TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Our guest Katori Hall is nominated for two Tony Awards - Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical - as a producer and the writer of the Broadway show "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." The show just reopened in London and is scheduled to return to Broadway this fall. Hall also received this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play "The Hot Wing King." Set in Memphis, where Hall grew up, it's a comedy and drama about a man prepping a recipe for a spicy chicken wing contest. The play is an exploration of family ties, sexuality and Black masculinity. Hall received the Olivier Award for her earlier play, "The Mountaintop," which imagines the last night of Martin Luther King's life. Hall is also the showrunner and executive producer of "P-Valley," a breakout show on Starz about the women working in a fictional Mississippi strip club. The series is based on her play of a similar, but more explicit, name. The show is currently filming its second season.
Katori Hall spoke with our guest interviewer, Hannah Giorgis. Hannah is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she writes about culture. Let's start with a song from "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." This is a track from the original London cast recording. Adrienne Warren originated the role in London before moving to the Broadway production. She's nominated for a Tony, too.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. You're in for quite a treat tonight. We haven't seen this incredible woman perform in the Big Apple for the past 10 years. So please put your hands together for her Ritz debut - Ms. Tina Turner.
ADRIENNE WARREN: (As Tina Turner, singing) Oh, oh, what's love got to do, got to do with it? What's love but a second-hand emotion? What's love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? It may seem to you that I'm acting confused when you're close to me. If I tend to look dazed, I've read it someplace, I've got cause to be. There's a name for it. There's a phrase that fits. But whatever the reason, you do it for me. Oh, oh, what's love got to do, got to do with it?
HANNAH GIORGIS: Katori Hall, welcome to FRESH AIR.
KATORI HALL: Thank you.
GIORGIS: Let's start by talking about the musical "Tina." So what are some of your earliest memories of hearing Tina Turner?
HALL: Ooh, my mama - I mean, she wanted to be Tina Turner. She had the nerve to be wearing short skirts (laughter). But I'm glad she did - you know? - because I think, like Tina taught her, you know, she taught me not to be afraid of my beautiful body and to be proud of your legs. And my mama had got some great legs. And so I just remember her dancing around in circles. My mom loves to dance. And the fact that my eldest sister is named Tina (laughter) - yeah, after the Tina Turner - you know, is just a testament to how important she was to my mother, and therefore, to my own life, and that she was always - her music was always the soundtrack. Like, "What's Love Got To Do With It" was, like, on constant repeat. And the kind of iconic New York City skyline kind of imprinted on my brain. And, you know, lo and behold, many, many moons later, I was like, I want to move to New York City. So it's just interesting how, when I got that opportunity (laughter) to lay my hands on the show, I was like, I have to take it. And it was more, like, to impress my mom (laughter) than anything else. But I think eventually I ended up being changed in the process as well.
GIORGIS: You've talked about feeling a real sense of responsibility to her as you worked on the book for the musical. Where did that come from?
HALL: I think it has a lot to do with just me being a Black woman, period, and having seen how historically, you know, if our stories, you know, have been presented to the world, oftentimes they're misrepresented or they're not represented in their fullness or there's just, like, a sliver of us being presented. And so I just felt, like, this huge responsibility to not only show, like, her, I would say, ginormous levels of strength and resilience, but also to provide an audience, like, a window into the vulnerability.
I always feel like, you know, you can look at someone like Tina Turner, who's a titan, right? And you look at what she's conquered and what she's gone through, and you just think that, oh, she's a superwoman (laughter). Like, I think of, like, the Black superwoman myth, right? That there's - nothing can bring us down. And it's like, oh, my God, the amount of things that bring us down and continue to bring us down. So any time I get an opportunity to lay my hands on a Black woman's story, I just want to make sure that she is fully rendered and she feels so real and that she's not actually perfect.
I always feel like, you know, there's always this kind of onus on Black folks to have these images of perfection out there. But I always feel as though you have to allow me access to my mediocrity, to my mistakes, in order to understand my humanity, right? And so I was just so happy that that's exactly what she wanted. She did not want a sanitized version. This show - it was like, yeah, you gon' (ph) sing along, but you gon' understand the pain behind every note, every wail, and be complicit, you know, as, I would say, a consumer and the fact that, in a weird way, many of us have been consuming her Black pain, her trauma.
GIORGIS: How involved was Tina in the original writing process?
