Player and Playwright
WHO: VIJAY IYER (photo, left)
and RAJIV JOSEPH (photo, right)
WHERE: Born and raised in upstate New York, Iyer, the son of Indian immigrants, has an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in technology and the arts. He will join Harvard next year as a music professor. Joseph, who was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, spent three years with the Peace Corps in Africa, an experience that helped him become a writer. He is based in New York City.
WHY: The only Indian-American among the 24 recipients of the $625,000 MacArthur Foundation grant this year, Iyer is a well-regarded jazz pianist and composer specializing in cross-cultural works. His latest album, co-created with Mike Ladd, is titled Holding it Down: The Veterans’ Dream Project. Joseph, whose play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo had been a Pulitzer Prize finalist, received the $50,000 Steinberg Playwright Award recently. Among other honors, he’s won the NEA’s Outstanding New American Play and the Whiting Writers’ awards. His latest works are The North Pool and The Lake Effect.
WHAT: “I guess my work as a musician, as a composer and as a bandleader is kind of navigating that dialogue between what’s me and what’s not me…I was groomed for the sciences growing up, so my college degree is in physics and that was what I thought I was going to do, before I finally realized at the age of 23 that the world was going to let me be an artist.” —Vijay Iyer (Nonstop Sound interview)
WHAT else: “Growing up I didn’t encounter a whole lot of racism per se, but there’s certainly a different background there. I have two halves of my family. I have my white American family and I have my Indian family. I have relatives who live in Delhi and Bombay. I understand myself being of both those worlds. So it only makes sense that my plays reflect that in some way.” —Rajiv Joseph (Slant Magazine interview)
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