In the great cultural 'awokening' that has followed the rise of Donald Trump, the stories of Muslim-Americans wrestling with questions of selfhood, belonging, and bigotry have seen their own flowering. In film, television, comic books and memoir, there has been an ascendant generation of Muslim artists claiming their space in the representation conversation. For the second and third-generation of hyphenated artists making this work, it's an unapologetic reclamation of their narrative from terrorist headlines. One of the more rich and surprising developments in this wave is the emergence of Muslim-American theater.
The medium rewards combustible characters that clash and chafe against others on stage, igniting the dramatic sparks that win accolades. It's a fitting form for the precarious Muslim-American condition since 9/11, giving a new generation of playwrights the landscape of terrorism, profiling and suspicion to craft their high-octane drama.
"I think theater at its best gives ideas flesh and blood," Ayad Akhtar told me in a conversation for NPR. He's one of the most celebrated of these new voices, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his debut play about a self-hating Muslim-American called Disgraced. "It can animate dialectic between points of view. It's not mediated by screens and it has an ear to the ground," he says.
Other rising Muslim-American playwrights include Wajahat Ali, who premiered The Domestic Crusaders on the eighth anniversary of 9/11 at New York City's Nuyorican Poets Café, and Hammaad Chaudry, whose play, An Ordinary Muslim, has just opened at the New York Theatre Workshop.