Yale Playwright Shines Moonlight On Unseen Lives

Just before Tarell Alvin McCraney joined Yale School of Drama's playwriting program in 2004, he submitted several pieces in development. One was "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue."

But once in New Haven, he put the intensely personal manuscript away and moved onto other works. Since graduating he has become one of the leading voices of his generation with the trilogy "The Brother/Sister Plays," "Wig Out!," "Choir Boy" and "Head of Passes," earning an Obie Award, a MacArthur "genius" grant and a six-figure Windham-Campbell Literature Prize, among other honors.

Around 2010 his shelved work found its way to filmmaker Barry Jenkins. Raised in the same housing projects in Miami's Liberty City as McCraney, the director recognized the setting, characters and the stark story of poverty, isolation and identity.

"The writing of it after my mother died [from complications of AIDS and dementia] was me trying to figure out basically my life," says a soft-spoken McCraney, 36. "I never imagined it as a theater piece. I was trying to do something else. It kept coming to me in visuals, of growing up in Miami. I harken it in the way Mr. [Alvin] Ailey talks about [his signature dance piece] 'Revelations.' He kept remembering these moments of growing up in Texas and he wanted to recreate that in some way. It was the same for me and I was just trying to figure out what that language was."

"A slow conversation" between playwright and filmmaker led to Jenkins writing and directing "Moonlight," this season's indie film that has topped many critics' year's-best lists, drawn unexpected crowds and received an armful of awards and nominations.