Current: Playwright/Television Writer
Janine is Playwright/television writer for Bravo’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce and Lifetime’s unREAL. She is also the winner of the 2014 Yale Drama Series Prize for her play Serial Black face.
iUT: I remember you writing stories as a little girl. What are your first memories of writing and when did you know you wanted to be a writer?
JN: Well, when our dad got cancer I definitely started writing more. I was 15 or so. I wrote mostly poetry because it was all very upsetting and emotional. For s short time I thought I would end up writing novels. I wrote short stories a lot in high school as well. I’m pretty sure they were terrible, but then Mom read one of them and was really invested. So I kept writing until my first year of college. That’s when I caught the acting bug and put writing aside for a couple years.
I remember being in London as a student and watching all these incredible plays. All my friends were obsessed with the actors and I was obsessed with the writers. I wrote my first play when I was 20 and then used that play to get into grad school at 22.
iUT: Who were some of your biggest influences? What writers would you say influenced you the most and why?
JN: I love Anton Chekhov. His plays are like music and I can’t get enough of them.
As a kid, Mildred D. Taylor’s books were everything to me. I loved reading her, Alex Haley and Richard Wright. As for other writers the list goes on. I think Lolita is the greatest book ever written but my favorite love story might be from the book The Razor’s Edge or maybe even The Sun Also Rises. I think every woman should read The Bell Jar at some point in her life. And every playwright should read Lynn Nottage. Her stories are for the ages.
iUT: You have an impressive educational background ( 1 undergrad and 2 masters degrees ) How did your education help you in your career?
JN: I received all my degrees in New York. So in a way NYC was my great education. For years I was surrounded by artists I loved and admired. Some of them became my professors and are now dear friends. So I feel lucky. I think a lot of people assume that school is where the education lies. And it does, but it also lies in doing. NYC was a tremendous asset to me. I was never not writing.
iUT: You are now working in Hollywood writing for 2 TV shows but you’re still writing plays. Your plays are playing across the country, what is a day like for you? How do you balance your work writing plays and for television?
JN: I usually write everyday. I have my TV writing and then a few times a week I try to block out a chunk of hours for play writing or developmental stuff. That’s the only way I can get anything done. Moving to LA has been great, but in order to get my plays done I need hard deadlines. So I usually bring my plays in writer’s groups that are sponsored by theaters around town. That way I’m surrounded by other writers who are in the same boat. It helps to have people to share your stuff with.
iUT: In a lot of your work, the stories you’ve created ( Serial Black face ), reveal characters and story lines depicting a time in black history before you were born. What is your process to create stories based in historical events and bring these characters to life?
JN: I’ve written a lot of plays that are from before I was born but more are actually based today. My process is pretty relaxed. I might get an idea for a play and sit on it for a year. I don’t start writing right away. I usually have to let it make sense in my head for a while before I actually write. Sometimes I’ll ask someone I trust their opinion but usually that’s after I’ve started writing. When I do write something it takes a while. Playwriting is a long process for me. And musicals are even longer. It’s all about patience.
iUT: You are an award winning playwright (2014 Yale Prize for Drama for Serial Black Face) and a writer for 2 popular tv shows “Girlfriends guide to Divorce” on Bravo and Unreal on Lifetime. What is next for you?
JN: More plays! I have four productions next year. I think the future for me is a lot of juggling between TV, theater and film. It’s exciting to be busy.
iUT; For the young aspiring writers out there today, what advice would you give to them?
JN: Write. Take internships. Be around creative people. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you meet one of your writing heroes, don’t be afraid to ask them out for coffee! Bravery is half the battle. Put yourself out there and you will see the reward.