“That's the experience of what being a young Black gay man is … I wanted to try to invite everybody to step into that.”
Michael R. Jackson is a distinguished playwright, lyricist, and composer, renowned for his groundbreaking musical "A Strange Loop," which earned him both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize.
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Jackson's musical journey began at the age of 8 when he first touched the keys of a piano. He immersed himself in church choir and theatrical productions, igniting a deep-seated love for the stage. His mother, recognizing this passion, made sure to expose him to a variety of plays throughout his formative years.
At 16, Jackson came out as gay, a truth he had known for much longer. He pursued his education at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, obtaining both undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a queer Black man, he often felt like an outsider within the conventional New York City gay community. This sense of detachment became a powerful source of inspiration for his creative endeavors.
Prior to his commercial success, Jackson honed his craft as a Sundance Theatre Institute Composer Fellow and a Dramatist Guild Fellow, contributing to a diverse array of projects. Notably, he penned the lyrics and co-wrote the book for the musical adaptation of the indie film "Teeth" and composed "The Kids on the Lawn," a song cycle featured in The New York Times Magazine's culture section.
In earlier years, Jackson worked as an usher for various Broadway productions, including "The Lion King." It was during this time that he crafted "A Strange Loop," serving as the mastermind behind the book, music, and lyrics. The narrative revolves around Usher, a queer Black man working as an usher while simultaneously writing a play about a queer Black writer crafting a play about another queer Black writer. The production debuted off Broadway in 2019 and graced the Broadway stage in 2022. In 2020, it earned Jackson the distinction of being the first Black writer to secure a Pulitzer Prize for a musical, and it marked the first instance of a musical receiving a Pulitzer Prize prior to its Broadway premiere. In 2022, the play garnered two Tony Awards: Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.
In addition to these illustrious accolades, Jackson boasts a collection of honors, including two Obie Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, two Outer Critics Circle Awards, and a Lambda Literary Award for Drama. The New York Times honored him as one of the "Best Black Male Writers of Our Time," and Queerty recognized him as one of 50 heroes driving progress in equality and acceptance in America.
Jackson's second musical, "White Girl in Danger," draws on his childhood fascination with soap operas, weaving a campy and witty exploration of race, class, and identity. It made its debut in April 2023.