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Donja Love On Time

Playwrights’ Corner
Donja Love and Tarell Alvin McCraney

Donja Love is late.

A collision of circumstances, delayed trains, mounting election lines, Donja wondered before getting here if this was the divine telling him not to go through with this interview. If God is merciful the confluence of happenstance, reaching further back into the life of this young scribe, has delivered in Donja Love a powerful new voice.

The writing began with monologues. There was an acting audition for a performing arts high school and Donja created his own piece.

‘I didn’t know that there were pieces out there for me. So, I thought oh yeah this is what you do.’

It is: When there isn’t a voice like yours or one that helps you sing in the clarity of your truth you sometimes invent them, mold them in your own person. A friend later asked if the budding artist would pen one for her.

‘I felt like I found a space where I am able to create stories and there are people out there who can connect to them.’  

Already poetic and performative, Donja Love’s work didn’t lean towards a career in writing until being diagnosed HIV positive. Something inside kept aching to write even as a teacher but in December of 2008 the call shifted to action.

‘I started to look at myself, I started to look at the people around me and I started to really prioritize my life. And what things really made me happy, that even if I tired I couldn't live without. And that was writing.’

Before in acting class, in poetry, the voice didn’t feel correct or center. It was words that were calling.

‘Every time I would read plays I would see the worlds and I would look at each word and wanna know why did the playwright choose this word. I wanted to know everything about that world.’

The divine is indeed centered in Donja’s voice. After visiting a church twice a Pastor pulled Donja aside and spoke:

‘In my mind I’m thinking she’s going to tell me I am not supposed to be gay, and because of my lifestyle (I’m positive).’

Instead the Pastor found words of encouragement, which is easy to do around Donja with his easy smile, disarming humility, and sober confidence.

‘The Lord is waiting for you to get back into writing.’ The Pastor said.

Donja went home and spent the next night writing a play about finding out about being positive and filled two notebooks. Quickly the young artist began navigating the space between teaching and being a playwright.

As it has since 1994, The Lark stepped in at the right time.

‘The Lark came at a pivotal time, In terms of calling myself a writer.’

At its core, Donja Love wants the work to be a reflection:

‘I remember when I came out to my parents in particular, or when I shared my truth in particular with my mom she said, “As a parent, all you want is for your child to live an easy life, but you won’t. Your life will be hard, because there are millions of people in this world who don’t even know you and want you dead.” And that’s embedded in my work; people who are told that they don’t exist and that they shouldn’t exist I am giving them, hopefully giving them that space. That they may see themselves reflected.’

When Donja’s father found out about his son’s truth, he had him read the bible.

‘At first I thought he was going to make me read and say that I was going to hell. But he said, “There are going to be a lot of people who will try to use these words against you. I want for you to be able to equip yourself in your faith and with this (holding the bible) to understand that it is okay to be who you are.”’

So also embedded into his work is the need to show the side of fathers not often seen; their softness and their nurturing.

At this moment I want to mention my own life and explain to Donja about the drug dealer who taught me to ride a bike and taught me that it was okay to be myself. I realize that I am not just listening to Donja but remembering with him. I am experiencing these feelings with him. Already in his telling of these incredibly difficult circumstances, I am both seeing a reflection, and thankful for his endless generosity.

The forces and complications that have made Donja’s journey to this moment difficult are not telling him to go back. They are forging in him the voice so necessary for this exact moment. His storytelling is a place where circumstances of life, crash with the ever counting clock of mortality while not submitting to perceived death sentences that sometimes come with learning of HIV status or oppression. Donja is resolved and sure. Though his path forward may not be clear or easy he shakes my hand firmly telling me he is on his way to add his voice as he walked away to vote. I took that to mean to the pantheon of voices of tomorrow.

And as the church folk say:

He may not come when you want him but he’s right on time.

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