Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

BOND: Welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership. Thank you so much for joining us.

HALL: Thank you, thanks for having me here.

BOND: Well, it's our pleasure. Let me begin with some investigation of your background. Can you tell me what significant issues in your development to date have helped shape who you are?

HALL: I think because I grew up in Memphis Tennessee, I've always been affected by racism and I've always had to come to grips with what that particular system has done to me and has affected me and still affects me to this day. You know, growing up in Memphis, you live in the shadow of Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated there, and in Memphis there is still a huge chasm between white and black people and I would say the haves and the have-nots. So that mixture of racism and classism I would say has always affected me, and I grew up in this neighborhood called Orange Mound for the first five years of my life. And Orange Mound is like, you know, it's a [quote, unquote] "bad" part of town, predominantly African-American working class, blue collar folk. Hard working folk, but nonetheless, don't really have a lot of money. And by the time when I was five years of age my mother and my father moved us out to this suburb called Raleigh and in a way my life completely changed because I gained access to, you know, a different school -- a school that had better resources, better teachers, and I would say that move really, probably is the main reason why I'm sitting here today and have accomplished the things I have accomplished. But having moved to that particular neighborhood, we were like one of three black families that had just moved into this neighborhood, and we, the younger children, we, you know, the other neighborhood kids, there were a lot of incidents that occurred where we came up against a lot of opposition to us being there from other kids from – like -- people, like I remember one incident specifically when my sister and I, we were playing in our front yard, you know, playing hide and go seek - whatever, whatever - and these white guys in a white pickup truck, and what is this, Mississippi Burning?, but anyway, you know, they're rolling down the street and they throw – like - a glass bottle at us and scream "nigger". And I remember being so -- like, what is that, what is that anger, what is that lack of understanding, what is that ignorance that has just occurred to me, you know? And I remember my sister and I, we really didn't talk about it, and I don't even know if she remembers, you know, cause when things like that happen, you try to either, it's either emblazoned in your mind, or you try to forget it, you repress it. So I remember at a very early age coming to terms with the fact that my life is going to be different because I am of a different color.

BOND: It seems to me that looking back on you when you were five years old, that you had a sense then, or you found out since then, that this move from one neighborhood to another neighborhood offered you an opportunity that you wouldn't have had, had you stayed where you were. Have you ever thought about what you were giving up? You left this place where people were not likely to throw bottles at you and call you names, and went to this neighborhood where people were likely to do that. Did you ever consider that a trade -- and not necessarily a good trade?

HALL: Only in retrospect. You know, when you're five, you just miss the people that you grow up with. I mean, keep in mind that my grandmother still lived in the downtown Memphis area…

BOND: So you would go back and see her…

HALL: Oh definitely, like, you know, on the weekends. So in a way, I kind of grew up one foot here and one foot there, straddling a fence constantly. You know, I was very cognizant of, you know, what was being left behind and it being a place of poverty, but also a place of community, a place of home, a place where big momma took care of all the kids and it was like a daycare center, but then, if I would've stayed where big momma stayed, I wouldn't have been able to be in an optional program, have AP classes, and be really enriched artistically and academically. But there is a kind of trade and I don't that it's a kind of identity thing. I think I still kept my sense of being an African American, a sense of [quote-unquote] "blackness," but there is a sense of always being the only one in the room and having that huge responsibility to defend your race…

BOND: Or to represent…

HALL: Or to represent your race, and to work harder than your other white counterparts because you have to prove to them that you deserve to be there, that you should be there. That is a lot of emotional weight.

BOND: It's a lot of weight for anyone, but particularly a young person.

BOND: How did you balance the feeling that I have to do better because these white kids don't think that I can, and the feeling that I have to do better because I just want to do better? How do you balance those?

