McKnight National Residency and Commission recipient Mfoniso Udofia is at the Playwrights' Center this week, one of several visits over the course of her residency year. She is workshopping her commissioned play Lifted, part of her 9-play Ufot Family Cycle, with actors Kiara Jackson, M. Hajji Ahmed, and Shá Cage. We asked Mfoniso some questions:
Tell us about your 9-play Ufot Family Cycle. What inspired the cycle, and what is coming next?
I began writing the Ufot Family Cycle around 2009. It started as one play, The Grove, and I discovered I had more stories to tell. A trilogy was born, inclusive of 3 plays (Sojourners, The Grove, and runboyrun). Then it expanded to 9 plays! The cycle chronicles the lives of a family of Nigerian (Ibibio) immigrants as they live, love, and have children in America.
What is your writing process like?
I write in the mornings. I like to write when no one is awake and the sun hasn’t yet risen. My mind splays in the evening. It’s best for me to write in the morning.
What is the most unusual place you found inspiration for a play?
Um. In the bath! My rational mind relaxed and then something else broke open.
What does your writing space look like?
I used to have a proper writing space. A couple years ago I lived in New Jersey and had the gift of a home office. Now I primarily write on my couch, or wherever inspiration strikes. I do, however, make a concerted effort not to write where I sleep. That separation is a healthy thing. Hopefully, a home office will rain down on me once again!
What do you do when you’re stuck on something when you’re writing?
I read. I read, read, read. Getting lost in someone else’s writing usually helps shake loose my own.
What was the hardest thing about writing your last play?
I’m in the middle of writing the play Adia and Clora Snatch Joy, and that play is snatching back all my edges. I’m personally discovering that the most complicated feeling for me to write down is joy/love/contentment. I am wrestling to understand exactly how joy manifests between Adia and Clora and sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s the most difficult thing.
What were you like as a kid?
I was a complicated child. HA! I was a studious. And sometimes too big for my britches…especially if thought I knew I KNEW a thing. I don’t believe I was outgoing, per se. But I always had a set band of friends and I leaned on them. I’ve carried that over into my adult life. My joy as a kid was reading. Fairytales. Mythologies. Romances. I was always escaping into a book. Basically, I was a nerd!
What advice do you have for beginning playwrights?
I have been saying this a lot lately but I think it bears repeating. My advice is to fail forward. Keep your eyes open, follow your impulses and…learn. Choose to modify or choose to double-down after you have learned. Count your mistakes as teachings and welcome them as you move forward.
Mfoniso will be back at the Playwrights' Center toward the end of June. Keep an eye out for a public reading announcement around that time.