The cover of The Atlanta Issue of The Dramatist
Alliance Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Award
Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert
Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert

Atlanta holds a vaunted place in my narrative. Reading Sunday’s Atlanta Journal and Constitution with my dad was ritual. I earned a nickname when I interrupted a business meeting at the hotel Dad managed. Imitating Dad’s energy and tone, I greeted the eponymous Mr. Atlanta Georgia by his nickname, adding an exuberant hyper enunciation, Misterrrr-Atlantaaaaaa-Georgiaaaa blurred into one word.

Years later, “Miss-Atlanta GA” became the first African American woman to win the Alliance Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Award. The C. A. Lyons Project brought other firsts: my first professional theatre production, first School of the Art Institute Chicago and Northwestern University alum to win the prestigious award, first playwright with a disability. Using a wheelchair, walker, and then a cane, play development paralleled my own recovery. 

After the kids left home, I entered the MFA program as a card-carrying AARP member, sitting alongside former students while my peers retired. Illness almost killed me, but it sidelined me for a year. Unsure if I’d resume my studies—or walk again—I’m lucky to be alive. 

The Alliance was an exceptional place to launch. A well-run machine onstage, backstage, front of house, to board, staff, and volunteers, they’re all in. Everyone reads the Kendeda plays. The production dream team kicked off my season of “yes and…” We listened. The work led. 

The team crafted the world of a closeted 1980s Black gay choreographer dealing with identity, sexuality, and mortality as AIDS enters our vocabulary. I teared up at the displayed AIDS Quilt Panels for Alvin Ailey, Arthur Mitchell, Féla, and others. The Names Project papered the Hertz Theatre walls.

The dramaturg coined C. A. Lyons’ three muses—Sister Afrika, Chaos-Unit, and Bethlehem—the Three Graces of the 21st Century. They represent Black identities, dance styles, generations, and history. We cast ballet, traditional African, and hip-hop actor/dancers with top Atlanta and NYC talent.

I learned to work with my director and trust my instincts. I leaned into experimentation, hybridity, and playing. The soundscape guiding my writing now wove C. A.’s trajectory. A role written for an actress who’s deaf integrated American Sign Language at every stage. Deaf audiences attended from a six-state region along with new audiences. Strong local support from Atlanta theatregoers; media; faith-based; LGBTQIA+ communities; students and staffs at Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Emory University made winning the Kendeda an Atlanta homecoming.

Atlanta is the theatre town I came home to.

Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert
Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert

is a Baton Rouge, LA native and honorary Atlantan. Sundance Finalist (Tale of the Lychee Woman), Something Marvelous, RhinoFest (pygMALI), Cultural DC SourceFest (Elegy for Miss Lucy), VSC Rising Voices Fellowship (You Are Cordially Invited to Teas, Mrs. B.), is a proud DG and Black Theatre Network member. She sits on the Honorary Board of Piven Theatre Workshop; Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, and ADA25/Disability+Lead Alum. The C. A. Lyons Project won four of its five Suzy Bass nominations (2015)!