HALL: I must say, I mostly wanted to do better because I wanted to make my parents proud. That's mostly why I wanted to do better. I didn't really feel, you know, this huge desire to just—it wasn't competition to make other people feel bad about themselves. I had this intense drive because I wanted to make my family proud because I knew that they grew up in the era where they lived in segregation. You know -- like my mom couldn't go to the zoo on only but one day of the week because the Memphis City Zoo would only allow colored folk to come in on Tuesdays. You know, that's the reality that she lived in, and so here I was given this opportunity to be sitting right beside a white child and learning in a way that she couldn't have even dreamed of, and that to me, is what drove me. It's like look how far my parents have come, you know, having saved up money to buy a house in order to move us out here, in order so that we could have a wonderful education. They made so many sacrifices so, for me, you know, it was always about moving my family forward.

BOND: So I'm guessing if I ask who were influential people in your life, your parents would be at the top of the list?

HALL: My parents, definitely.

BOND: And who else?

HALL: My sister Taffy. She was the one who taught me how to read…

BOND: She's older?

HALL: She's older, six years older. I would say, you know, my other sister was so much older than me, that they left the house. One of my sisters went to the Navy, and then another sister ended up moving out to California with her, so I would say Taffy was the one who was the closest to me and she really—we would actually play with each other and there was this dollhouse that I had and me and her would play dolls and make up stories and I think she stoked that kind of creative fire in me and to always be cultivating my imagination. And we would just play dress up all the time, and so I would say she is probably one of the biggest influences on my sense of imagination and on this level of learning because we would play, you know, school. When she got back from school --like she was in elementary school, and so she would be the teacher and I would be the student and that's how I was taught to read, and reading to me was so fun because we were role playing in the midst of actually learning something. Like we would take newspaper and she would spread it out and – like - look at that and that's how I would say she really, really influenced that creative side of me, that beautiful, special side of me.

BOND: Tell me about your sister, what is she doing now?

HALL: Taffy is unfortunately struggling right now. Struggling really, really hard. Growing up, even though we were in the same -- under the same roof, living under the same roof, Taffy had it harder than I would say I did because even though she taught me this love of learning, when we moved out to that particular neighborhood, to Raleigh, you know, she didn't like school, and because sometimes she would skip school, she was disciplined harshly by the school and by my parents. And so, you know, she actually didn't end up going to college. She actually lagged behind and her dream was to be an artist, a visual artist, but because she—she ended up graduating high school, but she ended up getting pregnant during high school, so there were choices that she had made in her life -- early on in her life that have put her in a place where she now has four children, four beautiful children, my niece and nephews, but she never got an opportunity to go to college. She's on Section 8, and was not able to pursue her dreams because of all of these challenges that accumulated over a period of time.

BOND: Talk about your parents. You talked about their ability to save money, to buy a house, to move to a better neighborhood, and I'm wondering if they ever told you, and/or your siblings, of experiences they had had: bad experiences, and in an era different from the one you came up in, and whether or not these were related to you as "here's something interesting that happened" or "this is something I'm angry about even today." How did they transmit to their children stories of the past? How did they come to you?

HALL: They told us. They were very upfront, always very upfront. You know, we would sit around the table at dinnertime, or sit in the living room, and my dad'll come home and talk about the crackers that made him mad.

BOND: So these were his daily experiences, what about his past experiences?

HALL: I would say my father, in regards to his past experiences with racism, it was only articulated through a sense of warning, meaning if I had a white friend, he would be like, "Well you know how those white people are, and all the things that they've done." But he was never very explicit about experiences, like actual things that occurred in his past that made him come to this place where he had a lot of anger and a lot of bitterness. Even today, I might be -- like, "So dad, tell me a story from the sixties or the seventies," he gets kind of quiet, silent, and stoic about it. And I'm like, something big happened, but he hasn't come to a point where he can relay the past to me because maybe in relaying the past to me, telling me about the past is to re-experience it for him. But my mother, oh my goodness, she would tell me story after story after story. She grew up around the corner from the Lorraine Motel, so she was in the thick of it, just always marching. She, as a matter of fact, when King came to do the sanitation worker's strike, and they led that march on March 28th, where people ended up rioting, she was right in the middle of it.

