When Dominque Morisseau was in the second grade, she thought to herself, “I’m going to be a writer and an actor.” By the third grade, the native Detroiter was writing “Cabbage Patch Kid Mysteries” and handing out her original stories to her classmates. Unfortunately, those handwritten treasures are long gone, but Morisseau’s 7-year-old self proved to be prophetic.
Today, Morisseau is in fact an actor and writer—a multiple award-winner at that. The writing thespian has racked up an impressive array of acknowledgments, including the Edward P. Kennedy Prize for Drama, the Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award, two NAACP Image Awards and many more. The mantle in the Brooklyn home she shares with her husband must be pretty sturdy.
But even with all of the accolades for her work, Morisseau is focused on helping to nurture the artist community and the community at large. “I’ve worked with a lot of younger artists. From my experiences coming up, I know what I would want. So I’m big on mentoring. I’m thinking about what I can contribute to the future for people like me who are often frustrated. Even though I get a lot of attention as an artist right now, I still feel frustrated. There is a part of what I know about life as a Black woman that is being looked at through a very narrow lens. I don’t want another generation of Black female artists to go through that. Theater can be very elitist, so I want to do what I can to help marginalized voices be heard,” said Morisseau.
When she was a student at the University of Michigan, Morisseau felt grateful for the few advisors and faculty of color in the drama department, but it just didn’t feel like enough. A seeming lack of options prompted her to create her own material. She wrote her first play, “The Blackness Blues,” while still an undergrad. The intense reaction she received from that play let her know that playwriting was something she would continue to do on a professional level.
Morisseau eventually moved to New York City—which every theater person gravitates toward—and took a teaching job while she entered contests and kept working on her craft. But like a lot of artists, there came a point where her 9 to 5 job consumed her creative life.
“I looked up one day and realized I had been teaching more than writing, and I wasn’t doing what I had moved to New York to do. I left my job with nothing, with no opportunities. I just had ideas and a drive to make them come to life. I’m fortunate to have my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time. We were living together, and he was supportive of me in every way. He continues to be that,” said Morisseau.
She’s been in New York City for more than a decade, but Morisseau still has a special place in her heart for her hometown of Detroit. She has a trilogy of plays devoted to the Motor City. “Detroit 67” is set during the fiery 1967 riot. “Paradise Blue” centers on a jazz club in the 1940s that is threatened by urban renewal, and “Skeleton Crew” reflects on the auto industry in 2008. “I love to write about Detroit because I want them to see the humanity of the city—the humanity I grew up knowing. It’s not about ‘making us look good.’ It’s just the full picture. I write the city with love. I want to balance the narrative,” said Morisseau.
Her New York City and Detroit loves came together in Harlem. More than 30 of Morrisseau’s friends and family members went to the National Black Theater to attend a production of “Detroit 67.” Morisseau counts that as one of her proudest moments.
Right now, Morisseau is working on getting more time on stage as an actress in addition to her behind-the-scenes work as a playwright. She’s working on several projects. A musical is in the works, a couple television ideas are possibly coming to fruition and, according to Morisseau, it’s “pretty much inevitable” that she’ll be starting a production company.