The Volunteer who became a noted playwright | Rajiv Joseph (Senegal)


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Jeremiah Norris Colombia 1963-65.

Rajiv Joseph (Senegal 1996–98)

Rajiv Joseph served for three formative years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, 1996-98. About his time there, he wrote: “Being in Senegal, more than anything else in my life, made me into a writer.” His time there helped him develop the discipline of daily writing and inspired “his fascination with the power of language.” After Peace Corps, Rajiv earned a Master in Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2004.

His first play, Huck & Holden, debuted at the Cherry Lane Theater in January 2006. The play also had a West Coast run in the Black Dahlia Theater in Los Angeles the following year. Rajiv stated that the story about an Indian college student arriving in the United States is based on his father’s experience coming to the U. S.

Rajiv’s mix-race background has given him what one critic called a “fearlessness about racial topics: Being mixed-race has always been a part of my identity. You are never fully one thing or the other. You always feel a little apart, a little bit of an outsider, even when you are with your own family. That’s an interesting perspective for looking at the world” and it resonated significantly with all his plays that followed. Some of his prodigious productions of 15 plays are mentioned below.

Rajiv’s second play, The Leopard and the Fox, concerning the overthrow of Ali Bhutto, was produced Off-Broadway in October-November 2007. Second Stage Theater presented the world premiere of his Animals Out of Paper which ran from July 14, 2008 to August 2008. It has also been presented at Boise Contemporary Theater in 2009, and at the Ensemble Theater in Sydney, Australia, the San Francisco Playhouse in 2010, Portland, Maine in 2011, and Ft. Worth, Texas in March 2011.  In September 2014, Joseph’s Animals Out of Paper, had its Los Angeles premiere at East West Players, while it was presented in Bangalore, India in September 2014.

Rajiv’s Pulitzer finalist production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo debuted at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, California in May 2009. It then ran at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles from April 14 to May 30, 2010 and premiered on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater in March 201l, with Robin Williams playing the titular character.

Gruesome Playground Injuries had its world premiere in October 2009 at the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas. Another staging at the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington, D. C. ran in May 2010. Its Off-Broadway production opened January 2011 at the Second Stage Theater.

The Lake Effect premiered at Chicago’s Silk Road Rising on April 2013. The production received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Work. Its TheaterWorks in Silicon Valley production opened in March 2015. His play, Guards at the Taj premiered Off-Broadway in June to July 2015.

As part of the 2019-2020 Season, Steppenwolf Theater and Center Theater Group Commissioned a new play by Joseph: King James, which opened in Chicago, March 2022, after being delayed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. In December 2013, Rajiv and a fellow playwright were featured in a PBS Film, Playwright: From Page to Stage. Then, Rajiv co-wrote the script for Draft Day in 2014 and Army of One in 2016.

Given Rajiv’s impressive production of 15 plays and 2 films since leaving Peace Corps/Senegal in 1998, he has most certainly earned a Profile in Citizenship.

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