The cover of The Opera Issue of The Dramatist
Cori Thomas: Why I Joined the Guild
  • sketch of playwright Cori Thomas by artist Dan Romer
    Playwright Cori Thomas. Illustration by Dan Romer for The Dramatist.
  • Portrait of playwright Cori Thomas by Dan Romer
    Cori Thomas. By Dan Romer for The Dramatist.

I joined the Guild after I wrote my first play.


In college, I had a creative writing professor who, upon reading a short story assignment, declared I should become a playwright because my fiction writing skills were rubbish. He wasn’t that blunt, but he said that I didn’t take to lingering in all the details, further, my prose was not particularly elegant. However, my characters were extremely well defined! He felt as if he knew them and believed that they went to the toilet, ate, and did all things that prove one is alive. In those days, I was a passionate actress wannabe. Playwriting seemed tedious and complicated. Think up dialogue? No thanks.

I began my unsuccessful acting career, late 1980s-ish. I am biracial and don’t present as an identifiable race. Starting out, to me, this felt like a bonus. I fit into many categories, however there was no box to put me in. I came to dread and expect the question, “What are you?” at every audition. The polite grimaces caused me to doubt myself. I began to feel unworthy, and then I got a divorce.

I had met a husband at age nineteen, at a disco. In those days, one did that. I got married, had a daughter, changed diapers, did homework... Sometime around my child’s fifth birthday, it was clearly a mistake. We began the unpleasant process of divorce. My ex sued me for full custody of our child, not because I was a bad mother, but because, as he put it, I was a fledgling actress unable to support a child. I hated that he was right. By now I was SAG, AFTRA, and member of Actors Equity, but roles were still scarce. So, to keep my child, I quit acting and became a personal shopper at FAO Schwartz. A “real” job. A full-time position with benefits and no time for auditions. I helped celebrities buy toys, while fervently missing the theatre. Then suddenly one day, I heard a voice in my head, and recognized it to be a character. I wrote what she said, and what a man said back, and it became a conversation. I wrote my first play transcribing what these people jabbered then put it all in a drawer.

I heard about the Dramatists Guild and thought, “I’m not good enough to be amongst these people.” But I read the DG Resource Directory and dreamt of submitting. On a whim, one day, I sent that first play in to the Theodore Ward Prize for African Americans. I placed second, then joined the Guild as an Associate. Joining made me feel I could continue, because now I could answer the question, “What are you?” with, “I am a playwright.”

Coda: I will never forget when I saw my first professional production listed in The Dramatist.

Cori Thomas
Cori Thomas

is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose plays include Lockdown; When January Feels Like Summer; Citizens Market; and My Secret Language Of Wishes. Honors include American Theater Critics Osborn Award, Edgerton Foundation Prize, among others. Cori is the Andrew Mellon Playwright in Residence at WP Theater, is a New Dramatists Resident Playwright, and serves on the Dramatists Guild Council.