Name: Quiara Alegría Hudes
Current Town: NYC
Affiliations: Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater at Wesleyan University, Playwright-in-Residence at Signature Theatre.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Feminist muckraker. Boricua.
Q: Tell me about Miss You Like Hell.
A: Miss You Like Hell is a new original musical, written with composer and co-lyricist Erin McKeown, that opens at La Jolla Playhouse in fall 2016. It is about an estranged mother and teenaged daughter. The daughter is a citizen, the mother is not (Her undocumented status is how the mom lost custody when she separated from the father.). Mom and daughter reunite for the seven days leading up to the final immigration hearing. We’ve had the honor of working with Daphne Rubin-Vega as we’ve developed the piece. What I’m particularly excited about is one of the smaller plot threads: how a mother and daughter can have distinct, in some ways opposing, cultural identities. As Erin McKeown and I wrote the piece we kept feeling like—maybe it will be irrelevant by the time we’re done. Unfortunately, that has proven far from the case. Families are being separated left and right, kids left without parents, people without spouses and partners, because of our country’s immigration laws.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I am writing a memoir in which I chronicle the intersection of the War on Drugs and the Iraq War as two important influences on the Puerto Rican community in Philadelphia from 1990 to today. No title as of yet.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: I have been quite blessed in this lifetime with honors and productions. You stand on a pedestal and see those who are nowhere close to it, though, those who you love who remain huddled in the shadows. From our common background of the Perez women, astonishingly brave matriarchs, my cousins and I have walked many paths and had divergent outcomes. There’s me, the writer who “made good.” There’s Elliot, who enlisted and served our nation and inspired a coming-of-age trilogy. There’s another cousin, who I won’t name, who nearly drowned under the weight of addiction and spent the following decades of her life cleaning up her act and putting together the pieces—extremely hard work for very little glory—a journey I continue to admire. There’s another cousin, again unnamed, who I visited yesterday in prison who is looking towards turning 30, being released, and the complicated hope of getting his life back, of picking up the pieces and avoiding the “streets” as he calls it. He wrote two novels in longhand behind bars. These are cousins I grew up with who I love. In some ways, I feel that they are me. My cousin, my witness.
The matriarchs were brave because they left one kind of poverty (agricultural poverty in Puerto Rico) for another kind of poverty (urban poverty in Philadelphia). It was a very bold gamble on their part. The matriarchs continued their bravery in Philly as tireless, often unpaid community advocates at a time when police “sweeps” were rampant and infant mortality was through the roof. The Perez matriarchs worked very hard to better the community.
I grew up at combustible, pivotal moment in American history. The War on Drugs was ravaging our neighborhood—it was really a war on those already destroyed by drugs. Then AIDS hit us unexpectedly, we fell from that too. The early legislation leading to mass incarceration was being strategized and passed. How can one community come back from these things? Plus, there was the cultural war where artists who were putting their finger on these various injustices, where they were being silenced by an NEA who was forced, by Congress, to stop funding individual artists. So rebel voices were being silenced, along with entire communities, as mega corporations were growing. Even rebellion became a mass commodity, and there was less room for rebel voices to speak truth to power.
The times and people of my life have defined my journey.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I’ve been thinking about the Leslie Marmon Silko novel Ceremony. My senior year at Yale, professor Jace Weaver assigned it in his Native American Fiction course. Silko begins her novel:
I will tell you something about stories
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
I believe that is closest I’ve come to encountering a directive, which I took literally, and continue to pursue. Three years prior, in my freshman English class, I was assigned for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf… Shange ends her choreopoem with a passage that annihilated my spirit, a spiritual shattering, and made me pay close attention as I reassembled myself. She says, “i was missing somethin / somethin promised / somethin free / a layin’ on of hands” and then continues to these final words:
i found god in myself
& i loved her / i loved her fiercely
These two pieces of literature were a north and south pole for me. I started with an ending my freshman year, I ended with a beginning my senior year. To me, storytelling is a cleansing ceremony (cleansing by truth-speaking), where one must find the divinity within and honor the human spirit’s vast complications.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Know why you want to do this. When you get stuck, when you’re confused, remind yourself why you want to do this. Also SAVOR the writing time. I know it can be painful at times, but mostly writing is a profoundly blessed way to spend one’s days, and one’s life! Be less involved in the outcome, try to ignore the career and industry stuff as much as possible (the highs and the lows), and just love the writing, the process, the rending and making.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: My name means “Beloved Happiness.”
***For more on Quiara Alegría Hudes, see:
- Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Personal Website
- “I Interview Playwrights Part 309: Quiara Alegria Hudes” – Adam Szymkowicz
- “An Interview with Quiara Alegría Hudes” – Victoria Myers (The Interval)
- “Quiara Alegria Hudes on Why She Wrote Daphne’s Dive & How Lin-Manuel Miranda Is Like Seinfeld’s Kramer” – Beth Stevens (Broadway.com)
- “A Family’s Story Spans a Trilogy, and Beyond” – Alexis Soloski (New York Times)
- Water by the Spoonful, by Quiara Alegría Hudes – The 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Drama
- “Water by the Spoonful: An interview with Quiara Alegría Hudes” – Kathleen Potts (Guernica)
- “2 Pieces of Playwriting Advice From Quiara Alegría Hudes” – Jack Smart (Backstage)
- “Music is her Muse: Quiara Alegría Hudes and her Path to the Pulitzer” – Marcus Gardley (The Brooklyn Rail)