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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > March 2016 > Taking the stage

Taking the stage

Author-activist Jael Richardson finally finds the part she was meant to play

Jael Richardson remembers being in Grade 10 drama class, searching for the perfect monologue to show off her blossoming acting skills, but only able to find historical stories about pilgrims and settlers. “They weren’t about black women,” she says. “I know I’m an actor, but there was still this sense that I am not meant to play this part.”

When 15-year-old Richardson eventually did find a monologue that spoke to her, the character was a jailed prostitute.

“At the time I thought this was fun and interesting and dynamic, but that’s not good,” she says. Later, playwright Djanet Sears – the first author of colour whom Richardson would meet – suggested she start writing her own parts. But Richardson wasn’t ready to think of herself as a writer – not yet. In fact, it was years after graduating with a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Guelph before she felt comfortable declaring herself an author.

Richardson openly discusses the role she believes race played in delaying her career decision. For a long time she thought writing and publishing was for other people. Ultimately, it would take a teacher – playwright Judith Thompson – to convince Richardson she had a gift. “I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t taken such an interest in me,” Richardson says.

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Jael Richardson: Can this author-turned-activist change the face of Canadian books?
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