Skip to main content



Close to Home

Playwright Keith Josef Adkins provides insights into the relevance and personal connections to his new drama The West End — a world premiere and Playhouse commission.

Which plays or playwrights have influenced you the most throughout your career and particularly within the context of The West End?

As an early-career playwright, I was mostly influenced by the works of Lorraine Hansberry, Henrik Ibsen, August Wilson, the canon of novels by Toni Morrison, as well as the works of several of the classic Black playwrights such as Phillip Hayes Dean and Adrienne Kennedy. However, during the development of The West End I’ve specifically thought of the canon of August Wilson and his desire to put a spotlight on his Pittsburgh hometown.


Why do you feel the Great Migration is such an imperative historical moment?

It’s no secret that many African Americans navigated unapologetic and systemic racism in those southern states. From Jim Crow to the Klan, every day could begin or end with danger or exploitation. The Great Migration provided many (including my family) an opportunity to expand their economic goals. It also provided a respite after 150 years of institutional southern racism. Was the North free of social and economic obstacles? Absolutely not. But for many, it was better than the South. In the case of my family, Cincinnati’s West End was the destination and the place they could pour into their children and grandchildren all the hopes they couldn’t achieve in Georgia.

The West End contains relevant themes to current struggles in the Black community. What do you feel your play has to say about America today?

Truth is, I didn’t have to do much digging to find the political or social relevancy of my play. All I had to do is drop myself in 1941 Cincinnati and the relevancy found me. There was systemic racism, unwarranted xenophobia, gender politics, class politics and all of that spinning around the beginning of a world war. It was clear to me that not much has changed. We’re dealing with many of the same issues now.


As a Cincinnati native, what do you want local theatregoers to know about their city and its history?

I definitely hope the play brings to life what some of Cincinnati and the West End were like during that time. From the power and struggle within the Black community to the fear of Germans at the start of World War II, a lot was at play for our hometown. But I want to be clear: The West End is a fictionalized story about a real place seen through the lens of a fictionalized character. It isn’t meant to speak for the full West End experience, and I’m certainly not the spokesperson for that incredible community. There was so much happening in the West End during 1941 and many different experiences, points of view and highlights exist. This play is just one story.