Name: Juliany Taveras
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Affiliations: Vassar College alum; currently an MFA candidate at the St. Joseph’s College Writer’s Foundry.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Afro-Latinx, Dominican-American, Brooklyn-born Quisqueyana…
Q: Tell me about Desarrollo.
A: Desarrollo, which I wrote over the course of my first year of my MFA program, is about a lot of things, but primarily about this idea of what places and people we call home and how they change over time. The play centers three young adults who grew up together in NYC, and depicts their preteen adventures across the boroughs as well as their more strenuous present, in which they navigate the changing landscape of their lives and their hometown. The title comes from this concept, the sort of unraveling that happens with the passage of time; it’s also a nod towards the term “development” in both the real estate sense (gentrification is quite the beast) and the photographic sense. Indeed, this play really began with images for me—this lucid vision of the laundromats, bodegas, and hair salons that so colorfully decorated the blocks on which I grew up. The characters in the world of Desarrollo are in many ways mourning these landmarks, on top of just trying to get through everyday life as queer people and people of color. Luckily for them (and for me), our communities make this possible, and our communities survive.
I’m also very excited to share that Desarrollo will be produced this summer in New York City. (I can’t share more just yet, but further news to come! Check out my links down below to find me online.)
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Currently I’m working on a new play for my graduate thesis. I’m on track to receive my MFA in Creative Writing this May, for which I’ll be submitting both a longer work (this new play) and a shorter one (a poetry collection). A lot of my playwriting thus far has been grounded in my experience as person of color/child of immigrants based in NYC, so I’m excited to be exploring somewhat different landscapes this time around. Yaelis (working title) is a project about ancestral histories, a kind of reimagining of the “American” coming-of-age tale that I hope will delve more deeply into notions of Caribbean diaspora, dreams and spirituality, and what it means to make discoveries about not just oneself but one’s larger, interconnected lineage. In many ways, my poetry collection is interested in similar themes. It’s already been so valuable to me to conduct research of all kinds towards this end, from reading plays and memoirs written by authors of the diaspora to having more intentional conversations with my own family about culture and ancestry.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: Damn. There are a few. I have to start with the moment that really started it all for me, which was the day that I read Virginia Grise’s blu for an undergraduate Latinx Literature course. That play knocked the wind out of me. It’s also the play I cite as the reason I ever became a playwright in the first place. Grise’s writing provided me with two crucial epiphanies: that (good) theatre is poetry, and that QTPOC stories can—and will—take the stage. The semester after reading blu, I produced and acted in it at my alma mater, Vassar College, and not long after that, I began writing plays myself. I can’t thank Virginia enough.
Other than that, what continues to define my journey is the feeling of sharing my playwriting—and therefore an ongoing, collaborative creative process—with others. In 2014 I wrote my first one-act (An Empty Glass), and I’ll never forget what it was like to get together with people (other students, and brilliant friends of mine) who I so deeply admired and direct them in bringing my words to life. I felt this same sort of magic when my first full-length work, The Anatomy of Light, had a staged reading after receiving the Marilyn Swartz Seven ’69 Playwriting Award at Vassar. (It got an honorable mention on The Kilroys 2016 List, too, which blows my mind to this day!) Ultimately, I find great joy and meaning in the entire process, and its multiplicity—in that strange but delightful contrast between the isolation of writing a thing and the shared, communal intimacy of putting it on its feet.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I’ve already waxed poetic about Virginia Grise, to whom I owe so much in this regard—but there are others, of course, so many inspiring artists, especially women of color, who have provided me with such rich mentorship, directly or otherwise. Migdalia Cruz I had the honor of working with during the summer of 2017, as part of the second Fornés Playwriting Workshop cohort in Chicago. A week under her tutelage—which in turn came from the many years she spent learning from the extraordinary Maria Irene Fornés—was enough to bring profound change to my artistry. I feel just as lucky to now be working with Leah Nanako Winkler at The Writer’s Foundry; Leah is a phenomenal writer and teacher, and hopefully someone I’ll be able to call a mentor for a long time.
I’d also be remiss to not mention other writers who have had such a lasting impact on my life and work: Cherríe Moraga, Suzan-Lori Parks, Audre Lorde, Caridad Svich, Ntozake Shange, Natalie Diaz, Elizabeth Acevedo, Junot Díaz, Luis Alfaro, José Rivera, Sarah Ruhl, Paula Vogel… and really, the list goes on and on, for which I am immensely grateful.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Well, as a Latinx playwright who still feels very much at the beginning of their career, I say to us: keep on keeping on! We are worthy. Our stories are worthy. And can’t no one tell us otherwise. I would also say—as I do to myself, often—to push yourself to explore beyond the boundaries so often enforced by others. If you can feel, on a gut-level, the limitations of theatre (of storytelling, of existence) as it operates in our world today, then go to those ends, and push further. There is a beautiful and rich vastness to be uncovered there, to be resurrected. Go forth and grow.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I am very proud to be part of a Latinx lineage—and it is precisely because of this pride that I strive to be constantly challenging myself and my Latinx community to contextualize our histories and inheritances beyond just the loose moniker that binds us together. We are as implicated as anyone in the legacies of violence, colonization, and anti-blackness that have plagued so much of our planet. It is my hope that this is something we can embrace, and seek to transform, rather than ignore or perpetuate in some less critical performance of unity. Let us be radical in our pride, in our love, and in our stories. Let us flourish in our complexity. Let us write ourselves into decolonized futures for all.
Also, I have a pet leopard gecko named Euca! And really love the movie Shark Tale.
***For more on Juliany Taveras, see:
- Visit Juliany Taveras’ personal website
- “my gender is (not) your colonial project” – Juliany Taveras (La Galería Magazine)
- Follow Juliany Taveras on Instagram
- Add Juliany Taveras on LinkedIn