prize, Stellar Network Award, Theodore Ward Prize, Jackson Phelan Award, Drama League New Directors/New Works, New Professional Theatre Playwriting Award, Young Playwrights Inc.,etc. Her work is included in the current edition of New Monologues for Women by Women, featured in the book of essays, Girls who like Boys who like Boys, and Game on: The Humana Festival '08 Anthology. A resident member of New Dramatists; past residencies and fellowships include: EST's Youngblood, the Women's Project Writer's Lab, the Women's Work Project, and the Drama League. She has received commissions from: Second Stage, The Philadelphia Theater Company and the Children’s Theater of Minneapolis. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama (MFA in playwriting); she is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bard College where she teaches undergraduate playwriting. Zakiyyah is a native New Yorker and was raised in Queens and Brooklyn.
I am not exactly sure what it means to be a Hip Hop writer, which is probably proof that I’m not one. For me the term "Hip Hop" can be problematic when it's casually thrown around. At times it feels like a gimmick with hidden meanings—a way to suggest that only a certain audience (or theaters) will understand the material. Sometimes it simply feels like a way to sell tickets to a younger audience who do not see themselves reflected often enough in mainstream culture. At the same time, it seems to polarize class and race and keeps certain artists tucked away in a niche that they did not create. I am not a fan of this super-title simply because it does not relate to me as an artist. Yes, I am black, and it's true that I'm a woman, but most importantly I'm a writer. As a playwright I am interested in language, human stories, and the questions that divide us. However, I did grow up in New York in a time when Hip Hop was just reaching its height. I remember budding B-boys breaking on cardboard during recess, skinny almost men beginning to wear their jeans with a pronounced sag, and dividing up the parts for the classic old school rap, "Self-Destruction" (M.C. Lyte had the best rhymes, in my opinion). I grew up in the 'hood surrounded by urban language, which could sometimes sound like poetry. We never had to classify who we were and had no desire for a definition. But, this was years ago, and Hip Hop as a construct had not yet been sold. Blurring Shine actually sprang from my questioning of the marketing of Hip Hop as a culture. A few years ago it occurred to me that essentially "Hip Hop" has become a branding tool, something that has been sold to youth as a truth—but what is it, really? Who's been selling it? Who's buying it? And, most importantly, who is making a profit off of it? These are questions that I could not possibly answer alone. I hope that the characters in this play inspire dialogue as we all struggle to define who we are.