Erika Dickerson-Despenza is a Blk feminist poet-turned-playwright, educator, and grassroots organizer from Chicago, Illinois. She’s a 2018-2019 Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow, The Lark’s 2018 Van Lier New Voices Fellow, and a 2018 Relentless Award Semifinalist. She is a member of Ars Nova Play Group and Ensemble Studio Theatre's Obie-winning Youngblood collective. Erika is also a New Georges affiliated artist. Her work has been developed at The Lark, New York Stage and Film, and Jackalope Theatre, and is currently being developed at The Public Theater. Select stage plays include: a water tetralogy examining water as a reflection of Blk women’s bodies as sites of consciousness development and exile during key events in Black History: ocean’s lip/ heaven’s shore (the Middle Passage), took/tied hung/split (Jim Crow), shadow/land (Hurricane Katrina), and cullud wattah (Flint Water Crisis). In addition to this fourfold work, she is currently developing a 10-play Katrina Cycle, including [hieroglyph],focused on the effects of Hurricane Katrina and its state-sanctioned, man-made disaster.
As a former classroom teacher, Erika is intentional about disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. She has implemented culturally savvy pedagogical practices in metropolitan area schools and community centers across the nation and in Cape Town, South Africa. She has also designed theater-based creative action curricula for various arts organizations, including People’s Theatre Project.
She is the founder of The For Colored Girls Project, UW-Madison’s first theater ensemble exclusively for women of color, and The Love Well Series, a Dallas-based citywide monthly teach-in for Christian leaders, designed to foster education about social injustice in an American context. Erika is an associate organizer with the #LetUsBreatheCollective, a Chicago-based alliance of artists and activists. In 2016, she co-organized and launched Freedom Square—a 41-day occupation of a Chicago police torture site that became a nationally recognized community laboratory for police abolition and divestment. She is also an artistic associate of Black Lives, Black Words International Project.
Erika’s life mission is to practice sci-fi living. Her work resists Blk feminine erasure and examines the intersections of race, gender, sex(uality), imperialism and spirituality, offering a kaleidoscope of Blk womanhood. As an interdisciplinary theater-maker and cultural worker, she hopes to use world travel as a gateway for transnational coalition building, and playwriting as a mirror and place of possibility for Blk women’s liberation.
Facebook: Erika Dickerson-Despenza | IG: @erikajanea
last edited 1/17/2019