HALL: Extremely. And you know, for her, she felt that there was a kind of cultural sensitivity and a kind of regional specificity that she felt was just, you know, needed in order for it to come across as this authentic portrayal of her life. I was lucky in that I come from the same soil as her. Like, I knew about growing up in the South. Like, yes, we grew up at totally different times, but, you know, sadly, the South hasn't changed very much. And so I was kind of able to use my own lived experience, my own struggles being a Black woman in the entertainment industry, to kind of fuel the story.
And so to be able to fly to Switzerland and hang out with her for hours and hours on end and for her to tell me her story - and it's interesting because oftentimes, you know, people who we think we know and their story has been told so many times, it's like, oh, there's nothing new to add to the story. But I really felt like she let me into some new cracks and crevices of her life. The fact that I got an opportunity to really talk to her about her mother, which I don't think has really been addressed in previous interviews or, you know, the movie or the autobiography, which, talking to her about her very complicated and often, I would say, toxic relationship with her mother, was really the doorway that I walked into to add something new to her story.
GIORGIS: You know, the musical begins with Tina, played by Adrienne Warren, centering herself with a Buddhist chant. What made you want to start there? And what role does spirituality play throughout the production?
HALL: It is what defines Tina. It is what has gotten her through her entire life - and not just Buddhism. She's always been a very spiritual person. You know, her father was a Baptist preacher. And so because it's so central to her life, it made just complete and utter sense to have that be what I call our, like, framing device.
I often think of theater as a church, and I often think of concerts as a church. Like, when you go see Beyonce, ooh, that is an experience, right? It's just - you feel like you have - you are touching something that is out of this world. You are being touched by this singular spirit, whether they're in the midst of a concert hall or a stadium. And they are like this shaman up there. And so the fact that Tina, who herself is so spiritual - and when you see her, when people saw her in concert, they felt like they were seeing a piece of God. Like, the energy, the voice - like, it was just so singular and unique. It was something so special that only God could make that.
And so it just felt so easy to weave in the idea of spirit and for that to be the driving force and for that to, you know, be a part of the - not only the, I would say aural aesthetic of the show, but also the visual aesthetic of the show, the fact that there's a kind of ethereal quality to even how our sets move 'cause, you know, that is spirit.
GIORGIS: So I'm just thinking about Tina and legacy and how, you know, how monumental it is that this person whose legacy now informs so much of what we know about modern music, so much of how we think about Black music and the origins of rock 'n' roll herself is - you know, and was always looking toward who came before her, as you said. How did you balance capturing Tina, the icon, the larger-than-life person, personality, persona and Tina, the human being whose life story and whose vulnerability and difficulties have been, in the past, sometimes trotted out in ways that, you know, she's talked about being harmful and having struggled with.
HALL: It's interesting. I felt that the icon part, oddly, was easy 'cause I feel like that's the part that, you know, we see. That's the part that's been replicated for us. It's always the human part that's the hardest part because it's reliant on how truthful a subject wants you to be about their life. And so I was lucky in that because she was used to being truthful (laughter), you know, there was kind of an easy access to her humanity, even though it's hard to articulate because you do have to lean into the imperfections of the human being. And I would say that of the entire journey, figuring out which imperfections...
HALL: ...Of her to highlight and making sure that, you know - and it's interesting. It was really about trying to find the things that made her human - i.e., for example, you know, the fact that I would say that she struggled and had a lot of guilt, like a lot of mamas do, with having to leave her her kiddos behind at certain points. And the fact that she had to kind of sacrifice that and not be as good of a mom in terms of - or how other people define that, right? I don't necessarily subscribe to that. But the fact that she had to choose career sometimes over family. She had to choose the music over her sons sometimes. And that was - that hurt her. And I was really happy that she was able to be honest about that particular struggle and how that imperfection of her life kind of settled in her soul in a way that she's still dealing with some of those regrets.
GROSS: We're listening to the conversation our guest interviewer Hannah Giorgis, a staff writer for The Atlantic, recorded with Katori Hall. Hall is nominated for two Tonys, Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical, for her work as a producer and the writer of the Broadway show "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." She won this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play "The Hot Wing King," and she's the showrunner for the Starz series "P-Valley." We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROBBEN FORD'S "CATCH A RIDE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview with Katori Hall. She won this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play "The Hot Wing King." She's nominated for two Tonys for writing the book and for producing "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." And she's also the executive producer and showrunner of the Starz series "P-Valley." She spoke with our guest interviewer Hannah Giorgis, who writes about culture for The Atlantic.
