Words of Encouragement by Aurin Squire — Aurin Squire — AAPEX

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Words of Encouragement by Aurin Squire

“Sure it’s well-written but, honestly, who wants to hear about this.”

“No one will make this.”

“Your work is incredibly creative and imaginative. In addition, you are one of the most prolific writers I've come across. I just feel I'm not connecting (on some level) with your work...and I don't really know why.”

“They’re not looking for Black talent at this time.”

“No one will come and see this.”

“If I was on the phone with a producer or artistic director and was posed with the question: 'Tell me about Aurin Squire and his work' ....well...I'm not sure I can really do you justice.”

These are excerpts from a few of the many notices I’ve gotten from producers, agents, and other talent. They have been delivered to me in letters, e-mails, and phone conversations. Now to be clear these are the nice ones. Normally a rejection note isn’t longer than the few standardized sentences: ‘thank you, but no thanks,’ ‘it was a tough decision,’ ‘keep on writing ’I appreciate each and every one of these notices. They let me know that I’m not crazy.

I started writing because I thought maybe there was something wrong with me. I went to predominantly White, upper-class schools growing up and was often the only Black person in the honors classes. I would sit, listen, and observe. I would take the tests, raise my hand to use the restroom, always had A’s in conduct. Occasionally, a classmate would ask for my opinion about something Black or would want to touch my hair. I would mumble a reply and flee as quickly as possible from the scene.

As a defense, I perfected the mask. This was the expression I would wear on my face throughout school. The mask said ‘leave me alone, I’m thinking.’ Among my classmates I gained the reputation of being aloof. A few teachers even asked me if I was autistic or had some sort of speech impediment? I would shrug my shoulders and mumble a reply. But in my head I was screaming all the time.

I started writing because I thought I was the only one who saw things differently from what the teachers taught, from what I read in the newspaper, or saw on TV. It was quite maddening to have school and media tell me the world is one way but to see, hear and feel in my soul that this was a lie. It made me doubt my own instinct and my own sense of the world. It made me think that I was insane.

Everything changed in college. To be different, to think differently became a badge of honor. I lived in an international dorm with students from around the world. We were all different, mixed up, a little confused and upset about it. At Northwestern, I wrote for the school newspaper, reported for the Chicago Tribune, produced documentaries, wrote plays and screenplays. It felt like I opened up my head and that internal voice ran out stark naked, screaming and crying and laughing.

I saw myself as expanding, growing fuller, more defined, more colorful with each work. There were no limits in my mind so why would there be restrictions in my words? It all gushed out of me in poems, short stories, newspaper reports, magazine articles, theatre, film of all genres. One day a professor asked about my writing: ‘so what are you?’

I am young. I am Black. I am gay. I am gifted...

The declarative sentences rolled through my head. But I wasn’t asked for the sum of my parts. I understood the question. I was being asked for one thing that was to be my voice, the stamped slogan attached to my writing.

At first I was encouraged to be more Black, to read more August Wilson and Toni Morrison, to emulate Amiri Baraka and Lorraine Hansberry. It all seemed phony. These writers were great, but they were not me, they had their own voice, from their own neighborhood and their own time.

I saw race as important, but not as the end-all, be-all. I didn’t grow up in the civil rights era or in stifling oppression. The racial divisions I saw in my life were more subtle and nuanced. The ones I read about from Richard Wright to James Baldwin had characters that were either cartoonishly evil or the reincarnation of Christ. I had never met any of these people in my life.

I went through what defined me, but couldn’t find anything that stood alone by itself. I could not separate the parts of my identity –my race, my sexuality, my age, my birthplace- any more than I could separate my right side from the left. I noticed the letters and conversations started changing. The quality of my writing was no longer in question. The problem was the voice. I was repeatedly told that my works were ‘too complicated’ and that ‘no one would want to hear about it.’

I was threatened with being another frustrated un-produced writer if I didn’t make compromises. And that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. It wasn’t about the fact that I was young, Black, gay, or anything else. It was about the fact that I choose to incorporate the whole of me into my work, without compromise. That my voice was still running around, unclothed, unleashed and unapologetic.

Many people, who truly do think that have my best interest in mind, have encouraged me to tone myself down. When I look at what’s out there, they have a point. The opportunities for new African American artists have diminished in mainstream theatre and movies. Yet we are desperate for new African American voices that are without compromise. Not because it is the right thing to do, or to be fair to minorities, but because there is a wealth of art and entertainment that has been unexplored, and there is an enormous amount of profit –financial and spiritual- to be gained. There are countless blockbuster movies, mega-musicals, successful dramas that go un-produced every year because they don’t fit into neat categories. And still there is the audience, which grows more and more hungry each year for work that is immediate and relevant, for something that is messy and alive with the new. This is an open secret: audiences are always excited about the very thing which most scares producers and investors: risky art and entertainment. When will the supply meet the demand?

We need both producers and theatres to support African American artists, and artists who speak to the whole of their existence. More than anything else, Black writers have to rise above the simplification of ourselves. We are not just gospel plays, and ‘black mama’ dramas. We are epic, we are tragic, we are Shakespearean, we are absurdist, existentialist, nihilistic, apocalyptic. We are the complete experience of life.

Now I can read the all the notices –good and bad- with a sense of peace. I take the criticism. Whether constructive and reductive, I listen and thank people for a piece of their time. They make not like what they hear, but they will never doubt its authenticity.

I don’t question the truth of my writing. I can improve the technique, master new tricks, learn from great authors of the past and from my generation. I don’t, however, question my voice. The only question I have when I look at America’s entertainment, is when theatres and production companies tap into this open secret, and when will we start to tap into it ourselves?


  1. Dear Mr. Aurin Aquire:

    What a sincere inspiration you are for all of us minorities who choose not to give up after so many "Thank yous, but no thanks!".
    I love your work!
    You are truly gifted!!

  2. nice job. hope you're doing well out there.