old adage “write about what you know” leaves an
entire spectrum unexplored: that which we don’t know
about, and it’s in this realm that Tom Gibbons works.
newly appointed playwright-in-residence at La Salle University,
Gibbons has always been adverse to writing what’s familiar.
He teaches his students about “the necessity of challenging
oneself, of not settling for ‘writing what you know’
in the way the phrase is interpreted. There are many ways
of knowing beyond personal experience, and imagination—
the attempt to see the world through another’s eyes,
if only for a second—is most important. That is what
writers are supposed to do, after all,” says Gibbons,
who lives in Devon, Pennsylvania.
with these beliefs, Gibbons writes plays where the characters
are often African American, but he is white – again,
writing about not what you know, but from the imagination.
Gibbons does not believe that the plays are necessarily from
the “African American perspective, or from the white
perspective, for that matter. My plays have black and white
characters who contend with issues that, to me, are neither
black nor white, but American. We all share the same history,”
Gibbons said, “audience members who object most strongly
to my writing a ‘black’ story frequently are white.”
The critics have generally given Gibbons good reviews, but
“like all playwrights, have ranged from terrible to
came into playwriting through “dumb luck,” when
he won a playwriting contest while a senior in college and
his entry was produced. The very first time Gibbons saw one
of his plays performed he knew he had found his “medium.”
J. Harty, chair of La Salle’s English Department, says,
“Thomas Gibbons was everything we were looking for in
an instructor. We wanted a dramatist with a local connection
who understood Philadelphia. Here was someone whose plays
were about Philadelphia, who tapped into significant cultural
and civic events…and transformed them into object lessons
for the stage, and who was nationally recognized as well.
Here was someone too who was eager to share the art of playwriting
with our students.”
Gibbons’ newest work, Permanent Collection, his eighth
play to be produced, will be performed October 24 through
November 23 at InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia.