"You may shoot me with your words. You may cut me with your eyes. You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise."
- Maya Angelou
Sitting in the front row as their play is performed, Elmo and Diamond cannot help but join in and speak the rhythmic pulsing words along with the performers. They giggle and tap each other on the shoulder at key moments.
Eronmwom "Elmo" Oviasogie and Diamond Miales are the honored guests of YPT’s November edition of the staged reading series, New Writers Now! Working with a group of seven other girls in YPT’s After-school program at Kelly Miller Middle School in the Spring of 2007, Diamond and Elmo created I Rise. Their play was based on Maya Angelou’s poem "Still I Rise." Now Diamond and Elmo sit in the front row of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre and watch as professional actors enact the roles.
Even Elmo’s brother, Iyobo, cannot help but join in, tapping an empty water bottle on the back of the seat in front of him and mouthing along silently.
Angelou’s poem is the spine of the piece upon which Diamond, Elmo and their collaborators hung a series of scenes, monologues and chants, exploring such themes as teenage pregnancy, sibling rivalry, homelessness and peer pressure. Angelou’s words, "I rise" are also a rallying cry and a declaration of the students’ determination.
In the big downtown theater space, Elmo and Diamond are restrained, respectfully listening and answering questions from the audience, but I Rise crackles with the energy they infused as actor/creators.
"Nobody better call me ugly because I know I’m pretty," a character created by Elmo declares.
Elmo immigrated to the US from Nigeria with her family in 2003. Her broad smile seems undimmed by the difficulties of moving to a new country, but her writing reveals her struggle:
"It’s like this boy in my class, he always wants to talk about me - like saying "GO back where you came from!" That’s wrong. He came from the same place as me, but he don’t know because he was born here."
Elmo has just started high school at H.G. Woodson. She is hoping to become a doctor one day.
Diamond was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She is in the 7th grade at Kelly Miller. She is considering a career as a lawyer, but is, as yet, undecided. She enjoys cooking, sewing and photography, as well as writing and acting. She has a determination uncommon for a girl her age. Her words close the play:
"I rise above people who try to stop my future. I rise to achieve more. I rise so that I can make it and to show others they can too."
For more information about after-school playwriting programs, click here. To see the Washington Post article about I Rise and the Kelly Miller students who wrote it, click here.
For more stories about YPT’s Promising Playwrights, click here.