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A CLOSER LOOK: Meet Zora Howard

Playwrights’ Corner

Zora Howard
This season, we are beyond grateful and way past excited to be working with the visionary playwright Zora Howard, as one of our 2020-21 Van Lier New Voices Fellows! Zora is a Harlem-bred writer and performer, whose plays include STEW (2020 Drama League nominee for Outstanding Play, Page 73 Productions), AtGN, and BUST. In 2020, her feature film Premature (available on Hulu), which she co-wrote and starred in, opened in theaters following its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. To give you a closer look into her process, we checked in for a brief interview. Read on to find out what Zora hopes to work on next, why she often writes with specific actors in mind, and more. Happy reading!


How did you get started in playwriting? What excited you about the form and drew you to it?

As early as I have memory, I’ve been writing. Mostly poems, little songs. Somewhere along the line, the things I’d write became the things I’d perform. Further along, others joined me in the process. My cousins and I would put on these shows in the kitchen for all the adults. That was the genesis. Poems became monologues. Monologues became plays.

In addition to being an incredible writer, you're also an amazing actor! Do you feel like each of these modes of storytelling influence the other? How have you seen that show up in your process? And, bonus question, what's it like to perform in your own work?

Thank you for the kind words. Actors are certainly at the center of my process. I look most forward to the part in a project’s development when I can invite actors in and watch them play. I often write with specific actors in mind and then will do everything in my power to find that actor and get them into a room (I’m not above stalking!). Because I’m also a performer, it brings me great joy when fellow actors speak to the challenge of a certain role in one of my plays. Especially Black women. I like writing juicy, complicated, full characters that demand a certain level of work. These women aren’t easy. Those are the roles I most look forward to as an actor, so that’s what I want to contribute to the canon.

I don’t often write for myself. Premature was an exception. I definitely had a leg up playing Ayanna because I knew the character so intimately; I’d already spent years with her on the page before we began production. It’s certainly a special experience, being in the work and considering yourself in the work at once. In most cases, however, when it comes to the things I write, I’m most comfortable in the back row taking notes.

Anything you're working on now that you want to share a little about? Whether it's an actual play, or maybe just something you're starting to get interested in that you may end up writing about?

There is one play in particular, yes. The question of which is: what if the rage we, Black people living in this country, are constantly experiencing, repressing, reconciling could somehow be used to escape the systems of oppression that target and afflict us? And if we could escape, where would we escape to? What is on the other side of the rage? Perhaps that is the source of the terror and titillation I’ve felt so long in considering this play: the prospect of confronting my own rage, really spending time with it, and, then, before even knowing what might exist there, walking through it to that other side.

You mentioned being excited about exploring some new possibilities in your writing through this Fellowship. Can you elaborate a little? What is your vision for the future of playwriting, either your own or "at large"?

Oof. The future of playwriting? I don’t know. I can barely see forward to the weekend these days. My plays have been keeping me afloat, though – spending time with my characters, escaping to worlds of which I am the author. So, I’m mostly excited for the gift of time to give all these ideas that have been knocking around in my head a way out. There’s an opera up there, and an animated film, and a hybrid play/visual art installation that I believe deserves a national tour. I just want to make the stories I see come to life. That’s as large as it gets for me.

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