Dominique Morisseau on Pearl Cleage’s What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
In Conversation for the Windham-Campbell Prizes Podcast
The Windham-Campbell Prizes Podcast features a series of conversations with the 2023 Windham-Campbell Prize winners about their favorite books. Hosted by Michael Kelleher.
Dominique Morisseau joins Windham-Campbell Prizes director Michael Kelleher to talk about the still-resonant power of Pearl Cleage’s What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, representing Black men on the page and onstage, the AIDS epidemic and COVID, and why the writers of Family Guy seem to hate Meg.
For a full episode transcript, click here.
From the episode:
Dominique Morisseau: So a friend of mine says this thing about Pearl’s work that made me sort of revisit it and gravitate toward it, which is: Pearl loves us. And I was like, she loves us! She loves us. You can tell when a writer doesn’t love the people that they write about.
For better, for worse, I always laugh because, uh, I don’t know if you ever watched Family Guy but and my husband would watch Family Guy all the time and go, “Whoever the hell the real life Meg is to these people… They hate her.” Like, they do not like Meg. They’re using this little character to act out, you know, sometimes funny, sometimes deeply disturbing misogyny on this character, like really just deeply disturbing misogyny. I can’t wait to find out the truth of what happened to the character Meg on Family Guy. I wanna know who that is inspired by. But funny or not, but you can tell when someone hates the people they’re writing, they don’t write them with dimension.
And what I love about Pearl Cleage and what I have taken on and what I learned in What Looks Like Crazy… is just how much love she has for us and how it teaches me to love differently. That’s what I say. It’s a love story, but it’s a love story more than a romantic love story. It’s a love story of community, you know?
Dominique Morisseau has established herself as not only one of America’s preeminent dramatists but as a visionary force in the field of theater across the globe. Her body of work, including the hugely ambitious and critically acclaimed three-play cycle The Detroit Project (Skeleton Crew , Paradise Blue , and Detroit ’67 ), is both deeply poetic and sharply philosophical, drawing upon the rich histories of Black American literature, music, and activism to create unflinching—and wildly entertaining—dramatic experiences. In the Detroit Project plays, as well as in standalone works like Confederates (2022), Pipeline (2017), and Blood at the Root (2014), Morisseau dramatizes the entanglement of art and politics with care, sophistication, and a fervent conviction. Morisseau also has made an impact as a leader in her artistic communities. Countless young writers name Morisseau as a key influence, and her perspectives on community-building, inclusion, and transparency have changed the culture of theater-making for the better. Her many accolades include, most recently, a Drama Desk Award (2019), a MacArthur Fellowship (2018), two Obie Awards (2018, 2016), and a Steinberg Playwright Award (2015). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
The Windham-Campbell Prizes Podcast is a program of The Windham-Campbell Prizes, which are administered by Yale University Library’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.