The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers that are participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home. We are posting them now as examples of our shared community strength.
Here is our interview with Playwrights Workshop MFA candidate Emma Silverman.
Emma Silverman is an MFA candidate at the Iowa Playwright's Workshop. A New York City native, Emma moved to Iowa from Southern California where she graduated from Pomona College with a BA in English and a minor in Religious Studies. Most recently, she was a finalist for the 2020 Pegasus Playlabs Summer Workshop for her post-apocalyptic play FOXhound.
1. Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?
This summer, I was supposed to travel around Germany and Poland working on a project about Holocaust Tourism through an MFA fellowship. My plan has shifted a bit, but I am still pretty sold on developing a trilogy of plays about remembrance. I am a member of the last generation who will get to know Holocaust Survivors personally. My trilogy will focus on what that means and how to deal with it from different angles. One angle is Holocaust Tourism, another, the one that I am working on this summer through extensive research, is on the way the Holocaust is taught through film, literature, and education (what's included and what gets left out), and a third angle that I am going to keep a secret for now....
I am also working on a play about Gen Z anxiety, what it means to be young in this increasingly unstable world. That play, Biomes: A Candyland, centers around very young people dealing with very mature issues in an alternate universe where adults are irrelevant and the landscaped is plagued with both literal demons, adorable puppets, and literal adorable puppet demons.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write, or any specific routine?
My writing routine is chaotic. I work better under pressure, so whenever I have the least time to write is when I write the most. I can write first thing in the morning, in the middle of the night, or whenever is otherwise inconvenient. Sometimes I have a television show playing in the background, or music that hints at the mood I want to achieve in a certain scene, but normally I write in complete silence. My ideal place would be a coffee shop where you could hear a pin drop, and I've found some that come pretty close around Iowa City.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
Right now, I am reading Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler and it is a ride. I have been working my way through a stack of books as tall as I am all for research.
4. What is one thing the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?
My work is about empathy. And it can be weird. And stupid. And sometimes funny. I would say I write DARK comedies. Or comedies that aren't funny and dramas that are.
But my work is also highly collaborative. I love redrafting, rewriting, and finding ways to make my plays fun for actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs, and other collaborators. Theater is a collaborative art form. It's about listening to what other artists can create and bringing together a team where each member has a totally different and totally awesome set of skills to build something as alive as it is fleeting. As a playwright, I provide the blueprints for a piece, but I love to allow for fluidity within those blueprints because a lot happens in between my brain and the stage.
5. Tell us about where you are from -- what are a few of your favorite details about your home?
I am from New York City - it's hard to say something about that place that hasn't been said! There's always something happening in New York, even when there isn't.
One of my favorite places in the City is the Comedy Cellar. It's this intimate stand-up comedy venue downtown where they pack you into a dimly lit basement and make you seal your cell phone in a large envelope. Comedians from all different places in their career perform one after the next and if you're bold enough to catch a midnight show, sometimes you'll get to see a stadium-selling favorite show up unannounced and perform a full hour of new material before a word of it has been released to the public.
New York has always been a great place for some and I am hoping that, with the tireless efforts of activists, protestors, community leaders, and others, it can finally become a great place for all. Black Lives Matter.