Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Writing Forever

Memphis-born playwright Katori Hall talks about her new production, The Blood Quilt

Katori Hall, who grew up in Memphis, learned the art of quilting from her grandmother. “It’s a different way of being creative,” Hall recently said in an interview with Playbill. “I actually think it helps my writing. Because quilts can be about structure,” and “about standing away and looking at something from afar when you’re trying to figure out the overall design. And when I rewrite, that’s kind of how I look at my play—I stand back and see how all the pieces are juxtaposed against one another. Are they in harmony? Then I go back and weave everything together.”

But Hall’s new play, The Blood Quilt, isn’t really about quilting. According to a Q&A in The Root (which is completely appropriately titled “Meet the Brave and Brilliant Playwright Katori Hall”), The Blood Quilt “centers on the four disconnected Jernigan sisters: Amber, Cassan, Gio and Clementine (played respectively by Meeya Davis, Nikiya Mathis, Caroline Clay and Tonye Patano, best known as Heylia James on Showtime’s Weeds). After their mother’s death, the sisters, along with Cassan’s daughter Zambia (Afi Bijou), gather at their childhood coastal-Georgia home to create a family quilt honoring her, but a reading of the mother’s will only heightens tensions.”

This focus on women, particularly African-American women, is really the playwright’s central aim as an artist. Hall explains in a long profile in The Washington Post:

If there were plenty of rangy and surprising parts for black women on American stages, Katori Hall might not have become a playwright. But while taking a class in college, Hall and an acting partner were stumped trying to find plays with scenes for two young black women.

“From that moment, I committed myself to truly trying to excavate what the black female experience is in America,” Hall says before rehearsals of her new play, The Blood Quilt, which comes with big parts for five African American women of differing generations and interests. “It is kind of my mission statement in terms of why I write.”

The Memphis-raised Hall adds with one of her infectious, explosive laughs, “That means I’m going to be writing forever!”

And voluminously, too: as Hayley Levitt recently observed at TheaterMania, “The 2014-15 theater season has seen the birth of three brand-new plays by Katori Hall. Her Rwanda-set drama Our Lady of Kibeho premiered at New York’s Pershing Square Signature Center this past November, Pussy Valley debuted just this month in Minneapolis, and her new family play, The Blood Quilt, tops off the hat trick at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage.”

And that’s not even counting the cinematic version of Hurt Village, which begins filming this summer!