Danai Gurira and “The Convert” – For Our Daughters’ Daughters’ Daughter
Connection Point Director Yasmina Mrabet interviewed OBIE Award-winning playwright and actress Danai Gurira (Eclipsed, In The Continuum) about her work and the inspiration behind her latest play, The Convert. Her answers are below.
Can you share with us a little about your personal background, and what motivated you to pursue a career as a playwright and actress? What is your experience as a woman working in this field?
I guess it chose me more than I chose it. It was brought to my attention that this was something I was gifted at and the next thing I knew I was involved in theater groups and clubs in high school and in Harare. It became clear in my junior year at college, while in South Africa on a study abroad program, that I wanted to do what I loved exclusively and I wanted to tell African women’s stories, I could not understand why their stories were not on the forefront like other people’s. So that became my passion and my focus. Never thought of it as a career; I think of it as my life’s work.
Working as a woman in this field is what it is. I don’t spend time thinking about glasses being half full, I think about creating a new type of glass. I think about ideas, concepts, stories that I wish to pursue, and I pursue them. Those who are meant to facilitate my vision, thankfully, have appeared. Those who aren’t won’t and that’s how it should be.
What was your inspiration for writing The Convert? Can you share with us some of the challenges and opportunities you faced when writing it?
I wanted to explore my people’s history, I wanted to go back to the inciting incident that made Zimbabwe what it is today and give that moment voice. I also wanted to address the conversation of Africans and Christianity, to put all the perspectives on the table, to have it out once and for all so to speak. The challenges involved garnering the history. It’s there, it just takes a lot of looking! It was also interesting how hard it was to contain the story; this play could easily have been four hours. It was my trusted creating team that managed to keep me in check.
Often in post-colonial countries there is a sense that people must choose between their own cultural traditions and adopting those of the colonizers. In countries that acted as colonizers, there is often a sense that those in the ‘developing’ world should follow western examples, and if they don’t, they are viewed or portrayed as backward. Do you think a process of dialogue and healing is necessary between western and non-western cultures to break down these ‘either-or’ ideas?
There needs to be an acceptance that we are all deeply influenced by one another at this juncture and that is okay. I think there is power in hybridity. I think the African and other colonized people could turn out to be the most powerful people on earth, because we are fully connected to our own culture, peoples, and oppressed experiences but also fully able and agile in the culture of the hegemony. That makes us hybrids. And a hybrid is a powerful thing. The issue that emerges is if the colonizer dares to still think of himself as superior and the colonized dares to think of himself as inferior. That is not only a lie from the pits of hell but also an aged epidemic that must die out.
If there was one thing you could highlight to the world about either the role of women in arts or the experience of women in post-colonial Zimbabwe, what would it be?
That our moment is most definitely now. Look how far women have come in the last century alone! The hard work has been done; now we need to work harder than ever however to make sure not one gain is lost and build on the gains for our daughters’ daughters’ daughter. We have no excuse; we must continue to excel; we must be very, very courageous.
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