Jenna Chrisphonte

Born in Pétion-Ville, Haiti in 1979, Chrisphonte grew up in New York.  Daughter of Haitian immigrants that had prospered under the violent Duvalier regime, her family experienced a reversal of fortunes in their new country. As a student in New York City public schools, she experienced the violent  hysteria created by the American Red Cross's discriminatory 4H policy which blamed Haitians, homosexuals, heroin addicts and hemophiliacs for causing AIDS. At the age of 11, she was physically beaten-up by five male classmates on the corner of Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue. Isolated and ostracized, Chrisphonte turned to an abandoned box of old college textbooks and her father's multilingual record collection. 

 

Chrisphonte is heavily influenced by Haitian writer Frankétienne and griot Maurice Sixto. Her writing is nourished by research and work throughout France, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia and Brazil with a desire to understand how members of the African diaspora are reconciling the criminalization of the black body. Assertions of negritude are juxtaposed with recurring themes of black degradation and triumph. Chrisphonte criticizes the institutional protection of disenfranchisement and powerlessness. She also explores the causes of black degradation while offering tools to circumvent oppressive realities. Eugene Ionesco’s wonderful world of the absurd creeps into her characters from time-to-time as does Molière’s subversive attack on bourgeois hypocrisy.
 

Chrisphonte’s work examines how religion and law use narratives to compel behavior.  She delves into the Haitian imagination, where politics and religion remain steadfastly intertwined. Chrisphonte sorts through the 21st century perspectives that accompany the African diaspora as it continues to moves across North America, Europe and the Caribbean. Her outright rejection of the 20th century paradigm of respectability politics is replaced by strategic inflammatory language to provoke call and response sessions.

Talc: A Haitian Zombie Story is her first novel. Talc head-butts the inadequate mainstream perception of Haiti by demystifying the Vodou space. We are introduced to new characters living in an increasingly globalized world where zombies embody fears, disparities and superstitions.

As a playwright, Chrisphonte's current dramatic trilogy explores the historic and contemporary use of Anglo-Saxon legal theories to rationalize slavery, colonization and genocide in the Americas. Core to her work is a reflection on how these archaic legal theories are still used to justify  contemporary poverty and social exclusion. Chrisphonte directly challenges three legal theories: Rule Against Perpetuities, The Rule in Shelley’s Case and Adverse Possession. In Rule Against Perpetuities, Chrisphonte questions the enduring nature of property law and how it perpetuates racial and class separation. While the Rule in Shelley’s Case rejects the idea of members of the African diaspora inheriting outdated property laws grant heirs a natural conveyance of power or powerlessness. She also deals with the highly noxious legal principle of Adverse Possession which underpinned the dispossession of Native Americans.  

 

Chrisphonte currently serves as director of civic alliances at the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center. Her professional experience includes positions held at the Dramatists Guild of America, the Lillys, Global Affairs Canada, the French Ministry of National Education and the State and City of New York. She received her Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University at Buffalo. Her work has been presented at The Tank, the Classical Theatre of Harlem, Dixon Place, the Dramatists Guild of America and WOW Cafe Theatre. She was a 2020 Eugene O'Neill National Theatre Conference semi-finalist and a 2021 NYFA City Artist Corp Grant awardee.