Although no longer an Atlantan, lesbian playwright and author Shay Youngblood considers the city her second home and is excited to return here for Horizon Theatre’s remount of her signature play “Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery.”
Youngblood was born in Columbus, Ga., and graduated from Clark-Atlanta University. She held various jobs around town, but Charis Books & More proved to be a stepping stone.
Youngblood worked at the now 35-year-old feminist bookstore for a year, beginning when she was only 19, and was persuaded to hold her first public reading there. That event gave her confidence and the drive to move on.
“I started to wonder what I really wanted to do with my life,” she recalls.
She decided to go into the Peace Corps and wound up in France for a year, all the while deciding exactly what she wanted to write about.
In “Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery,” the character of Daughter finds herself under the wing of eight Big Mamas. As the play opens, Daughter — whose birth mother is dead — comes home to bury the last of the Big Mamas who raised her. Later we see the adult woman as a 13 year old who learns from the Southern women in her life.
“These women give her gifts, gifts of stories,” Youngblood says. “They also give her her name for the first time and bring her into the circle of womanhood. It’s a joyous ritual.”
‘Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery’ July 2 – Aug. 22 at Horizon Theatre 1983 Austin Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307 404-584-7450, www.horizontheatre.com
The Big Mamas prepare Daughter to go to the river, her rite of passage into womanhood.
“My birth mother died when I was two and my father was not around,” Youngblood says. “I had these great women around me who raised me, women in their ‘50s and ‘60s. They all took on these responsibilities of raising me. They were mother figures to me and they all gave me the attention I needed.”
Youngblood calls “Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery’” a “love letter to all my Big Mamas.” She feels the themes of the work are universal.
“All of us have had a mother,” says Youngblood. “This is a celebration of that, a celebration of womanhood and a love of family. I have a community of men and women who nurture me. I think what people respond to with this play is the humanity.”
Way back in 1988, when Horizon Theatre was in its early stages, the company launched Youngblood’s play. It was the company’s first ever world premiere.
In addition to “Shakin,” Horizon is also producing Youngblood’s children’s play “Amazing Grace” as well. “Amazing Grace,” which celebrates the diversity of youth, is based on the book by Mary Hoffman and was adapted into a play by Youngblood.
As part of the “Shakin’” remount, Charis will hold a benefit showing and reception with Youngblood on June 29. Tickets are $60.
Angela Brown, the interim executive director of Charis Circle, expects the benefit to be a great event for the bookstore
“We are very excited to have Shay back,” she says. “She is our daughter. She launched her career here.”
Youngblood, author of the novels “Black Girl in Paris” and “Soul Kiss,” as well as the short fiction collection “The Big Mama Stories,” has won numerous awards for her writing.
Although she does not live in Atlanta anymore (she’s about to move to Denton, Texas), Youngblood is grateful for the time she spent here.
“I come back a lot to see family,” she admits. “This event is a reunion in a way. It’s like coming home.”