THEATER | Giving voice to African women: Playwright Danai Gurira, Macalester College grad, returns to alma mater

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This week, Macalester College graduate Danai Gurira returns to her alma mater for a residency in conjunction with a staged reading of her play Eclipsed. Gurira, a playwright who won an Obie Award in 2006 for co-writing In the Continuum, has received rave reviews for Eclipsed, which has performed at the Woolly Mammoth in Washington DC, the Kirk Douglass in Los Angeles, and Yale Rep. The play centers on women caught up in the Liberian Civil War. 


To research the script, Gurira traveled to Liberia and spoke to women about their experiences in the war. “I got to talk to people in many different realms,” she says. “Talking to people in nightclubs, meeting people formally in interview settings, doing workshops in acting and playwriting and asking them afterward if they wanted to share anything about what happened to them during the war.”


The staged reading is sponsored by Afrika!, a student group dedicated to raising awareness of Africa-related issues. As part of her visit, Gurira spoke with a number of classes, including “Drama: Staging Violence” in the English department, a playwriting class in the theater department, and “Gender and Development in Africa,” a class in the anthropology department.


“A lot of the discussions in the classes have been about representations of African women,” Gurira says. “Really I’m trying to give voice to African women in the realm of a war zone.” She says she allows the characters, voices and experiences to speak through her. “I offer myself up as a vessel,” she says. Part of her reasoning for writing the play is allowing the experiences of women and girls, those whose voices you never hear, to be validated.


Yevkai Mudzi, a Macalester student who has been working on the staged reading under Gurira’s direction and is also a student in the anthropology classs Gurira visited, said the experience has been “phenomenal.”


Mudzi says Gurira talked about the relevance of showing the work in Minnesota, given Obama’s recent action to extend the protection status for Liberian refugees. Because the extension is only for 18 months, Mudzi says many Liberians are in a state of displacement, not knowing whether they can plant roots here in Minnesota or whether they should prepare to leave next year. She says she hopes that the Twin Cities Liberian community will attend the reading and join in the discussion afterwards.