Black History Month: Highlighting Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney

Image by Gordon Correll

We are shining this week’s Black History Month spotlight on the phenomenal playwright and actor, Tarell Alvin McCraney. McCraney graduated from The Theatre School at DePaul University, and from the School of Drama at Yale University. While at Yale, he wrote, The Brother/Sister Plays, a triptych about three complex generations of  a Black family living in the Louisiana Bayou. In The Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet explores the journeys of the family members as they go about their various life choices and experiences. Of these interconnected plays, The New York Times wrote, “​​he has managed to go Shakespearean without ever betraying the people he writes about and their fierce hunger for life, no matter how painful.” 

Some of his most known works include the critically acclaimed film Moonlight, which is based on his unpublished play, In Moonlight Black Boys look Blue. It was this film that earned McCraney an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  

McCraney stays in touch with his roots as he is now a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble in Chicago and works at his alma mater as the chair of playwriting. He has recently written the screenplay for the film, High Flying Bird, and created the successful television series, David Makes Man, on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). This television series centers on a young boy living in the Miami projects dealing with problems such as having a drug addicted mother, something that authentically mirrors McCraney’s own childhood.  

As a queer, Black artist, McCraney’s writing continues to inspire LGBTQIA+ youth as well as writers of color. He writes about the traumas he has faced growing up, the weary job of code-switching, and the backlash he faces as an openly gay, Black writer. His stories continue to influence audiences and promote open dialogue throughout communities, including important conversations on mental health, the danger of going undiagnosed, and how it affects us all on a daily basis. It is safe to say that his impact is essential in the fight for equality in our society, and in the theatre.