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Interview: Idris Goodwin

July 28, 2012

Playwright: Idris Goodwin, 34

Hometown: Detroit and Chicago

Place of Residence: Colorado Springs, Colo.

Education: B.A., film/video, Columbia College in Chicago; MFA from the creative writing school of the Art Institute of Chicago

Website: http://www.idrisgoodwin.com

Selected Titles:Blackademics, How We Got On, The Danger Face Trilogy, Pluto: The Opera

Every few years spoken-word artist Idris Goodwin revisits his origins via poetry. “I come from Grandma’s basement where plastic covers the couch … A bag of better made sour cream and onion—Funyuns,” he reads. “I come from back then, pre cell phone … I come from the word. And, word, I am a man of many.”

He has showcased his hip-hop rhythms on stages and in schools around the U.S., on HBO, and even Sesame Street. He was named one of the top 30 performance poets by The Root Magazine and received a playwriting residency from the National Endowment for the Arts. His plays have been featured at the O’Neill Theater Conference, the National New Play Network Festival, and most recently the Humana Festival of new American Plays in Louisville, Ky.

“Growing up it was all about comic books and rap music. I’ve been pen and paper armed for as long as I’ve had hands,” he says.

Goodwin, who had written several screenplays, first considered writing for the theatre in 2000, when he was a student at The School of the Art Institutes of Chicago. Playwright Beau O’Reilly read one of his screenplays and asked whether he’d tried writing for the stage. “I gave it a whirl,” Goodwin says.

At age 34, Goodwin’s literary style appears to be the voice of a younger generation.

“Hip hop culture has been woven into the fabric of every aspect of American culture for a lot longer than most people think. From slang, to fashion, to filmmaking, to writing. As more generations are informed by its aesthetics, it has and will continue to become more and more of a general American aesthetic as opposed to a subgenre,” he says.

Goodwin’s new play How We Got On centers on three Midwestern teens who forge a cultural identity in the white suburbs by dueling with poetry and dubbing beats on a boom box.

“I’d written a lot of plays, many different styles and genres. I wrote crime noirs, absurd comedies, metaphysical dramas, a rap opera. But I wanted to try my hand at a coming of age story. So I wrote what I knew in way I hadn’t before,” Goodwin says. “I drew heavily from the well of my own awkward teen years. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, loving hip hop music and culture. Shows like Yo! MTV Raps and BET’s Rap City got me through my teen years, as I, like most kids, struggled to figure out their place and voice in the world.”

Though While How We Got On and other pieces incorporate rap, “I do not treat it as a novelty or one in a vast grab bag of styles to throw onstage. Rap is the style in which I communicate many of my ideas. In How We Got On I am focused on these characters, who love hip hop, as described by a narrator who also loves hip hop. A love of rap is not a prerequisite to view my play and if someone comes to the play hating rap and leaves hating rap, I’m fine with that—I think he or she is missing out on some great music—but nevertheless, my only concern is that they sign on to go with my characters on their journey.”

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This profile is an excerpt of an article that appeared in the July 2012 issue of InSight for Playwrights. Visit http://www.insightforplaywrights.com for information.

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Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, a national publication, and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.

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