BOND: And she talked about these events to her children?

HALL: Oh yes, as a matter of fact, I was saying earlier that I went to Memphis a couple of weeks ago, and of course, because it was the anniversary of his assassination a lot of people are opening up about their recollections of that week, you know, of that period in time, and she just sat me down and was -- like, "Yeah, let me tell you a story." The day that King was shot, she was fifteen years old, and there was this older woman that was living on the block with her and the lady came up to her and was -- like, "Ca-may, I want you to go to the doctor with me." So my mother, Carrie Mae, she goes to the doctor and they get in this car, this white Cadillac. So they're driving down the street, and very, very close to the Lorraine Motel, they're driving down the street and the woman is about to make a left hand turn, and all of a sudden, this barrage of policemen are just coming down the street flying. If she would've made that left hand turn, she would've got hit by the police cars—all the police cars coming. And that woman, I forget her name, she just started crying and was - like, "They shot Dr. King. They done shot Dr. King. Oh my God, they done shot Dr. King!" Now my mother, was - like, how does this woman know this, because…

BOND: Yes, I'm wondering, how does she know that…

HALL: It was the feeling. It was this kind of premonition, all she had to do was put two and two together and she was like, all these police cars are coming, they're going towards the Lorraine Motel…

BOND: …everybody knows he was staying at the Lorraine Motel…

HALL: …Everybody knew that because The Commercial Appeal had put it in the paper, he's staying at the Lorraine Motel…like all these police cars coming and she just had this feeling, she just knew that Dr. King had gotten shot, so she turned around, they go back home and they find out that Dr. King had indeed been shot. And so, talking to my mother, her relaying this story to me, she's like a library, a flesh and bone library, talking to me and, you know, I gained so much perspective about that particular period in time, kind of like the emotional weight of what had happened, which when you're reading in history books, you have to kind of reimagine it for yourself, but when you have someone who was there, it's such a special thing.

BOND: Now, did you get the feeling that both from your father, whom you say was angry as he relayed these events from the past, and your mother, who's also sharing with you things that happened to her, particularly this spectacular story you just told, are they telling you these as instructions to their children, "This is what happened to me, I behaved in this way, if it ever happens to you, you behave in that way," or simply just relating something that happened, just a story in their lives?

HALL: I think it's a mixture. I think maybe subconsciously it may be an instruction, but I'm not necessarily—I don't know what kind of instruction that it would be, but I think it's mostly to pass on history.

BOND: This series we're doing on black leadership, one of our launching pads for discussion is the Brown v. Board of Education suit in 1954, and obviously you were far from being thought of when it was decided, so you can't answer the question we ask most people, "What did it mean to you?" I wonder, if you have some sense of what it meant to you when you were able to understand that it had happened and were able to say, "Gee, because of this, this happened." Do you have any sense of that?

HALL: I learned about it very specifically with knowing that it overturned the Plessy vs. Ferguson case. I learned about it, say, my eleventh grade year of high school because I was taking an AP history course. And I must say, I was - like, "I don't think things have changed that much."

BOND: At the same time, here you are at the suburban school…

HALL: And let me explain why I say that.

BOND: Okay.

HALL: Because in this suburban school, we're still extremely segregated. You know, it was an optional school, so the class structure was like a pyramid, meaning, at the top—it was basically divided into levels, level one through six. At the bottom level, you had mostly, predominantly black students who have been bussed from other neighborhoods that were called New Chicago Park and Douglas, and these neighborhoods were, you know, working class or impoverished neighborhoods. So at the bottom, you had all these black kids that had been bussed, and then above that maybe you had black and a sprinkle of Mexican kids, then a bit above that mostly black kids—a couple of white kids. And as the pyramid went up, up, up to the top, the gradation of color got paler, meaning at the top, mostly white students in these AP classes, these college prep classes, and two or three black kids, me being one of the two or three, or four or five. So it's almost like, yes, Brown v. Board of Education created opportunities for people and separate but equal doesn't truly exist. You have to integrate these schools, but it's so funny that within the school system it was still segregated, in a way, internally, and then I would say Memphis specifically, in 1973 when they started the bussing, a slew of white parents took their children out of the school system and created their own private school system.

