Born in 1990 and raised in small-town Virginia, Jeremy O. Harris has established himself as one of the most controversial voices in contemporary theater, blending elements of comedy, drama, and social commentary to stoke essential conversations on race and power in American history. The playwright, actor and cultural provocateur first gained prominence for his off-Broadway breakout “Daddy,“ a searing melodrama exploring interracial intimacy and identity.
In 2018, Harris shot to international fame with his debut major stage production, Slave Play. A satirical pyschodrama that tackles America’s ongoing legacy of racial trauma and sexual violence, the work won Harris the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, and a record-breaking 12 nominations at the 74th Tony Awards.
On the heels of Slave Play‘s success – and in commemoration of his late grandfather, Golden – Harris partnered with the Human Rights Campaign to curate The Golden Collection, a project aimed at spotlighting the work of prominent Black playwrights throughout history. Featuring Slave Play alongside seminal work by Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange, the collection was donated to libraries and community centers in sites of racial progress and turmoil across the country.
Speaking with KCRW on the inspirations behind Slave Play and The Golden Collection, Harris underlined his passion for writers that play with identity:
“A hallmark of the plays that I love is this sort of fluidity of identity. My favorite play of all time is Funnyhouse of a Negro by Adrienne Kennedy. And that play is literally about being inside of a Black woman’s mind or more specifically, a playwright’s mind as she navigates the internalized anger at her family and her upbringing, this desire to be like a Victorian Queen or specifically Queen Victoria. Lumumba is in the play; Jesus Christ is in the play. Three different versions of the writer who’s going through suicidal ideation is in the play. And it’s one of the most interesting plays I’ve ever read because every person that you encounter in that play, historical and fictional, is Adrienne. And while that’s true in every play that we read to some degree, it is very rarely articulated as such.”
Check out the 15 plays Harris selected for The Golden Collection below, and support the future of radical African-American storytelling by donating to Harlem’s historic National Black Theatre here.
Jeremy O. Harris’ Reading List
Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris
Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry
The Colored Museum by George C. Wolfe
An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Sweat by Lynn Nottage
Selected Plays by Alice Childress
Fucking A by Suzan-Lori Parks
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation by Jackie Sibblies Drury
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
Is God Is by Aleshea Harris
Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith
Funnyhouse of a Negro by Adrienne Kennedy
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange (also rec’d by Alice Walker, Anita Hill & Tarana Burke)
Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara
Dream on Monkey Mountain by Derek Walcott
(via Playbill; photo by Andre D. Wagner)
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