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2021's Amazing People Living with HIV: Playwright Donja R. Love

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Against all odds, Donja R. Love had an incredible 2021. Amid the wreckage of COVID, the New Jersey-based queer playwright — best known for his acclaimed 2019 work on HIV in the Black same-gender loving community, one in two — directed a dramatic series he wrote that “holds space for queer and trans people navigating through trauma.” Love, in June, then became the first winner of the newly revived Terrence McNally Award from the Philadelphia Theatre Company; the award will help ensure his newest work, What Will Happen to All That Beauty?, moves swiftly to production. Also this year, Love launched the first-ever prize for aspiring playwrights living with HIV. The contest, spearheaded via his arts initiative, Write It Out!, has the backing of Billy Porter and GLAAD, the LGBTQ+ media watchdog group.

Love’s recent accomplishments have triggered some wistful memories for the young writer.

“Being named as one of Plus magazine’s 25 Amazing People of the Year is mind-blowing,” Love says. “It’s also healing. This is unfathomable to that [younger] Donja, who was just diagnosed 13 years ago. This moment is shining a light on that Donja. Though he’s alone, scared, and about to enter one of the darkest moments of his life, being on this list is helping this Donja illuminate a path for that Donja to reach healing and purpose.”

It’s taken years of internal work for Love to get past the painful days of his diagnosis and channel it into personal and professional triumph. Everyone living with HIV has to walk that path, Love says, and he stresses that no one should feel diminished if they are still struggling with self-esteem and self-blame.

“Many of us are navigating our status in shame and silence, making it difficult to even be considered for a list like this,” Love says. “To these people who have not told anyone about their status, I see you. Your journey with your status is your journey. No one can tell you how to live in your truth but you. You are just as worthy and amazing as everyone on this list. I celebrate you in this moment. I love you!” 

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