Danai Gurira ’01

2011 Young Alumni Award

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In the decade since Danai Gurira ’01 graduated from Macalester, she has used her gifts as an actor and playwright to promote international understanding.

Her plays, including Eclipsed, In the Continuum, and The Convert, focus on Africa, exploring issues such as HIV/AIDs in women, civil war in Liberia, and Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence. In the Continuum, which germinated as her Macalester honors project, won the Helen Hayes Award for best lead actress and an Obie Award for playwriting.

Eclipsed won best new play at the 2010 Helen Hayes Awards and Danai won best playwright at the NAACP Theater Awards last August. The Convert, the first of a planned trilogy about her native Zimbabwe, will premiere at Princeton University. She recently received a prestigious National Endowment for the Arts grant in support of the trilogy.

“When I see something actualized that I wrote or see an actor creatively explore her own culture on stage, that is so satisfying,” says Gurira. “My plays all deal with political issues and contemporary African experiences. I find great joy in giving voice to the experiences of those rarely heard from.”

Gurira also excels as an actor, starring in the 2008 film The Visitor and on Broadway in August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone. She has a recurring role on HBO’s popular Treme, set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Says theatre professor Beth Cleary, “Danai is a gifted performer, with an understanding of the urgencies and fearlessness required to make the inner life of a character come alive.”

Danai, who has an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, is a commissioned playwright with the Yale Repertory Theater.