BOND: So you find yourself at the top of this pyramid where the closer you get to the top, the whiter the pyramid gets, what was the effect of your placement here at the top with your white classmates or schoolmates, your black classmates or schoolmates? What was—Did their attitude toward you change, or was it marked in any way?

HALL: It was extremely complicated because I was that black kid who had friends who were from Douglas, but then had a lot of white friends. I was like that kid who could morph and go between these worlds. And it was extremely complicated. My friendships with the black kids could be strained sometimes, like sometimes they would call me "Oreo," you know, white on the inside, black on the outside—you speak this way, your language is a little heightened, you speak grammatically correct, you know. It's hurtful, but you understand, you understand why. It's a sense of, "You're getting something that I'm not getting so I'm gonna make fun of you."

BOND: Yes, "I'm gonna blame you for what I don't have."

HALL: I'm gonna blame you for what I don't have, exactly. But then with the white kids, like when I graduated from high school and I got all these scholarships and there was this one guy that was like, "Oh you got those scholarships because you're black." Well that's the first time I ever got anything because I'm black, well thank you Jesus [laugh] bring it on, bring me more. But once again, I had some tension with my white classmates. There was this one incident in particular, I will never forget it, but there was this white guy named TJ who supposedly called us a nigger. We were, I think, in tenth grade at that time. We were about to go to math class and everybody came up to me and was like, "Katori, Katori, you gotta go beat TJ up, or you gotta go talk to him—beat him up with your words, or something." And I was - like, this anger was like, how dare he, like what year is this? Really, what year is this? I remember going up to TJ and I was like, "Why did you call us niggers?" And he says, "Well my father said that y'all are from Niger, and so I can call y'all niggers." And something broke inside of me that day because when he said that, I didn't have enough history in my mind to refute him. I didn't have enough self-knowledge to know that most, if you are a descendant of a slave—that you're probably from Ghana or Nigeria—I didn't know that yet. And at that moment, I was - like, I have to learn my history beyond 1968. I have to read about slavery. I have to deconstruct this myth that has been created about being an African American in this country—and the ignorance too. That was a very powerful moment. It kind of crystalized my sense of identity and I began to be very proud of being an African American once I learned more of my history.

BOND: Let me take you back to something you said. People came up to you and said, "You need to go deal with TJ." Now that says to me, that your schoolmates looked to you for leadership. They thought when this incident happened, naturally, I'll go to her. Did you ever think of yourself, maybe not quite in these terms, I am a leader?

HALL: Definitely, definitely. At that point in time I had been class president two or three times, and because of my ability to talk to all different types of people, whether they be poor or middle class or upper-middle class or Mexican or gay or heterosexual, I just had this way of forming alliances with all different kinds of people. I would say that people did definitely, my classmates did definitely look to me as a person to go to who could make decisions for the entire student body, but also, you know, just be a cool chick.

J. Bond: Let me take you back to the Brown decision real quickly when it was decided, I was fourteen, and it was discussed in my house, contemporaneously, as it happened, as it appeared. What event, if any, has a similar kind of relationship in your life, in your lifetime? Is there something that had the same kind of, at least conversational effect, where you and your parents, your schoolmates, your friends said, “Oh boy, did you hear about that?”

Katori Hall: Hmmm, I’m not—that’s similar to the Brown v. Board of Education decision?

J. Bond: Yes, some racial…

Katori Hall: O.J. Simpson.

