Playwright gets grant for conflict-resolution drama

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Andriena Baldwin / Staff Writer

Although many people dream of making it to the “Big Apple” one day, Malik Browne left his home in the bustling city of New York to continue his career as a poet and playwright in Eutaw.

“I was born and bred in New York. Thirty-five years ago, I went to San Francisco for a hippie sojourn across the country. I drove my car there and I had to sell it to get back,” Browne laughed. “In 1995 I moved to Alabama because my wife is from here and I got tired of New York.”

After arriving in San Francisco in 1971, Browne didn’t believe his first works were on the level he wanted them to be, so he tossed them-literally.

“I didn’t think it would be any good, so I threw them in the San Francisco Bay,” he said. “I was following the words of Earnest Hemmingway. He said to throw away your first works.”

Since that day, Browne and his wife, Vassie Welbeck-Browne, have created the StoryTree Company based in Eutaw and one of his plays is set to open Feb. 2 in New York at Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre.

The play is based on the tales of black male characters and follows their lives in the big city from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Browne said the play’s main characters are based on generic, stereotypical male images in black culture.

The title is “real Black men don’t sit cross-legged on the floor (a collage in blues)” and the work combines poetry, prose, blues, rap and rhythm.

Although the title may seem strange to some, Browne’s reason for choosing the words is clear once he says it aloud.

“When anyone man or woman sits cross-legged, they leave themselves exposed to be injured,” Browne said. “And I am a poet, so I write prose and I write plays. I wrote a few blues songs, but no one’s ever heard them. And I’m a drummer, so it seemed natural that those things come together. Plus, I am in the tradition of not separating different genres.”

Browne’s focus for the play is police brutality in New York. The play depicts his belief that black men are the focal point for this negative attention.

“There was an incident in the city where the police shot and killed a man; They shot him 41 times because they thought his keys were a gun,” he said.

Browne said this has been happening for years and the violence is more so directed towards black men.

“Writing this play was very painful to me,” he said. “When I sit down and work on it, I get tears in my eyes.”

Although Browne said “real Black men…” is too “urban” for a southern audience, the StoryTree Company recently received funds from the Gloria Narramore Moody Foundation and the Aurand Harris Fellowship to create “A Rap&Rhyme Tragedy,” a play focused on teen violence.

“I hope to be finished with it by the end of this month or the beginning of February,” he said.

Browne said this play is not meant just to show conflict resolution, but to show the source of violence in today’s society.

“I want to say what I wanted to say,” he said. “Our society is violent. We turn on the TV and we see violence. Not just in movies, but on the news too. So what do we expect from our youth?”

Brown said his play is meant to impact the adults who see it just as much as teens.

“This needs to be addressed on both ends,” he said.

In his attempts to counter violence, Browne said he has also struggled with finding a balance for the issue.

“I ask myself if our society was completely non-violent, who would be our soldiers?”

After the play’s debut performance for Tuscaloosa’s Second Stages, “A Rap&Rhyme Tragedy” will tour Black Belt schools and communities.

Browne invites actors from across the Black Belt to attend the auditions.