Sharon Bridgforth

Sharon Bridgforth’s powerful poetics expand our notions of form by asserting a mix of spiritual and physical intelligence and ecstatic improvisation in her evocative style of jazz theater.

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1958, Sharon Bridgforth is a writer-performing artist who works in the theatrical jazz aesthetic. Her work re-imagines the possibilities of the Black avant-garde, drawing equally from the oral storytelling traditions of the rural South, Yoruba theologies, and improvisational jazz to create audience-centered experiences that expand beyond the physical space of the theater to conjure new practices of art, community, history, and spirituality. Bridgforth writes performance/novels that live as rituals. Her subject is the in-between, the has-been, the never-was, the might-be—or, as she says, “the boths and the neithers.” In her most recent play, dat Black Mermaid Man Lady/The Show (2018), Bridgforth invites us to join a cast of unforgettable characters—HoneyPot, Miss Kitty, and Ole Caney Sharp—who embody Yoruba deities as they journey to the bottom of the ocean. There, in the dwelling place of dat Black Mermaid Man Lady, a being “black black like a most beautiful night sky,” there seems to be no time; or, rather, all times coexist simultaneously. It is in this space, Bridgforth suggests, that art can best beguile, and that her audience—by allowing themselves to be beguiled, by answering the invitation to “chant” and “holler back”—can become characters themselves: creatures, like dat Black Mermaid Man Lady, who have placed themselves beyond the limitations of what we call reality. Bridgforth has been awarded a MAP Fund (2018), a Creative Capital Award (2016), a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award (2016), a National Performance Network Commission (2012), and a Lambda Literary Award (1998). She is also the executive producer and host of Who Yo People Is, a podcast series that “gives space to artists whose Work and artistic practices are rooted in serving our communities through healing/Spiritual and cultural traditions—centered in Love.”

I am receiving this award with wide open arms, humbling crumbling with gratitude—calling the names of those on whose shoulders I stand, those that have loved and guided me, those known and unknown who are my champions. I am on my knees reciting today’s prayer . . . Thank you. Yes. Love. WTF!! With Joy. SHARON BRIDGFORTH