Writing Student Jon-Marc McDonald Interviewed by 'The Dramatist'
BY Zoe Contros Kearl, February 6, 2019
William Duell: You say James Baldwin saved your life. Can you elaborate?
Jon-Marc McDonald: I’m not being hyperbolic. James Baldwin changed the trajectory of my life. Reading his work for the first time was like a literary punch to the gut. I felt winded, disoriented, or perhaps the better word is reoriented. He showed me the world through a different set of eyes. I’m a recovering alcoholic. Much of my writing deals with my battle against the bottle. Baldwin’s writing doesn’t deal directly with addiction, and though he was an out gay man, he writes little about homosexuality save his groundbreaking novel, Giovanni’s Room. But reading Baldwin helped me come to terms with my sexuality and my addiction. One of my current professors at Columbia, Hilton Als, once said he had a terrible need to confess and still does. That’s what James Baldwin did to me. He brought out my confessions. I’ve been confessing ever since.
McDonald is a Texas native and graduate student at Columbia University pursuing an MFA in writing. His play, Relatively Conscious, premiered at the New York Theater Festival in February, 2018. McDonald presented his paper, Relatively Conscious: The Enduring Rage of Baldwin and the Education of a White Southern Baptist Queer, at the James Baldwin Conference in Paris in May of 2016. It was subsequently published in the James Baldwin Review and was an impetus for McDonald to write the play.