J. Bond: Ok, O.J.’s arrest and trial…

Katori Hall: Cause I remember, I was thirteen or fourteen, and the white Bronco, everybody has the image of the white Bronco flying down the highway, and everybody was just sitting there like, “Oh my gosh, this black man possibly murdered this white woman.” And, you know, growing up in the South, there’s the history of Emmet Till, like you know that a black man ain’t supposed to do nothing to a white woman; he ain’t supposed to whistle at her, - right? So we knew that that was going to be something very important, but also it was a case that just carried so much weight and uncovered the tension that was still there between black and white people living across the nation regardless of you living in, being in the South. And I remember when that verdict was—when they read that verdict, I remember the black kids cheered, and the white kids groaned.

J. Bond: And what did that say to you? That these radically different reactions…

Katori Hall: For me, for the black kids, and you know, our parents because we definitely get our sense of what we think from our parents, I think it was a release of anger and bitterness. Like, think of all the black men who have been lynched, think of all the black men who have been killed by police and still are being killed by police for -- like being with a white woman, you’re like, “Yay!” Even if he did kill her, like, finally, we got something. We have won something ‘cause the justice system is stacked up against black people in so many ways. It’s like engrained. The racism is engrained into our justice system and to see a black man get off for possibly committing murder was absolutely astounding because that never could’ve happened. Now you bring into the fact that he had a lot of money, and the intersection of race and class, that’s a whole ‘nother thing to pick apart, but it was like a black man got off for possibly murdering a white woman? That’s unheard of, but then the white kids groaning, you understand that they want him to pay for what he did to this white woman and it became this loaded symbol, I think, of race relations in America today, or at that point in time.

BOND: Now, you look back at leadership figures in black America over time, Dr. King, Marcus Garvey, Dr. Du Bois, a long, long list of people, and often they have a distinct vision, they have a distinct style, something peculiar to them. Is there any one style that you historically have thought of as emulating, as imitating this is the way he or she behaved and this is the way I'm going to behave and comport myself?

HALL: Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

BOND: Ah, because she's from Memphis?

HALL: No, no. She's actually from Holly Springs, Mississippi, but she's a historical hero to me for so many reasons and mostly because she used the power of the pen. And as a writer, as an artist, as a person who is always deconstructing race and class through words, I must say that she is the one person that I truly, truly look up to. I've tried to read everything that she's ever written just because she was so blunt. She used—like the pen was definitely a sword for her. She uncovered very inconvenient truths for our society and I think she was a remarkable human being and definitely a woman who was way, way, way, way ahead of her time. Like, she helped to found the NAACP as well along with with her cohorts at the time and we kind of don't know that. We don't know her history and I think it may be because she's a woman. Most times our sense of our -- what we think of as black leadership tends to have a male face, you know, the Martin Luther King Jr., and the Jesse Jackson, and then the Al Sharpton, but there are a lot of black women who really pushed this society forward.

BOND: I think there's a new biography of her that just came out—

HALL: Mmhm, by Paula Giddings.

BOND: Right, by Paula Giddings, right.

BOND: How does race consciousness affect your work? Do you see yourself as somebody who advances issues of race or society, or both? Is there a distinction between them? And is there such a thing as a race transcending personality or leader?

HALL: I'll start with your last question first: can a leader be race transcending?

BOND: Yes.

HALL: I think that a leader can't transcend their race, but I think a leader can transcend racism. I think that because of the society that we live in, because we are primed and socialized to look at people and to judge them based on their color, that you cannot—I cannot not be black to you. I cannot not be black to a white person, to an Asian person, I am black, obviously. But I can make certain decisions and I can accomplish certain goals that despite my blackness, I achieve. I think Oprah Winfrey is a wonderful example of that, where you see this big, brown woman transcending racism. Being one of the richest women in the world, or the richest woman in the world, you know, having control over her empire, but being very proud about being a black woman and being a black woman from the South.

BOND: What about those people who look at Oprah Winfrey, as an example, and say, oh I don't see race? Or look at you, I don't see race.

