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The Saints We Call Upon: Staceyann Chin’s MotherStruck

Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin fled Jamaica when she was nineteen after being attacked by a group of boys as a punishment for being lesbian. To escape the violence she faced in her home country, she came to the States where she then “bumped up on race as a phenomenon as a black woman.” Feeling angry and like she belonged nowhere, Chin came across a group of artists and activists in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and soon found herself on the stages of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe performing political poetry. “I fell right into it along side them, and it became an instant, ongoing passion.”

Chin, a poet and a memoir writer, came to activism and art via writing about her own life. “That has been a reality for me—a way to be—from the time I was in my early twenties until today,” she explains.   “I’m always telling a story. If it doesn’t make sense to me as a story, I don’t have the capacity to tell it.”

Five years ago, when she realized she wanted to have a child, her natural inclination for storytelling emerged. She was talking to friends over dinner about the process of trying to get pregnant as a lesbian, explaining how “ridiculous and absurd the details.” An editor at the Huffington Post encouraged her to write about it, and soon she was blogging through her experience online to an audience of hundreds. “The responses were so positive and people were so overwhelmingly interested in the story,” she says. “I continued to blog through what turned out to be a very dramatic pregnancy, and that was the beginning of what is MotherStruck.”

Initially, Chin sat down to write the story of her “dramatic operatic complete with hairpin turns and loss of cabin pressure pregnancy quest,” which was to begin with her getting pregnant and end with the birth of her daughter, Zuri. However, when she started working with director Cynthia Nixon, she started to see that the pregnancy was just one small part of the story. MotherStruck is about her “collision” into motherhood alongside the story of Chin’s upbringing: the absence of her mother, the issues that came with being raised by a strict puritanical aunt, and her own desires and fears around motherhood as a person who was not mothered herself. “What I had ingested my whole life about womanhood and motherhood and feminism and what girls should do and what boys can’t do—all of that is in there.”

As an artist and human rights activist, Chin cites change as a major theme of her work. “I think a good life is a life that is constantly changing. Memoir shows that more than anything else because a human being cannot remain the same thing, and if you’re writing about a life that is being lived, then you’re writing about change. If change is the underlying feature of everything that I write, then fighting for human rights is the skeleton—the backbone of it.”

In MotherStruck, Chin evokes her ancestors, “saints she calls upon” in times of need, among them: artist-activists Pat Parker, June Jordan, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde. “In my most confident self,” Chin admits, “I imagine standing in a line of feminists whose work I know gave birth to whatever voice I exercise now. That’s what I’m hoping will happen by the end of my life. That I will join the unending list of women—and men—who have pushed against the dominant narratives to create narratives that are a true reflection of who we are as a species, as a nation, as a subgroup, as a culture—a reflection, a facsimile of our time.”

Motherstruck plays September 28 – October 23 at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. To learn more or to purchase tickets, click here.