The Center for Fiction was thrilled to welcome one of the most innovative, uncompromising, boundary-breaking dramatists of today, Aleshea Harris, to celebrate the new publication of two of her plays. What to Send Up When It Goes Down is a play, a ritual, and a home-going celebration that bears witness to the physical and spiritual deaths of Black people as a result of racist violence. Is God Is, winner of the 2016 Obie Award and Relentless Award, collides the ancient, the modern, the tragic, the Spaghetti Western, and Afropunk in a dark comedy of two sisters enacting righteous revenge.
Actors from both plays—Jessica Frances Dukes, Alfie Fuller, Kai Heath, Beau Thom, Denise Manning, Alana Raquel Bowers, Naomi Lorrain, and Javon Minter—performed a dramatic reading, followed by a conversation with Aleshea Harris and writer, educator, and cultural worker Nissy Aya.
This event was part of an ongoing collaboration with Theatre Communications Group. Past events featured Jackie Sibblies Drury and Claudia Rankine, Annie Baker and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Heidi Schreck and Paula Vogel, and Sarah Ruhl and Matthew Aucoin.
Is God Is / What to Send Up When It Goes Down
By Aleshea Harris
Published by TCG
Two dynamic new plays from an emerging writer that confront the experience of being black in America.
“Furious and incandescent… Harris writes so blisteringly that the actors could just let the language’s flames carry them along.” —Helen Shaw, Time Out New York on Is God Is
An explosive epic that examines the cyclical nature of violence, Is God Is follows twin sisters who undertake a dangerous journey to exact revenge upon their father at the behest of their dying mother
“Aleshea Harris turns theater into a monument, ephemeral but real, to ongoing pain. You can’t tear down a statue that never shows up outside.” —Vinson Cunningham, New Yorker on What to Send Up When It Goes Down
What to Send Up When It Goes Down is a play-pageant-ritual response to anti-Blackness in America. It is a challenge to us all: to heal through expression, expulsion, and movement.
Front Cover Credit: Toyin Ojih Odutola, I Wish You Would, 2011, pen ink and acrylic ink on board, 30 x 20 inches, 40 1/4 x 29 1/2 inches (framed). © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Aleshea Harris’s play Is God Is (directed by Taibi Magar at Soho Rep. and Ola Ince at The Royal Court) won the Relentless Award, an Obie Award for playwriting, the Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting, and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. What to Send Up When It Goes Down, a play-pageant-ritual response to anti-Blackness, had its critically acclaimed NYC premiere in 2018 (directed by Whitney White and produced by The Movement Theatre Company), was featured in the April 2019 issue of American Theatre Magazine, and received a rare special commendation from the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The play was subsequently remounted at Woolly Mammoth, A.R.T., BAM, and Playwrights Horizons. Her newest play, On Sugarland (directed by Whitney White) premiered at New York Theatre Workshop in the spring of 2022. Awards: Windham-Campbell Prize, the Steinberg Playwright Award, the Hermitage Greenfield Prize, The Horton Foote Prize, and the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Harris is a two-time MacDowell Fellow, and has enjoyed residencies at The Hermitage Artist Retreat, Hedgebrook, and Djerassi.
Photo Credit: Costa Ciminello and Andrew Wofford
Nissy Aya (Nissy; she/ze/we) is a Black girl from the Bronx. She and all her younger selves tell stories and tall tales—while helping others to do the same. As a cultural worker and writer, we believe in the transformative nature of storytelling, placing those most affected by oppressive systems in the center, and examining how we move forward through healing justice and afrofuturist frameworks. Our creative work reflects those notions while exploring the lines between history and memory, detailing both the absence and presence of love, and giving all the life (and then some) to Black Femmes.
Photo Credit: Halima McDoom