Donja Love Shares Black Queer Love Between Slaves in ‘Sugar In Our Wounds’

Broadway has long served as a space for the sharing of radical narratives rejected bytelevision and the big screen. This June, it will once again defy the odds with a Black queer story unlike any other that has graced its hallowed stages.

With Sugar In Our Wounds, playwright Donja R. Lovetells a harrowing narrative of Black queerness during the end of slavery. Sugar In Our Wounds shows that Black queer people have always existed, and have a story that needs to be told.

Tell us about your work and the importance of what you’re doing exploring queer Black themes throughout history.

I understand that I am operating from a space of telling stories of marginalized people from a marginalized community. So, what does it mean to be queer in the black community? What does it mean to be HIV positive in the queer community in the black community?

There is something very particular and unique and very radical for individuals who exist within multiple marginalized identities but still find a way to navigate through life. Still finding a way to exist with hope and joy and not letting people bring them down and tear them down.

So those are the stories when I look back and reflect on the work done thus far and the work that inspires me and motivates me — that’s the space that I operate out of. I think its super important to tell these stories, and this trilogy I’m working on explores queer love during pivotal moments in black history.

It’s important to me to see myself reflected throughout history. Then I realized how this isn’t just about me. This is about so many individuals going back to our ancestors and having their stories be told. Dare I say going into the future it’s for these young queer folks wanting to see the material and a reflection of themselves.

How did you come up with the title Sugar In Our Wounds?

So, I was thinking of the terms that queer folks, particularly male identified queer folks have been called. What came into my mind was like sweet. Always having sugar in your tank. That just kept playing in my mind and thinking about this piecebeing set during slavery and knowing the very real, fucked up harsh truth about the time period and the brutality and violence done against black people and the wounds.

So just imagining, what if it was something ingrained in terms of sweetness and sugar being in our wounds. So, something as brutal as lashes and beating being done, but us still being able to have this sweetness that makes us uniquely us. Sweetness can mean a multitude of things, but us having a quality or trait that make us “us” even during this brutal time period in American history. So, it was thinking of what we have been called like sugar in our tank and just thinking about combining it with slavery and brutality. So instantly locking us into the time period and people being explored. So, Sugar in Our Wounds.

A gay love narrative. A magical tree. The Civil War? Give us an overview.

So, Sugar In Our Wounds is set in the summer of 1862 during the Civil War and we enter the play right before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and we meet this makeshift family all together in this shack.

In the plantation they live on there is this tall tree which is described as going straight up to heaven and stopping at the footsteps of God. The people understand how spiritual and important and necessary this tree is. Then there is a new mysterious man who is brought to the plantation. He and one of the other characters find themselves having intimate moments and seeing themselves reflected back in each other.

They become anchors for the other to navigate through this dark time. Not to wash over what happens but at least give the other a modicum of hope to wake up and see the next day.

What do you want people to leave with after watching the play?

I hope that people will leave with an understanding of queer history, and that Black queer history is vast, it is wide, and it is full. That we as Black queer people have existed well beyond the notion of what our existence is. That we were also able to find this space within us of grace, softness, sweetness and hope. Despite our circumstances we push through to move, conquer and exist.

I hope people leave knowing we existed and will continue to exist. That we come from a lineage of people who have persevered in spite of us.

What it means to find someone and the beauty of finding yourself.

What are your future plans?

I’m just trying to take it one day at a time. I really want to venture off into having my work in more theaters. Regionally, I want to get into screen work.

My husband and I have an org called the Each Other Project, creating content and community for queer and trans folks of color through web series, short films, and events.

I want to get into a space where we do that more often. I hope to get a team where we can reach out as far as we can and really build community. So, working on that to create more content.

Sugar In Our Wounds will debut at the Manhattan Theater Club June 19th.


George M. Johnson

George M. Johnson is a black queer journalist and activist located in the Nyc area. He has written for TheRoot, ET, HIVequal, TheGrio, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications.

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