Our 2017-2018 Literary Intern, Kate Schwartz, interviewed several of this year’s Soundings playwrights about their work, both past and present. Here’s a transcript of her interview with Pia Wilson.


Kate:  You were selected for the prestigious and competitive Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater in 2008. What an honor and an opportunity for you! Tell me about your experience at the Public, and how it helped to shape you as a playwright?


Pia:  It was — and still is — an honor to be a member of the EWG. It changed my life. The program wasn’t like school for playwriting. The Public was investing in me as a person and as writer. They helped me explore who I was as a writer at that time, which is different from how I am as a writer now. The best thing to happen to me as a member of the EWG was the connection I made with the other writer on the group. Some of my closest friends in life came from that group and the years after.


Kate:  We definitely need more female voices and female stories in the world of theatre now more than ever, especially in response to the Women’s March on Washington and the #MeToo movement. Who are some of your favorite female playwrights, or female artists?


Pia:  That’s a great question! I love so many women writers. Suzan-Lori Parks, who is an influence on my own work. She always seems to pushing some boundary, which I admire. Lynn Nottage, who is brilliant as well, in a very different way. Her work gets to the heart of the matter for me — like she’s trying to change your life right there.

The women of the Emerging Writers Group, past and present, are so different and so powerful and so wonderfully creative as artists. So, I would recommend their work. Then you have Katori Hall, who really did some beautiful work a few years ago with Our Lady of Kibeho. I walked out of the theater truly inspired and touched after seeing it. Beautiful, masterful work. I could go on and on, so I will add three friends who I think are also incredibly talented who light up a stage: Ngozi  Anyanwu, Hilary Bettis, and Chisa Hutchinson.


Kate:  Your plays like Turning the Glass Aroundand Return to Real both center on themes such as identity, race, The American Dream, and acceptance. What stimulates your passion to write about these recurring themes?


Pia:  Even before I was writing plays, when I was writing fiction and later film, I have always written about race and its impact on our identities. The fact that my school was desegregated by the courts when I was going into the 7th grade probably had a big influence on me. I’ve also always been interested in other cultures — my mom used to call me her little U.N. I’ve noticed throughout the years how my friends of Asian descent were “othered” in a way that was offensive and strange to me. My friends with Hispanic heritage too. So, I try to express my thoughts on this in my work. I explore the nature of the American identity — who gets to call themselves American, what does being American even mean, what defines an “American,” etc.


Kate:  Your play, Like Saltwater, will be featured in this year’s SOUNDINGS reading series. It is about a bipolar, African-American woman (Ailyn) who is locked in a room with her husband’s friend who is also a Priest. Meanwhile, Ailyn’s husband is dying in their bedroom. What inspired this unique story-line?


Pia:  I’ve written and rewritten this play for years. I have had a lot of personal losses in my life — my father died within my first couple of months in the EWG — so I’m always going write about grief and ghosts and death. It’s a part of life, and I don’t know that we talk about it enough. I also don’t think we talk about mental illness enough as a society. There’s a lot of shame around it for the people who have it and their families, as if it’s someone’s fault.


Kate:  When do you do your best writing? Do you have structured writing time, or do you write when inspiration hits you?


Pia:  My best writing happens on Sundays. I can unplug for hours, without anyone bothering me. I also don’t have to go to my job. That’s my structured writing time. Waiting for inspiration means I would never write. That’s like waiting for a play to structure itself!