Picture Supply: Courtesy of Christina Ham

On September 15, 1963, the sixteenth Road Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, was bombed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. 4 younger women have been killed whereas contained in the constructing, inciting a defining second within the civil rights motion in America. The assault, mindless and outstandingly violent, created tangible photographs of the horror segregationists imposed upon black individuals within the South and across the nation.

Playwright Christina Ham’s most up-to-date stage undertaking, Nina Simone: 4 Ladies, facilities round bigger-than-life musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone — nevertheless it’s not the primary play Ham has written in an effort to make clear the violence in Birmingham in 1963. Ham took a extra direct strategy together with her 2012 play, 4 Little Women: Birmingham 1963, a youngsters’s manufacturing that was directed by Tony Award-winner Phylicia Rashad and commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the horrific assault. 4 Little Women was produced in forty seven states and made a serious historic and inventive impression on American audiences.

Nina Simone: 4 Ladies takes a unique course by following the attitude and expertise of Nina Simone for example the time and period. Ham, a Los Angeles native, has a private connection to Nina Simone’s music. Simone’s 1964 hit “Mississippi Goddam” was impressed by the bombing on the sixteenth Road Baptist Church — a church Ham’s mom’s household commonly attended. After studying extra about her household historical past, Ham felt like Nina Simone was singing to her.

4 Ladies is a vibrant story, however it does not overshadow different necessary works Ham has produced, which embrace various full-size performs, together with A Wives’ Story, a futuristic drama set in postnuclear South Carolina; brief productions like Crawlspace, which explores how discovered sexual conduct in childhood interprets to grownup interactions; and youngsters’s theater and musicals like Ruby!: The Story of Ruby Bridges, a portrait of 6-yr-previous Bridges’s unbeatable braveness within the face of adversity.
Ham took the time to speak with me over the telephone about her writing background and inspiration, what black ladies and Black Historical past Month imply to her, and if intersectional feminism informs her work.

Jordannah Elizabeth: Nina Simone was a commissioned piece for Park Sq. Theatre in Saint Paul, MN. How does your writing course of change when the challenge is requested from you?

Christina Ham: When a piece has been commissioned by a theater, I nonetheless need to deliver myself and my pursuits into the subject material, in any other case it isn’t going to be of curiosity to me. I feel that within the commissions that I am receiving now, the theaters are literally in search of me to deliver my distinctive perspective to the desk. And that additionally informs the work in a approach that they could not have anticipated it to and, in flip, makes it extra dynamic.

JE: How do you discover inspiration for unique works?

CH: A lot of the inspiration that I’ve for unique works comes from a query that I’ve about one thing that is occurring on the earth, and I am in search of solutions. With Nina Simone it was wanting past the artist, and in addition wanting on the totally different shades of black ladies that have been frameworked by the civil rights motion from all types of various socioeconomic backgrounds and the way every of them (together with Nina) was sidelined by a motion that was very black male-centric.

JE: As a black lady playwright, did you all the time really feel you have been destined to write down performs or did you develop up considering that you simply needed to break into the business, understanding there was going to be some type of marginalization?

CH: I feel rising up I all the time knew I used to be a author, interval. There have been a couple of years in school the place I assumed I used to be going to go to regulation faculty like most of my classmates, however then I took a few playwriting courses with [writer and professor] Velina Hasu Houston whereas I used to be at USC and every part modified. I by no means considered myself as marginalized, despite the fact that I am very conscious of the numbers in relation to ladies of colour being produced on our regional levels. I might say I knew the sector was robust, and I made a dedication to myself that I might keep it up as a result of all I knew was that I needed to write, and I would not be dissuaded from that.

JE: Do you’ve got any background in visible artwork or writing literature?

CH: I began out in journalism after which ended up majoring in English literature with an emphasis in artistic writing at USC. I want I had a background in visible artwork, however I’m not gifted in that space, so I like different artists’ work.

“It is necessary for me to hook up with black historic occasions as a result of it tells me the place I’ve come from, what I’ve to be pleased with, and the legacy that I need to proceed.”

JE: Do you contemplate a few of your works as activism or intersectional feminism?

CH: I do not essentially have an agenda once I write my performs, besides to inform a very good story. If themes start to emerge — corresponding to what it means to be an activist or critiquing the shortage of intersectional feminism — then so be it. I by no means actually categorize my work; that is left to others.

JE: What does Black Historical past Month imply to you?

CH: I assume it is bizarre for it to be a month, as a result of for me each month is Black Historical past Month. I am continually educating myself on our historical past. As a former adjunct professor of Introduction to Black Theater Historical past, my aim was all the time to delve into loads of the historical past that college students did not all the time have entry to. This was as thrilling and educating for me as, I consider, it was for them. Black Historical past Month has all the time been a time for me to mirror on the good work that we have finished and the legacy that is been left to me by our elders. It is essential for me to hook up with black historic occasions as a result of it tells me the place I’ve come from, what I’ve to be pleased with, and the legacy that I need to proceed.”

Nina Simone performing in 1964. Picture Supply: Getty / Hulton Archive

JE: Which black ladies writers impressed you?

CH: In no specific order of significance: Toni Morrison, Alice Childress, Octavia Butler, Sonia Sanchez, Lorraine Hansberry, Ida B. Wells, Zadie Smith, Lesley Arimah, and Kathleen Collins.

JE: How would you encourage younger black ladies to forge forward with their goals in theater?

CH: To ensure that me to encourage different black feminine artists in theater, I do this via mentorship. I’ve mentored dozens of artists through the years (numerous them ladies), and plenty of that entails studying their work, giving them suggestions, and simply being an ear that listens to their considerations and provides them recommendation. In different phrases, displaying up is how I attempt to be there for fellow black ladies trying to break into the enterprise.

JE: Would you ever think about appearing? Do you assume appearing is an effective talent to have when writing performs?

CH: No. My present is writing, and I really feel I’m greatest when I’m offering actors with materials. I’ve heard it is an excellent talent to have when writing performs. [Laughs.] It lets you perceive that the objective of playwriting is to put in writing materials that actors can carry out. In any other case, it takes you some time to study that lesson, in the event you ever do. I am simply method too self-acutely aware for it. I’m so in love with writing that I’ve by no means ventured into the appearing realm of issues.

JE: Black ladies have stepped into the highlight because the media stories increasingly more on tales associated to the #MeToo motion. Do you assume the black ladies narrative is a fleeting story or do you see hope for a extra inclusive American tradition?

CH: I definitely do not assume that black ladies are a fleeting story; we’re simply getting began. I feel because the demographics start to shift increasingly towards ladies of colour, I can see our tales persevering with to be much more pressing and folded into the American material — and I am wanting ahead to that day.