HALL: They lying. [laughing]

BOND: But I think they think that, they believe that, that they don't see race. And I don't see how that's possible, but…

HALL: I think we as Americans, we always see race. Now, you know, we can get past it eventually. I think, especially when we form personal relationships with people, like, you know, certain individuals can be like, "Yeah, you know what, because I know Katori…I just know Katori. I don't know her as the ‘black' Katori." They don't qualify it, me as being black, but on first glance, we see color first, unless you're blind, then you probably are trying to figure out is this person black or white from the tone of their voice. We're always trying to categorize and I think that's how human beings are.

BOND: How does race consciousness affect your work?

HALL: I write about black people. And the reason why I write about black people is because as a playwright, I don't see myself as reflected on stage very often. And when I do see myself reflected, it's like, in a servant role, or it's not very complex. So my ultimate goal in this lifetime is to create a body of work that has a complex array of African American characters in it. I will always want to write work -- I write plays that are extremely complex in that they are unafraid of tackling the big issues in our society, such as racism, such as classism, such as homophobia within the black community. I'm interested in those things, but mostly I have dedicated myself in the endeavor of developing characters on stage that are African American. I mean, I'm coming on the heels of someone like August Wilson, who has this beautiful body of work, you know, plays that extend from slavery till now. But most of those roles—most of those plays contain predominantly male roles, African American male roles. And so as a person who is a young, black woman, I want to see the intersection of that. I want to see female and black characters on stage, and so I tend to write really wonderful roles for black women. I mean, I write great roles for black men too, but I see that there is a dearth of work for young, African American actresses and I really want to see that on stage before I pass, which will hopefully be very, very further down the line. [laugh]

BOND: We hope so. Let me ask you to respond to a quote from a man name William Allen. He says there's a danger in continually thinking of race or gender until we learn to once again, to use the language of American freedom, in an appropriate way that embraces us all, we're going to continue to harm this country. Is there a danger of divisiveness when you focus on the concept of black leadership?

HALL: I must say that I don't think there is a danger to focus on the concept of black leadership. I don't think there is a danger in focusing on sex or race. I think in focusing and deconstructing the specificities of that, one can move America forward because that's where we're lacking. That's the one place where we as Americans haven't moved forward on, and so in order to get to the place of freedom and justice and equality for all, we have to dismantle those shackles mentally that we have created in regards to, you know, always putting blacks last, always putting women last. I don't think it's a divisive thing to talk about the problems that certain groups of people come up against.

HALL: But in terms of black leadership, that's a very interesting—like how does one define black leadership? And once again I go back to that whole idea of black leadership often having a male face and it's because we have the Martin Luther King Jr. as the epitome of the black leader in our minds, but I don't think—I think we're moving toward a place where the idea of leadership, whether you're black or white, is becoming democratized, where you can be a leader…it's such a complicated question…let me take that back. [laugh]

BOND: Well, take Senator Obama, he is black, but I wouldn't call him a black leader. Would you? And why wouldn't you?

HALL: I would call him a leader and a black leader. I think he can be both. I call him a black leader—

BOND: In a way that Martin Luther King isn't? or was?

HALL: The thing is, I will say, especially toward the end of Martin Luther King's life, that white people wouldn't listen to him. That white people had gotten tired of this man beating them over the head with the fact that they were racist. He began to speak out against the Vietnam War, which actually, Obama has spoken out against the Iraq War, so there's a similarity right there, but Obama has a kind of malleability to him and also because he is black man with a white mother, people see that he can go across the color line. He's like a chameleon in a way and I think because of his heritage, he has an advantage in that whole definition of what is a black leader and what is a leader, period. He can have access to all different groups of people and I think that's a wonderful thing and I think that's where black leadership, or I think that's where leaders who are black are trying to go. Like, I think of Harold Ford Jr. who, when I look at him, oh, I don't think of him as a black leader, I think of him as a leader because he really tries to distance himself away from this whole issue of black—

BOND: Is that because of the political stands that he takes? Harold was my student.

HALL: Oh really?

BOND: At the University of Pennsylvania, yes, and I admire him a great deal, but I know he stood apart in a way from the kind of politics practiced by most of the members of the Black Caucus -- Congressional Black Caucus -- so does that distinguish him in your mind?

HALL: Yeah, he becomes…

BOND: Less black?

HALL: Not less black. No, not less black. He'll always be a black person because of his heritage, to me. But I think we're moving to a place where people are -- like, "I am an individual. I'm not just black." It's not that qualifier anymore. It's not like the black congressman, or the black senator. It's becoming Congressman, Congresswoman, Senator. That, I would say, is a reflection of how far we've come. But, at the end of the day, we have so much further to go. But back to the whole idea, can you be—the whole definition of black leadership, I think you can be both. You can be a leader and a black leader. You can connect with the black masses, but you can also connect across the color line, which I think Obama is a wonderful example of that being a reality. Something that could possibly happen, and the thing is, I think just now how we realize that, you know, you don't have to define yourself, pigeonhole yourself into this box of being black leader.

BOND: You have said that when you're growing up in Memphis, before you moved to the suburbs, that you didn't know you were struggling, that you didn't know you were poor. Can you talk about that?

HALL: I think mostly because you don't have anything to compare it to.

BOND: No other standard.

HALL: You have no other standard. You don't know why you're eating bologna instead of steak. You're just eating bologna, and it's good, especially when it's fried and popped in the middle on white bread, Wonder Bread, you know, it's wonderful. But then, when you have something to compare it to, and you're going into the other white kids' homes and you're seeing what they have, you're like, "Oh, that's the difference. Huh. Oh, you guys have TVs in every room? You guys have five bedrooms? Wow. Okay." And you don't necessarily correlate it with you being black, you just—that's the moment where you realize there is a difference and it takes the lifetime lived after that point to figure out what the difference is.

BOND: Now in talking about the work that you do, the plays that you write, people have said you have a unique voice. Where does this voice come from? I'm just imaging you say, well it comes from me because I'm unique, but how did it come out of you? What is it about you?

HALL: That voice is very particular to southern African Americans. I'm very proud of being from the South, I'm extremely proud of being from Memphis, even though they lost the game the other night, it's so sad. [laugh]

BOND: Next year.

HALL: Next year, right? Final Four. That voice comes from listening. Listening to my mother talk about that day when Martin Luther King was assassinated. It comes from listening to my father rail on and on about what was done to him at work. It comes from listening to my mother be infuriated by the fact that her union, you know, she can't get something passed through her union. It comes from being at my grandmother's feet and listening to her tales of growing up in Louisiana and being a part of sharecropping family. That's where that voice comes from. Being very respectful to the voices that have come before me and the voices that are my family. That's what I would say is authentic about it because it's just coming from a person who is just existing as a reservoir for other people to dump their stories in and to let those things pour out in my work.

BOND: Is it possible that other people, not black, not southern, not urban, could dump their stories into you?

HALL: Yes, definitely.

BOND: And you'd be receptive to that.

HALL: Would definitely be receptive. As a matter of fact, that's where I've moved—I'm moving in that direction, where I'm writing white characters, rich white characters, characters who lived in Africa, characters who are white but are South African, so are they African? You know, it's like a very—as an artist, you learn how to use the world as your clay. You learn how to just live your life and to be very observant of other people's lives. And I also was a journalist for a very, very long time and that experience of listening to people who are totally different from me and being respectful of their stories, cause that's what a journalist is. You're taking down—it's a story—you're getting the story, you're getting the news of the day, right? And I think that experience of always being in communities that I kind of -- like, stuck out, has really provided a foundation for me as a playwright so that I can take that ability to listen further and create stories that are not particularly specific to the southern African American experience. Cause once again, you don't want to be pigeonholed as that, just as you don't want to be pigeonholed as a black leader, you don't want to be necessarily pigeonholed as a black writer. Like if white playwrights can write black characters, why can't I write white characters? So I would say I'm definitely moving in that direction.

BOND: Well thank you for sharing your story with us. We appreciate it.

HALL: Thank you for having me.

BOND: Our pleasure.