GIORGIS: So in addition to having "Tina" now back on the West End, though, you also just won a Pulitzer for "The Hot Wing King." Congratulations.
HALL: Oh, my God. It was so crazy because, you know - I think because the world was shut down, the theater was shut down - right? - you just kind of forgot about the awards cycle. You just forgot about that stuff (laughter), like those accolades. Like, no, nothing is working. Everything is shut down. Nothing is moving forward. And then, boom, it happens. And you're just like, what? So it was quite a pleasant surprise (laughter).
GIORGIS: I can imagine, you know. That's right. The play's run was cut short because of the pandemic as well. You know, it's loosely structured around a cooking contest in Memphis. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?
HALL: So I'm from Memphis, Tennekey (ph). You know, I'm born and raised. And hot wings, surprisingly, are kind of like, I would say, more popular than barbecue. I think most people out in the world who are not from Memphis are like, oh, yeah, we look to Memphis for a good old, you know, slab of ribs. But it's really our hot wings that I think are a culinary prize.
And so I kind of just grew up eating them all the time. And I have always wanted to show how, you know, Black folk, you know, just communities of color, just gather in our rituals and the ritual of cooking and the ritual of competing (laughter) in cooking is very much, you know, just a part of, like, what we do. We always do this in style. And so my brother, my real brother, Wayne, has a partner who is an amazing cook. He actually owns his own barbecue shop. And so I have been a witness to their love, to their struggles. And I remember telling my brother, like, I'm going to write a play that's inspired by you guys (laughter). So I told him, like, very offhandedly.
And I remember I was actually in Pennsylvania talking to - oh, yes, I had to go and watch another play, a version of my play "The Mountaintop." And there was a director named Steve Broadnax who was doing a revival of that play. And I told him about my brother's story. And he himself as a same gender loving Black man, he was like, oh, my God, Katori, I have never seen myself reflected in that way. I've never seen the way that I love, the way that I am with the men in my life on the American stage.
And that was the kind of, you know, impetus. I'm like, oh, I should write this play not only for, you know, my brother and his partner but also for Steve, who is this amazing Black director who hasn't been able to work on something that feels close to him, feels like it's a direct reflection. And so I remember embarking on many other projects. I think I was working on "Tina." I was working on "P-Valley," all this stuff. And Steve every once in a while would email me, would be like, girl, you got some pages?
HALL: You've been working? I'd be like - I was like, I'm working in my mind. It's in my head (laughter).
GIORGIS: Right, right.
HALL: But eventually, I ended up passing him over the play, and my brother opened himself up even more to me over the development process of the play. I got a chance to sit down and talk to his partner and interview him in the same way that I interviewed Tina Turner, like went to the house and just, like, plunked the recorder down. I was like, tell me about how, you know, you as a man who had a wife, has children, decided later in your life that, you know, you wanted to be with another man because that's very - that discovery and that story is very central to the play in that, you know, Cordell is a direct reflection of my brother's partner and that he is a man who is basically rebooting his life and stepping into his truth and embracing the fact that he's a gay Black man in the South.
And so I've always been that type of person who uses the truth and is inspired by just what I've gone through and what I've seen my folks go through and people who are close to me go through, and then I weave it into fiction. And then they come to the play and they're like, that ain't me.
HALL: You know? And I'm like, no, it's not you. It's not you exactly. It's inspired by you. But the base of everything that I do is so, so steeped in the truth. And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I started off as a journalist and started off asking questions of the world.
GIORGIS: Yeah. I mean, it's like a lot of your work in that it tells the story of a group of people whose lives aren't often given sort of big theatrical treatment, right? Like, so often Black creators' work gets discussed in terms of activism instead of artistry.
GIORGIS: How do you grapple with those stakes?
HALL: It's interesting. I must say that any time you as a Black artist put your work out there in a weird way, it's a kind of activism anyway. It's just that thing of we've been silenced and misrepresented. And so any time you get an opportunity to tell your truth, you are pushing back against so many lies and falsehoods about you as an individual. In being an artist and demanding that the world just look at you as an artist, you oddly are being an activist because art is, I think, a part of social change and can be and oftentimes is the only thing that some people will listen to.
