Erika Dickerson-Despenza Announced as Inaugural Ntozake Shange Social Justice Theater Resident
Photo of Erika Dickerson-Despenza
Erika Dickerson-Despenza - photo by Joey Stocks for The Dramatist

New York, NYThe Public Theater, the Barnard Center for Research on Women, and the Ntozake Shange Literary Trust have announced the creation of the Ntozake Shange Social Justice Theater Residency. The program, conceived by inaugural playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza, is a rotating two-year playwriting residency named in honor of Public Theater artist and Barnard alumna (Class of 1970) Ntozake Shange, one of the world’s most revered writers and a fierce advocate for women and the dignity of humankind. Awarded to a distinguished woman, femme, trans, or nonbinary playwright of the African Diaspora, the residency will provide a salary with benefits and full support to pursue their creative work as a playwright.

“Despite the many debuts of Shange’s works at The Public Theater, there was nothing named for her; there was no enduring evidence of her legacy within the institution. Part of the work of my work, a la Toni Cade Bambara, is ancestral elevation and reverence. Ntozake Shange is my literary mother and creating the Ntozake Shange Social Justice Playwriting Residency allows me to cement her legacy in the cultural memory of The Public Theater, NYC, and the American Theater at large while also building my own,” said Dickerson-Despenza. “I have crafted a residency that will outlast me; one that will enable women, femmes, and nonbinary scholar-playwrights of the African Diaspora who help shape the future by writing about and beyond the crises of their time to have a comfortable salary, healthcare, and access to the most prestigious and resourced off-Broadway theatres and Barnard College, home of Shange’s archives and the groundbreaking Barnard Center for Research on Women.”

As a poet-playwright and womanist cultural memory worker, Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s primary thematic foci are Black land legacies, Black apocalyptic ritual, and environmental racism. After serving as Tow Playwright-in-Residence from 2019-2020, she made her Public Theater debut in 2021 with cullud wattah, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning play about three generations of Black women living through the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Her upcoming production of shadow/land, directed by Candis C. Jones, will premiere at The Public in April 2023. Currently, Erika is developing a 10-play Katrina Cycle, which centers climate crisis-induced and statesanctioned water vulnerabilities and displacement rippling in and beyond New Orleans and the Midwest. During this residency, Dickerson-Despenza will focus on writing a new play and formalizing and expanding the podcast series, “The Clearing.” She will also participate in a public event at Barnard in each of the two years, as well as offer  masterclasses and other events for Barnard students.  

For more information and to learn about supporting future Ntozake Shange Social Justice Theater Residencies, click here