Ifa Bayeza is an award-winning playwright, director, composer, novelist and educator. A finalist for the 2020 Herb Alpert Award in Theatre and for the 2020 Francesca Primus Prize, Bayeza was the inaugural Humanist-in-Residence at the National Endowment for the Humanities and is a 2022 MacDowell Fellow. Bayeza works through both a creative nonfiction and fictional lens to explore pivotal intersections of race throughout history and in the present. Her critically acclaimed drama The Ballad of Emmett Till received a Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference fellowship and premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2008, winning the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Play. The Ballad made its West Coast premiere at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles in 2010, garnering six Ovation Awards, including Best Production; the Drama Desk Critics’ Circle Award for Best Production; and the Backstage Garland Award for Best Playwriting. Acclaimed productions followed with the Houston Ensemble Theatre, Penumbra Theatre, Renaissance Theatreworks, and Ion Theatre, earning top honors at the San Diego Critics Circle Craig Noel Awards, including Outstanding Dramatic Production.
Bayeza has expanded The Ballad of Emmett Till into The Till Trilogy, recounting the epic Civil Rights saga now in three distinct dramas in dialogue with each other: The Ballad of Emmett Till on the journey of the boy, himself; That Sumner in Sumner on the trial of his killers as seen through the eyes of a team of black reporters; and Benevolence, on the event’s impact on the Mississippi Delta in the aftermath of Till’s death. Through a generous grant from Roy Cockrum Foundation, Mosaic Theatre Company of DC will mount The Till Trilogy in its entirety in the fall of 2022, with all three plays running in repertory and That Summer in Sumner making a world premiere. Bayeza received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its development and from the National Endowment for the Arts for the upcoming production, which will mark the first mounting of this seminal work in the nation’s capital.
Other innovative works for the stage include Homer G & the Rhapsodies in The Fall of Detroit (Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award); String Theory (A Brown University Commencement production); Welcome to Wandaland, A Fictional Autobiography; adaptations of Wallace Thurman’s Harlem Renaissance classic, Infants of the Spring, Ntozake Shange’s a photograph / lovers in motion; and the Islamic passion play Ta’zieh: Between Two Rivers, as well as the original, full musicals Charleston Olio, Bunk Johnson … a blues poem and Kid Zero. Bayeza also co-authored with her sister Ntozake Shange, the “gorgeous” (NY Times), “magical” (Elle), “dazzling” (Essence) novel Some Sing, Some Cry, chronicling two hundred years of African American music through seven generations of women.
Currently, through a commission from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, she is, as “artist-in-digital-residence,” guiding a group of eleven writers in reimagining the history and future of the sugarcane plantation home Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana. In addition, she has been commissioned to create two Underground Railroad dramas. For Children’s Theatre Company and Penumbra Theatre in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, respectively, she is writing the “Theatre-for-Young-Audiences” bildungsroman-drama, One Small Alice, concerning a young girl’s solo quest for freedom through the American wilderness on the eve of the Civil War; and for a consortium of organizations at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, she is creating an outdoor drama based on the 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, one of the most celebrated fugitive slave narratives of the 19th century.
A four-year Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Artist-in-Residence at Brown University, she is a cum laude graduate of Harvard University with an MFA in Directing and Dramaturgy from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.