Like, I think about every story I've ever told. And whether it's in a theater or on a TV screen, you know, I hope that I am bringing people inside of your private space that you feel that you can love or you feel that you can see because oftentimes people walk out into the real world and they don't see Black people. They, like, literally look past them or - obviously, the biggest assumptions of, oh, they're a criminal; oh, they're a threat, pop up. But the fact that in this little box, whether it's a proscenium or screen, I can demand your time and give you my people's humanity, that, to me, is its own activism.
GROSS: We're listening to the conversation our guest interviewer, Hannah Giorgis, recorded with Katori Hall, who won this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play "The Hot Wing King." She's nominated for two Tonys for "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical" - best musical and best book for a musical. And she's the showrunner for the series "P-Valley" about women working in a fictional Mississippi strip club. After a break, she'll talk about the research she did for "P-Valley." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST")
TINA TURNER: (Singing) Give me a lifetime of promises and a world of dreams. Speak the language of love like you know what it means. And it can't be wrong. Take my heart and make it strong, baby. You're simply the best.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our interview with Katori Hall. She won this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play "The Hot Wing King." She's nominated for two Tonys for writing the book and for producing the Broadway show "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." She's also the showrunner and producer for the series "P-Valley" on Starz about the women working in a fictional strip club in Mississippi. She spoke with our guest interviewer Hannah Giorgis, a staff writer at The Atlantic who writes about culture.
GIORGIS: To take it back for a second, what first drew you to playwriting as opposed to other forms?
HALL: It's interesting. I had to do it. And it's crazy because I knew that I was going to be a writer, started out as a journalist, did that for a bit, even, you know, did my internships, even - you know, I wrote for The Boston Globe, Newsweek and then started taking creative writing classes, was like, OK, feels like I'm a be a novelist here. Like, I love stories. Like, I love the truth. But I love, you know, spinning a tale.
But then I had the nerve to catch the acting bug. And I remember I was in college. I was at Columbia at the time. And we were taking an acting class. And our teacher gave us an assignment. She was like, go - you and your scene partner, go to the library and find a play that has a scene for you and your scene partner's type.
So as we all know, type, you know, it could be physical. It could be racial, whatever. But, you know, my scene partner ended up being another young Black woman. And I remember us trudging to the library. We were, like, pulling all of these plays off the shelf. And we literally could not find a play that had a scene for two young Black women in it.
So we're like, OK, OK. Maybe our teacher who's been teaching for, like, 20 years has a (laughter) suggestion. So I remember we went back to class the next day. And we were just like, you know, do you have any recommendations for us? You know, we are looking for a play that has a scene for two young Black women. Ten seconds went by. Twenty seconds went by. Forty seconds went by. And our professor could not think of a single play that had a scene for two young Black women. And in that moment - so I was like, well, I guess I have to write those plays then.
GIORGIS: I wanted to ask a little bit about another award-winning play of yours, "The Mountaintop."
GIORGIS: What was - there are just so many of them. What was the central theme or truth that you wanted to explore in that play, which imagines the last night of Martin Luther King's life set at the Lorraine Motel?
HALL: I think the most important truth I wanted to explore in that play was that even in our extraordinariness, we're quite ordinary as human beings, you know? You walked into my big mama's living room and you would see, you know, three pictures. It would be Dr. King, Jesus and, at the end of her life, Obama (laughter).
But, you know, it was this exercise in showing how we put people up on these pedestals, and yet they're so human. They have these vulnerabilities. They have these fears. And in their humanity, they still can make monumental change.
And so for me to rip Dr. King off of the wall at my big mama's house was a way to bring him down to Earth and show other people that they could be Kings, too, even though, I will say, it wasn't always taken that way. A lot of people thought it was disrespectful. They thought I was like, you know, some young woman who, you know, had no respect for her elders and did not understand how people had died for our freedom.
And I was like, no, no. I understand. Believe me. You have no idea. I just want everyone to know that they don't have to try to be on a pedestal in order to change the world. So that's always been the main reason as to why I wanted to do that play.
The other bigger reason, I will say, is that my mom actually had wanted to go hear him speak. And she should have been there at the I've Been To The Mountaintop speech. And she decided, or rather, she was forced (laughter) by her mother not to go because there was this rumor that someone was out to get him. And that has remained one of the greatest regrets of her life. And so while I wanted to put the audience in the room with him, I also wanted to put my mother in the room with him because she didn't get a chance to go. And it just so happened that I named the maid who gets inside of that room after my mother, which is her nickname, Camae.
GROSS: We're listening to the conversation our guest interviewer, Hannah Giorgis, a staff writer for The Atlantic, recorded with Katori Hall. Hall is nominated for two Tonys, best musical and best book of a musical, for her work as a producer and the writer of the Broadway show "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." She won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play "The Hot Wing King." And she's the showrunner for the Starz series "P-Valley." We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER'S "BLACK AND TAN FANTASY")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall. She's nominated for two Tonys for her work on the Broadway show "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." She's also showrunner and executive producer for the series "P-Valley" on Starz, which is currently shooting its second season. Hall spoke with our guest interviewer, Hannah Giorgis, who writes about culture for The Atlantic.
GIORGIS: I would love to hear a bit about the research process for the play that would eventually become adapted into "P-Valley," the series that we saw on Starz beginning last year. What kinds of conversations did you have? Where did those take you?
HALL: Oh, my God. Man, the conversations - the reason why I even wanted to do a show that centered - do a play first and then eventually become a show - right? - is I just loved strip club culture. And I respected strip club culture. I think growing up as a Black woman in the South and going into those spaces and seeing these women up on the pole that were inspiring instead of - like, they didn't make me sad. I was just struck by the athleticism that they displayed. And I wanted people to understand, and I wanted to understand, why these women chose this profession. And so I just started asking questions. I would be (laughter), you know, on the main floor. And then, you know, a woman would come and start dancing for me. And then, you know, you're obviously doing what you're supposed to do, and you're giving them dollars. And then I started asking questions.
Like - so, like, my first interview was probably, you know, a woman who was sitting, you know, on my lap. Like, so how did you get into this? Like - and it just broke open. It was like a dam that had been, you know, crashed through, just a flood of stories and the reasons as to why. Like, one woman, like - I needed - I had - I needed a root canal. And I didn't have any health insurance. And so - or dental insurance. And so I did what I had to do. And I ended up staying for five years, you know? There are the stories of I was in an abusive relationship. And I needed to figure out a way out. And so that was my way in. There are other versions where it's like, you know, I do not come from a broken home.
HALL: I was taking a pole fitness class. And I was like, this is fun. And I love my body. And I think I have nice breasts. And so I want to go show them off at this, you know, audition. And then I ended up getting a job. The stories are so different. The women are so different. The whys of why they are doing this is so different. And whether, you know, it was on the main floor or in the locker room or in a woman's home, I was really given just an entry into these private spaces and, oftentimes, into these women's hearts.
And I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I asked questions with so much respect. It was never a thing of, like, me being judgy (ph) or judgmental. And I'm not - I'm just not that way anyway as a human being. And so all of that kind of lined up for me in order to help me, for over six years, interview over 40 women in over 40 clubs all across this nation. And I took all of the stories, all of the mistakes, the dreams that these women kind of poured into my ear. And I created all of these different characters in the world of P-Valley.
GIORGIS: And I understand you also took pole-dancing lessons yourself.
HALL: I did. Oh, my God, girl. OK. So...
GIORGIS: How did those go?
HALL: They did not go well. That - not at all. I mean, I can twerk. I can twerk a little bit. I could get better. I could be better than this. But this is where I am. And I accept. But with the pole classes, I was like, yeah, let me see if I can climb up on the pole. Can I hold my own weight? Can I spin? In my first class, I literally ran out of the room because I was about to vomit because it's - the dizziness that occurred, like, which is really bad - and it obviously made me respect them so much more. I knew that it was hard. But to actually have your body go through the paces, it makes you, you know, naturally have even more respect for what they do.
And I would go to, like, pole-dancing competitions and see this art form from a place of respect because, you know, I do think that, depending on the gaze, you know, we can look at - and these women have been looked at - in a very kind of, like, denigrating way. And I would say media has a lot to do with it - right? - in terms of there's historically been this unfortunate representation of just them being objects of desire instead of subjects who have their own dreams and have their own goals and have their own stories.
GIORGIS: Yeah. In adapting the play for TV, what lessons did you learn as a first-time showrunner?
HALL: I would say the biggest lesson I learned as a writer was just to accept that you don't know everything. And that's OK, you know? When you're writing a play or you're writing a novel, it's all on your shoulders. And, yeah, you can get, you know, other people's eyes on it. You have your editor. You have people that you kind of share it with. But, like, with a TV show, you got, like, 10 episodes, 13 episodes. Some people got 22 episodes, right? You can't do that all by yourself. That's insane.
And so I really embraced group writing. You know, people really challenge you to just think about things and stories from a completely different perspective, because we can only come to the page with what we - you know, what we have. And, you know, we only have our own lived experience. But to have access to, like, five other people, sometimes nine other people's pasts, and that can kind of feed into your story and feed into your characters, like, it's just such a - it can be an overwhelming process. But it can be a very satisfying process.
GIORGIS: Yeah. What were some of the things that you learned from people or some of the backgrounds that really helped inform the writing?
HALL: Well, oftentimes, I think, in the many writers' rooms I had, there was always a dancer who was a writer. And so we - not only did I have, like, you know, all of that research, but to have somebody in the room who was kind of like our, you know, strip club culture, you know, truth barometer, I think, was always super important. But, you know, on the other side of that, had people, obviously, who had never even stepped into a strip club before (laughter). But they brought the experience of, you know, having struggled with domestic abuse. Or they had complicated relationships with their moms. Or, you know, they grew up in abject poverty. Or they came from really, you know, whole families but, you know, still struggled with, I would say, body image issues.
Like, all of my writers' different experiences have been funneled through every single one of those characters. You know, oftentimes, we are dealing with issues that are very specific to the LGBTQIA community. And I would say - it's interesting. Our last writers' room, I was like, oh, my gosh. Over half of us are queer. This is so cool. And, like, how often does that happen, you know? And the fact that our show really feels responsible to make sure that, you know, Black queer folks get presented in a way that is loving and respectful.
GIORGIS: Why did it feel important to have the directing staff be composed of women?
HALL: You know, it's so interesting. I will say, I was actually open to having men be directors. It's just that once I went through my interviewing process, they were not the best ones for the job. And it was because when I interviewed folks, I'd be like, you know, what is your idea of the female gaze?
And I just think that the women who ended up getting those jobs - they had a clarity. They had been dealing with it in their own work. They really understood how their choices - whether it was framing, whether it was camera movement - was going to feed into what was the uber goal of the show, which was to provide a very female-centric and informed perspective of strip club culture. And unfortunately, I just think that the men who had gotten interviewed - probably has a lot to do with the fact that it wasn't asked of them to think of what a female-centric or what a female gaze or what a story told from the female gaze would be visually articulated as. And so those women just naturally rose to the top.
GIORGIS: To the point about the visual language of the show, one of the things I think about with it is that there's such a beautiful element of, like, Southern Gothic going on there. How did you think about conveying that and sort of that real clear sense of space and place in the way that comes through in a lot of your work?
HALL: I think the South, from the Black perspective, there's this kind of odd juxtaposition of a brokenness, of a hauntedness (ph) and of beauty. I think maybe that's just what it feels like to be a Black Southern person in general. But I particularly have leaned into the hauntedness, the fact that still in this soil, there's ghosts and that this soil has been fertilized by the blood of Black folks. I want every frame to articulate that. I wouldn't say - I don't think we got an opportunity to do that as much last season because we were so inside of the strip club.
This season, we are in the fields. We are in the gas stations. We are on those country roads. We are in that open space of the South. And we're taking, you know, traditional noir principles, and we are adding a little twerk to it. We are fusing, you know, the frame with color, but showing that this world, particularly down south, is still dark. There's still a heaviness here. And oftentimes, folks of color - women - have not been given an opportunity to be seen in noir in a way that they're the center of the tale. And I think our show really kind of hits the bull's-eye with that and allows us to see this broken, beautiful land from their perspective. So just really proud that I'm still figuring out ways to just be my little Black self (laughter), even in, you know, the space of TV.
GIORGIS: Katori Hall, thank you for joining us.
HALL: Aww (ph), thank you.
GROSS: Katori Hall spoke with our guest interviewer Hannah Giorgis. Hannah is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers culture. Katori Hall wrote the book for the Broadway show "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical" and is nominated for two Tonys. It's currently playing in London and is scheduled to return to Broadway in October.
After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review "Afterparties," the new posthumously published, darkly comedic collection of short stories by the late Cambodian American writer Anthony Veasna So. He identified as queer and wrote about immigrants living in the shadow of genocide. He died last December at age 28. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS' "A GRAND NIGHT FOR SWINGING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.