Donja R. Love
Can you talk a little about radical softness and the importance of recognizing and acknowledging softness in the black body in relation to your play soft?
This world is hard. Period. And it often tries to harden you. It did with me for a long time. Unfortunately, there were moments when I thought my only escape was suicide. I thought the only way to stop myself from being crushed by the hardness of the world was to take myself out of it. There was a long and vicious cycle of this way of thinking. I got to a point of feeling so tired, as a result of that cycle, I was so weak - and the only way I could handle that version of myself was by being gentle, kind, and soft to myself.
I soaked myself in softness, and started to be made anew. The softer I got, the stronger I became. And I started to see softness in the world. It seemed like it was presenting itself everywhere. Then, my friend, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, was telling me about Radical Softness - a term coined by Lora Mathis, which they describe as “the idea that unapologetically sharing your emotions is a political move and a way to combat the societal idea that feelings are a sign of weakness.” She pointed out how 'radical softness is not passive, white, or necessarily feminine, but it is often a privilege associated or allocated towards white women.'
The more I thought of all this the more I thought about my play, soft, on a deeper level. The piece is all Black and Brown men and it envisions these people and their bodies as flowers - something so soft and so beautiful. That isn't often associated with Blackness and Brownness, but that softness exists in our skin and radiates out into this world.
What was the writing process like for this play? Did it come to you in the night or did you have to wrestle to get it down on paper?
Honestly, I don't want to give an important plot-point away - so I'll just say, this play came from one of the most life-changing moments that happened to me 10 years ago. What happened completely shook me to the core and shifted my entire being. I went through a truly dark time in my life because of it, and had to navigate the trauma I was experiencing. And what was so interesting was, during this time I was working in education and dealing with students not too far removed from the ones in this play - and they were dealing with their own trauma. So, I had to negotiate between my trauma and theirs, and decide in what given moment whose trauma needed to be tended to - and how softly. So this play was an on-going process and an amalgamation of all those things.
What are your goals for the week as you enter the rehearsal and development process for The New Black Fest at The Lark?
My goals are pretty simple actually. There's just two. The biggest one is if I'm honoring the characters - their stories, their Blackness. This piece is about a specific group of Black people that you seldom see on stage, and I want to make sure their story is being told through a truthfully loving Black lens. That's what's most important to me - always. The other, more specific, thing is the message of the play. I'm curious of what soft is saying as it relates to trauma, for Black folx, and how one escapes or navigates it.
I know I'll be able to laser in on both these goals because I have a wonderful cast and Whitney White, an amazing director, to help me during this process to cultivate the most earnest story.
"Black Space, Black Love and Solidarity." What does it mean to you to truly live in and write from that space?
I realized that whenever I write all I think about are Black people. The ones on stage and the ones in the audience. We are what's most important in my storytelling - who's saying the words and who's receiving them. I've realized over and over again that our stories are so rich and vast; and I'm always excited and honored to write about us and for us. And anyone else seeing these Black ass stories - mine or other Black playwrights - should consider themselves lucky for getting a chance to witness such an authentic look into Blackness.