TheGrio's 100: Katori Hall, rising star behind the curtains

african kings

“I am a man. Just a man.” These are the words from playwright Katori Hall’s recent play The Mountaintop, a fictional civil rights-era piece set at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis the night before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The play premiered in London and moved on to Broadway, and has been met with both controversy and praise for its down-to-earth portrayal of King the man, rather than the public, heroic figure we are more familiar with.

theGrio: Black women ready to take Broadway by storm

Hall’s mother Camae was a major influence in the direction of the play.

“When I was young my mother told me of how she wasn’t able to see King speak when he was in Memphis. She has always regretted that,” Hall told theGrio.

[MSNBCMSN video=”″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”44904072″ id=”msnbc2fc8f3″]

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Actor Samuel L. Jackson plays Dr. King in the play. Hall, who is from Memphis, uses this play, as she told the theGrio, “to look around themselves during the show and see all the people sitting there that have the potential to do just as much, if not more, than Dr. King did.”

Katori Hall is making history … through The Mountaintop and the international attention it has garnered. The Columbia University graduate received several awards and fellowships, including the 2010 Oliver Award for the Best New Play and the Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace playwright program.

What’s next for Katori Hall?

On Feb. 7, Hall will debut her latest play, Hurt Village, at the Signature Theater in New York City. The play is also set in Memphis near the Lorraine Motel, depicting life at a housing project.

Katori in her own words …

“I think what we need is for people of color to see the power behind cultural capital,” Katori Hall told theGrio in October. “The arts are tools for a people to talk about themselves. People of color have to use this tool. We need more producers of color.”

A little-known fact about Katori Hall’s work…

Samuel L. Jackson made his official Broadway debut with his portrayal of King in The Mountaintop.

For more information on Katori Hall, click here


Q: What’s next for you in this chapter of your life?

A: My play HURT VILLAGE is being produced by Signature Theatre in New York City. We begin performances Feb 7th and officially open February 27th.

Q. What’s a little fact about you that many people don’t know?

A: I started writing for my hometown newspaper The Commercial Appeal at age 14.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?

A: Don’t do things to be liked, do things you want to do, so that you’ll be liked for who you are. —Happy Gertrud

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

A: Memphis, Family history, the news, social issues I care about.

Q: Who are/were your mentors?

A: Lynn Nottage was my greatest supporter when I first started writing professionally. She helped me to develop my first play Hoodoo Love and started me off on my playwriting journey.

Also, John Eisner, the founder of the Lark Play Development Center, which provided me artistic and financial support when I wrote the Mountaintop. He has seen the play, like 68 times, read EVERY draft. He’s an angel.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone who’s craving to achieve their


A: Aim for the stars, for if you fall, at least you’ll be caught by the treetops, which is much better than where you started—the ground.