Nia O. Witherspoon (she/her) is a black queer writer/director, vocalist/composer, and cultural worker. Described as “especially fascinating” by Backstage Magazine, and named in Phoenix’s “Top 100” Artists, Witherspoon’s work creates contemporary ritual-space grounded in African Diaspora sensibilities to speak to the issues of our times. Currently in residence at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Witherspoon has received New York Theatre Workshop’s (NYTW) 2050 Playwriting/Directing Fellowship, BRIC’s Premiere Residency, Astraea Foundation’s Global Arts Fund Grant, Brooklyn Arts Fund (BAC), Downtown Urban Theatre Festival’s “Audience Award,” Lambda Literary’s Emerging Playwriting Fellowship, and a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship. Her works, including The Messiah Complex, YOUMINE, and SHE have been developed or featured at BRIC, HERE, NYTW, National Black Theatre, BAAD, Dixon Place, The Fire This Time Festival, and Movement Research. Witherspoon holds a PhD from Stanford University, and is currently a Playwright-in-Residence at University of Massachusetts (Amherst). She has works commissioned in the 2019-20 season by The Shed, Playwright’s Realm, La Mama ETC, and JACK.
I am a concept-driven artist invested in creating spaces where black/queer/trans/female folks, and, more largely people of color, are able to be seen in their full humanity, and their full divinity. This means that while contemporary tragedy and inter-generational trauma often trigger a project’s inception, ultimately, I aim for my works to place my communities in a context that far exceeds the 500-years of colonial time and instead to find the palimpsest of wisdom in liberation. Freedom is not something I have achieved yet, but it is something I feel pulled uncontrollably toward. I am working to cultivate freedom in myself, in my works, and in my collaborators, by any means necessary. I am also learning that freedom is very much about surrender to the imperfect, and so I try to create spaces (from plays to rituals to rehearsal rooms) where vulnerability is the most valuable currency.
I am deeply inspired by the resonance inside of dissonance—particularly in reparation of the sacred/secular binary. I am also invested in the concepts of layering and unfolding, as the nature of diaspora is palimpsestic, cyclical, and always in motion. In The Dark Girl Chronicles, Yoruba divination scripture lives alongside verbatim investigation-room testimony, court transcripts, and Cardi B to unearth the stories of black women warriors against state violence. I am excited by the potential of theatre to allow us to see what we would otherwise not see—the moonlit vision—the “magic eye” that offers a window the Great Mystery. In The Messiah Complex, the nightclub has permission to become the ritual ground and sacred cemetery. A heteronormative Black Panther has permission to love a transwoman. And his transmasculine child has permission to become the Messiah, leading the next generation of the black liberation struggle.
Photo by Zavé Martohardjono.