Fans of The Walking Dead know Danai Gurira as Michonne, a sword-weilding heroine so fierce that not only does she battle the walkers, but she even keeps a few of them as pets. (Shudder.) But what fans may not know is that when she’s not swinging her katana and fighting off zombies, Gurira is busy penning critically acclaimed plays. That’s right. . .Danai Gurira is a playwright.
Merely calling her a playwright is somewhat of an understatement, though, sort of like saying Michonne is just your average survivor of the zombie apocalypse. Gurira is seriously legit. One of her plays, In the Continuum, co-written with Nikkole Slater, was even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. And all four of the plays she’s penned (that’s right…four!) have strong themes of female empowerment and explore the cultural connections between America, where Gurira was born, and Africa, where she was raised for a decade after her parents moved back to their native Zimbabwe when she was only five years old.
Growing up in Zimbabwe shaped Gurira as both a woman and an artist. As she told National Geographic, “My connection to the continent keeps my heart beating, and I have a sense of urgency about connecting the cultures. It upsets me when I see African stories used as backdrops, or made supplemental, which retains an idea of Africans as simple, moody, noble savages.”
In the Continuum explored the parallels of the tragic impact of AIDS in both Africa and America through two central female characters, one living in Zimbabwe and the other in Los Angeles. Gurira also penned Eclipse, which gave voice to women brutalized in the Liberian civil war, and The Convert, about a Zimbabwean woman in 1895 torn between her newfound Christian faith and her family’s long-held cultural traditions.
Her latest dramatic offering is Familiar, which opens this month at Yale Repertory Theatre. Like her other works, Familiar deals with cultural questions and women’s issues. As the Hartford Courant describes it, “In ‘Familiar’ a pair of Midwest parents, originally from Zimbabwe, are preparing for the marriage of their eldest daughter. Problems arise when the first-generation American daughter, who hasn’t been exposed much to African culture, insists on a traditional Zimbabwe wedding ritual.”
As if portraying one of our fave strong female characters on television and writing award-winning plays that change the way the world sees women and other cultures weren’t enough, Gurira also holds an MFA and speaks four languages. There’s simply no end to her awesomeness. For real. She’s an outspoken activist and co-founded the non-profit Almasi Collaborative Arts, a Zimbabwean American Dramatic Arts Collaborative Organization. The aim of Almasi is to elevate the dramatic arts in Zimbabwe.
We can’t think of a better person for the job than Gurira! This amazing lady proves that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.