Tarell Alvin McCraney

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2014

Chicago, IL

Tarell Alvin McCraney is a playwright who depicts the rich diversity of the African American experience through epic strategies of heightened language, music, poetic imagery, and rhythm. His plays include Head of Passes (2013), inspired by the Book of Job; Choir Boy (2012), about a gospel choir at an all-boy’s school; and The Brother/Sister Plays (2009), a triptych weaving West African Yoruban cosmology into modern-day stories of love and family. Among his many accolades, McCraney has received a MacArthur Fellowship (2013) and a Steinberg Playwright Award (2009). He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, an associate artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. McCraney is committed to exposing young audiences to theatre, recently bringing his adaptation of Hamlet (2010) to underserved communities in his hometown of Miami. In early 2014, Antony & Cleopatra—adapted and directed by McCraney—premiered at GableStage, Miami and The Public Theater.

  • Courtesy: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Antony & Cleopatra (2013)
  • Head of Passes (2013)
  • Choir Boy (2012)
  • The Brother/Sister Plays (2009)
  • Photo Credit: George Osodi Courtesy: Aleim Magazine

What fuels your impulse to make creative work?

The creative impulse is deeply personal; it is both generative and destructive. It is an itch of angst and a stroke of desire; both can become inflamed. Its agitators are varied and often minute. What moved Michelangelo to chisel David from the stone? Few could answer seriously, and even the artist might find it difficult to distill. I try to instill in students, young people, a trust, a sacredness about this impulse. As we are exposed to others and their works and their tastes and their criticisms, our minds sharpen to the tools and techniques that the world can teach; but that intimate impulse, that strange grain of sand that infuriates and infiltrates the hardest of shells, cannot be taught from outside. It must be nourished, kept sacred and protected from within. I try to honor that childlike impulse in myself, marrying it with some of the learned attributes and colors I've picked up along the way but letting it lead me into sometimes strange places. This push and pull is the one pulse I can remember along side my own since the beginning, and I intend to rely, honor, and count on it for the rest of my days.