Name: Jelisa Jay Robinson
Hometown: Houston, TX
Affiliations: University of Texas at Austin (Latin American Studies and Theatre 2014/2015), and Teatro Vivo, and Scriptworks
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: I identify as Black on most days but if you press me you’ll find my connections to the identities Afro-American, Brown, Morena, La Negra que tiene tumbao. Black and Proud (*in James Brown voice*), Afro-Native/Black Indian, Afro-Diasporian, Creole, Africana (cues “ Africana” by Los Rakas), red, yellow and goddess.
Q: Tell me about the Stories of Us.
A: The Stories of Us is the play I wish someone would have written when I was in high school. It is a collection of stories that dig deep into the intercultural conflict between African Americans and Latinos, the diversity of African diaspora identity, and Afrolatinidad. This is a scrapbook of experiences; some are mine and some belong to others. You’ve got snippets of the time the morena went to meet her Latino boyfriend’s parents. You’ve got conversations about who gets to say “the n-word.” The Stories of Us is more than a play that talks about race, culture, and ethnicity. It’s love, music, food, experiences, history, and all that on the stage.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I am rewriting a piece called La Bailada y La Voz that deals with following dreams, family expectations, and of course love. I’m also working on a short piece called Mi, Myself and Ay, Papi that deals with the anxiety of flirting with cute guys, societal norms, and the voices in our heads. For the first time, I’m scripting a play with another playwright that deals with Black issues and actions from Africa up until present day. I’m really just trying to tell stories.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: One of the most beautiful moments was when a friend of a friend introduced me as a “playwright” to his friend.
The moment when I was in an uber car and the driver asked me “Are you a writer?”
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: My Mom. The first person who taught me how to tell my stories.
Professor Stephen Gerald, The person who knew I’d end up a writer before I knew it myself
My guiding lights: Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, Isaac Gomez, Jaqueline Lawton, Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, Holli Gipson
The Stars: Amiri Baraka, Katori Hall, Shonda Rhimes, Tyler Perry, Los Rakas, Issa Rae
Electric spirits: Ease Way Says, Ja’Michael DarnelI, ’Brian Oselgby, Krysta Gonzales
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Pray. Eat. Love. Feel. Go talk to random people. Just live life.
Don’t do it for the recognition. That will come and pass. Do it to tell the stories. Whatever you are saying is a beautiful piece of what the world needs to hear. Think about it. You are the only you and you are uniquely made.
Be specific about what you want. I have a long way to go in my journey as a playwright, but I’ve gotten to this point by being specific about what I want and speaking it into existence. I’ll never forget going to a conference with Isaac Gomez (playwright) and hearing him introduce himself as “Theatre Scholar and Practitioner.” After he graduated guess what he is doing? He’s being a scholar and playwright! Stop calling yourself aspiring this or that. You either IS or you AIN’T.
Find the “plug.”
Also, learn to be confident in your work, but be open to feedback.
Appreciate your day job (if you have one). It will be where you get a ton of inspiration.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I blog at Black Girl, Latin World and work with The LatiNegrxs Project. I am very passionate about bridging the gap between folks of the diaspora. Particularly Afrolatinos, Latinos, and African Americans. I enjoy traveling and gain inspiration from music. One of my dreams is to play the love interests of Laz Alonso, Bluey Robinson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. I am happiest when I am helping others find their voice.
***For more on Jelisa Jay Robinson, see:
- “Why We Need Afro-Latin@ Theatre” – Jelisa Jay Robinson (Café Onda/HowlRound)
- The Afro-Latin@ Theatre Series – Jelisa Jay Robinson (Café Onda/HowlRound)
- “Quirky, Brown Chick: Jelisa Jay Robinson” – Quirky, Brown Love
- “Why All My Leading Ladies Are Black” – Jelisa Jay Robinson (Quirky, Brown Love)
- “Theatre Student Profile: Interview with Jelisa Jay Robinson” – Jacqueline E. Lawton
- Jelisa Jay Robinson’s Personal Website
- Black Girl, Latin World
- Follow Jelisa Jay Robinson on Twitter