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October 9, 2003 Print this page

It’s What He Doesn’t Know That Devon’s Tom Gibbons,
Playwright-in-Residence at La Salle University, Uses in His Works

The 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.

The 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.

Consistent 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.

Yet 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,” he says.

However, 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 raves.”

Gibbons 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.”

Kevin 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.