An Interview with Lydia Diamond

Lydia DiamondPlaywright Lydia Diamond’s work has been performed across the United States and in the U.K.  Recently commissioned by McCarter Theatre Center and by Steppenwolf Theatre, Lydia has won numerous awards for her work, including Stick Fly and Voyeurs de Venus.  Producing Associate Adam Immerwahr sat down with Lydia to discuss the process of writing Stick Fly and the play’s upcoming production at McCarter.

What were the inspirations that led you to develop Stick Fly?

I was working on an intense, difficult play, called Voyeurs de Venus, which was about a slave.  I was spending a lot of time in the library, crying over horrendously racist accounts of what black people looked like to the Europeans in the early 1800s, and just sobbing.  And I needed to do something fun when I wasn’t losing my mind over that. Stick Fly was going to be my fun play.   The themes I wanted to explore had to do with my relationship to white women.  I have all of these very good white friends who are like sisters whom I love, but outside of my circle I still feel a tension.  That’s interesting, because I’m also a feminist, and if I’m going to have visceral negative reactions socially to a person it should be white men, and I found that I bumped heads most often with white women.  I wanted to explore that, because it’s a contradiction and a really interesting one.  Also, in my personal life there is always this search for father and what that means, and it was very much a part of what the play is exploring–relationships with fathers.

The setting and the story comes out of the characters, so I made the characters first. Then they tell me where they live and what’s happening with them.  That’s how Martha’s Vineyard happened. I didn’t say: “I’m going to write a Martha’s Vineyard play.”  This is where they live and these are the things that they were dealing with.  Martha’s Vineyard is the perfect place for exploring the intersection of race and class dynamics outside of the black community and within the black community.

How do the personal and the political intersect in the world of Stick Fly?

That’s a question that I’m asked a lot.  I would say that in the world of Stick Fly, the personal and the political intersect the way that they do in my life.  There is a way in Stick Fly that the family can’t really sit down without at some point, very organically, having a discussion about how they navigate and exist in a world that is tricky to navigate and exist in as a person of color.  That’s the experience I have in any group of African Americans anywhere in America.  The way we don’t know how to acknowledge the uncomfortableness and inequalities that are personal and institutional makes the very nature of racism so tricky.  The only way that you can deal with it is to have other people to process through it with, and so that becomes very much a part of the world of the family. 

The horrible, weird trick about the way racism manifests itself in America is that it’s difficult to acknowledge.  Acknowledging it makes everyone feel uncomfortable, acknowledging it makes white people feel implicated, makes black people feel vulnerable, and so we don’t acknowledge it.  But then how do we teach our kids to conquer it and to function in it?  So there is something soothing about having someone say: “Oh yeah, I went into that store and they were on me like white on rice.”  That’s important.   I’ve had people respond to my plays in a way that makes it clear to me that there’s a cultural disconnect around the organic nature of how class and race affect you when you are a person of color.  I don’t sit down to write a play about race, but as a person of color who navigates this tricky landscape, it is very much just who I am.  And so when it comes out in my work, it is coming out of a very organic place.  I’m just writing what I know.

What do you want the audience to walk away with?

I just hope the audience will be entertained.  I hope they will feel that their time was well spent, whatever that means.  Whether it challenges them, whether it just amuses them, whether it brings up their own things and makes them sad and contemplative.  I like to think that people will have discussions after the play.  I feel impassioned about encouraging your white audiences to know that this is a story for them, that this is a story about a family dealing with the things that all families deal with.  And if anything, I would like for people to think of it as a play about the themes that we all deal with, and that we can all see ourselves in.