Award Winning Playwright Martyna Majok Shares Insight, Experiences with Columbia Students

Martyna Majok sitting in a theater speaking to students.
Award-winning playwright Martyna Majok visited Columbia College Chicago, engaging in a Q&A session with students about her creative process, working-class representation in the arts, and having the courage to share personal stories.

The work of playwright Martyna Mayok is “the kind of theater that imprints on the body and lives in your bones.” These are the words that theatre critic Naveen Kumarused to describe Mayok's Pulitzer play, “Cost of Living.” Said Assistant Professor of Theatre Grace Overbeke, “Here at Columbia, Majok's work has enlivened our classrooms and theaters, provoking students to insightful and compassionate conversation.” 

On February 9, Martyna Majok visited Columbia College Chicago at the invitation of the Theatre Department Chair Jimmy Noriega, PhD.  After initially connecting with Majok through the American Society for Theatre Research, Noriega brought her to Columbia's campus through support from a Programming Grant from the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

Since Majok's work centers around immigrant stories, Noriega reached out to Columbia students who are “dreamers” — young people who have been impacted by the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, and first-generation students, inviting them to a lunch with the writer, followed by a Q&A that was open to all members of the Columbia community.  

The Q&A was attended by nearly 50 people, including School of Fine and Performing Arts Dean Rosita Sands. Majok began with the assertion that she “just wanted to be useful,” to the students who were present, inviting them to ask whatever questions they wanted. And from there, the questions flowed until the very last minute. Students wanted to hear Majok’s thoughts about making creative choices, being a working-class person in the arts, creating structure in writing, how her various identities play into her work as a playwright, and what inspired her.  

When asked if there was a moment that sparked her desire to pursue theatre, Majok recalled a time in her youth when she scraped some cash together to see a performance of “Cabaret” on Broadway. “I feel like for most of my life I wasn't wanted in many of the rooms that I was in,” she said. “And this piece of art was saying, ‘We want you to have a good time. We're going to tell you the harsh truths of a certain experience, but we also want you to be here.’ And it felt so inviting and it moved me so much that I wanted to devote my life to making other people feel the same way.” 

Another poignant moment was when an immigrant student asked Majok about developing the courage to tell personal stories through the arts. Majok responded, “Know that you have something incredibly valuable to share and don't get in your own way. So much of the writing process is quieting the voices in your head that tell you you're not good enough. Just know that you're in solidarity with so many artists who go through this same thing. Trust in what you feel and what you need to share with the world.”  

Majok’s words resonated with students, and although some difficult topics were raised, there was a sense of positivity in the room. “The event was warm and joyous,” said Overbeke. “(Theatre Administrative Assistant ) Trisha Miller organized everything so that all fourteen people at the lunch were full of tacos and good conversation. Students asked insightful questions, which Majok answered with generosity, candor, and a shout-out to John Stamos. She even agreed to take selfies with students lining up as soon as the Q&A was over. We are so grateful to Martyna Mayok, Jimmy Noriega, and the DEI office for making this happen.”