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Rajiv Joseph. (Photo by Lynn Lane)

The Subtext: Rajiv Joseph on Putin and Basketball

Brian talks to the playwright, whose new play ‘King James’ is playing at Steppenwolf, about war, sports, and writing what you want.

Each month Brian James Polak (he/him) talks to playwrights about the things usually left unsaid. In conversations that dive into life’s muck, we learn what irks, agitates, motivates, inspires and—ultimately—what makes writers tick.

This month Brian speaks to Rajiv Joseph, whose play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and was also awarded a grant for Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts. Rajiv has twice won the Obie for Best New American Play, first in 2016 with Guards at the Taj (also a 2016 Lortel Winner for Best Play) and then, this year, for Describe the Night.  Other plays include ArchdukeGruesome Playground Injuries, Animals Out of PaperThe Lake EffectThe North Pool, and Mr. Wolf. Joseph has been awarded artistic grants from the Whiting Foundation, United States Artists, and the Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. 

Rajiv, who joined the Peace Corps after completing his undergraduate education, was at first not interested in either playwriting or screenwriting but in being a novelist. It wasn’t until he returned to the U.S. after the Peace Corps that a friend gave him the idea to attend grad school and study screenwriting.

At NYU he found himself inspired by theatre for the first time, seeing Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Our Lady of 121st Street and Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel and deciding, “I want to do that.” His play Huck and Holden was later chosen for the Cherry Lane Theatre Mentor Project, which gave him the opportunity to work with Theresa Rebeck. She gave him a crucial piece of advice that came at just the right time for him as a writer.

Rajiv’s play King James is running at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago through April 10th, before moving to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and running June 1-July 3.


This episode can also be found here.

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