Artist Snapshot: OyamO discusses life, legacy and society's future in interview

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By Tehreem Sajjad, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 17, 2013

“Believe it or not — I’ve come to believe at this age — human beings are basically the lowest animals on this earth, and the reason why I say that is because I know that human beings don’t feel that way,” OyamO said.

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A prominent influence in the growing canon of African-American literature, playwright OyamO’s (Charles F. Gordon) work captures historical events in a new light.

“All writers have their own reasons for writing. For me, I think I want to go for something that causes discomfort. But discomfort towards something good,” he said.

Born in Ohio in 1943 and raised with six siblings, OyamO recognized his love for writing at an early age. As a child, he learned the best way to express his feelings and opinions about a particular individual or issue was through writing. During high school, OyamO was known for writing letters to the editor of his local newspaper regarding his opinions about issues in his community, politics and controversial topics, all of which were published in print.

His growing desire to delve into fiction originated from his grandfather, a preacher at the community church.

“I had always enjoyed the stories that my grandfather would tell us about the old days in the South,” OyamO said. “In school, I always enjoyed the English and literature courses and soon, I got to a point when I began to enjoy writing my own stories.”

An Associate Professor of Theatre and writer-in-residence at the University, OyamO received his Master of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama. His writing focuses on the struggles of people of color in America, especially those whose voices are often ignored by society. His plays bring forth controversial topics in politics, race, gender and societal classes.

“We have religion, we have technology, we have all of these things — and yet here we are,” OyamO said. “We fight each other over territory, over natural resources, over religion, over ethnicity. I mean, we have weapons right now that could wipe out all of humanity. And then you have to ask yourself, "Why do they say that we are the highest animals on earth?" I say, ‘high on what?’ ”

OyamO’s plays have appeared on stages across the country. Some of his best-known works include “Selfish Sacrifice,” “The White Black Man,” “City in a Strait” and “Sing Jubilee.”

His most celebrated achievements as an eminent playwright include the 1999 Eric Kocher Playwrights Award for “The White Black Man” at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference of 1998. OyamO was also awarded a PEW/TCG Playwright-in-Residence Fellowship in 2000 at the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

OyamO has helped pave the road for what is becoming a new theatrical genre with work that, according to some critics, can disturb even the most impervious audience members.

“A man is a man, a woman is a woman and a child is a child,” Oyamo said. “It’s very disturbing to see how these differences separate us and make us violent towards each other.”

“We have knowledge, technology, the ability to explore the universe,” he said. “Then what are we fighting each other for? You would think that by now, we’d figure out how to live on this earth together.”

“When I retire, I want to devote my full time to dealing with issues like these in such a way as to provoke thinking about it all, because again, this is the only home we have.”