Birth Place: Grinnell, Iowa, USA
Danai Jekesai Gurira is a Zimbabwean-American actress, and playwright that was born on February 14, 1978 in born in Grinnell, Iowa, USA. Her mother Josephine Gurira is a university librarian, and her father Roger Gurira is a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville. She was five years old when her family moved back to Harare, Zimbabwe in December 1983 after Zimbabwe gained independence. In Zimbabwe, she said "I was in a very multi-racial, multi-cultural schooling system. I had a really delightful childhood. I was a jock. I became a very competitive swimmer in Zimbabwe. I was a swimmer, a tennis player, a hockey player. Then, when I was 13, I joined a Children's Performing Arts workshop in Zimbabwe." She refers to her parents as Africans who came to America in the 60’s "But I have parents who were here from the ’60s to the ’80s, and my entire life I grew up with a picture of Martin Luther King on the mantelpiece (laughter) that he signed for my mother in Zimbabwe." She has said "I call myself Zimerican. I was born in the Midwest to Zimbabwean parents” when asked about her identity. She is Christian and speaks four languages that include French, Shona, basic Xhosa and English. She is the youngest child of her four siblings who are Choni, Tare and Shingai.
She has said that she had a unique childhood - "I was just in a home where my father was a very affirming man. He was an academic. He wanted his children to think for themselves, speak for themselves, and make their own decisions. He just wanted to facilitate that, so he has three pretty strong-spoken daughters as we’ve grown up."
Danai returned to the United States and graduated with a BA in psychology from Macalester College. She then went on to receiving an MFA in Acting from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She once taught acting and playwriting in Liberia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. She does not like to be scared and therefore is not a fan of horror movies. She loves to watch Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Breaking Bad and Modern Family. She currently lives in Los Angeles but spends a lot of time in New York City; she said "New York will always be my city. I go to this hole-in-the-wall place called Cafe Himalaya for astounding Tibetan food."
Danai is best known for her role as sword killing zombie Michonne on the AMC drama series The Walking Dead. She had already known how to use a sword for her character on The Walking Dead, but she did not know how to ride a horse. She enjoyed learning how to ride a horse because of the a physical challenge. She has acted in Law & Order: Criminal Intent (TV 2004), Ghost Town (2008), Life on Mars (TV 2009), Law & Order (TV 2009), My Soul to Take (2010), 3 Backyards (2010) and Restless City (2011) .
2006 - She won a Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for writing.
She won a Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress for off-Broadway play In the Continuum.
2007 -Starred The Visitor and won a Method Fest Film Festival award for Best Supporting
2008 - She read a letter written by a New Orleans survivor of Hurricane Katrina that is
displaced at the Global Green Sustainable Design Awards.
2011 - Danai co-founded Almasi - a organization dedicated to arts education in Zimbabwe.
2012 - She received the Whiting Writers' Award.
2013 - June - Danai won the Jean-Claude Gahd Dam award at the 2013 Guys Choice Awards.
Danai wrote a play Familiar that is being directed by Rebecca Taichman and releasing January (2015). The play was inspired by her mother's family and revolves around when a first-generation American bride-to-be wants a traditional Zimbabwean wedding ritual that brings conflicts with present time. When asked about the play, she said "We don't often see stories of current first generation Americans - children whose parents speak differently, perhaps completely different languages, whose identity is complex and multi national. I believe that cultural specificity in storytelling can reveal to us how universally familiar we all are."
When asked about writing plays, she said - "looking for things to perform. I was looking for monologues to audition with. I was looking for things like that, and I just could not find stuff that told the stories that I thought were fascinating to tell."
She also said she "fell in love with a lot of Western playwrights. I love Chekhov, of course love Shakespeare, love Ibsen, love Shaw, and there were also times I was like, 'But there’s an African version of these types of stories.' I could see how Chekhov must have loved his people and just was like sitting there and watching them and going, 'Oh my God, my people, my people. I got to write about these people.' .... So it really just propelled me to really feel like I need to start writing stories. Initially, it was just like I need something to perform that actually kind of speaks to my strengths and speaks to women I know of and stories I think are important to tell. Then it became something bigger than that. It became – there’s an absence of, there’s a dearth of stories that come from the complex – a lot of my plays are about Africans that come from that complex African portrayal and experience and mindset. I think that there’s something so interesting to say and to see about us, and so I just wanted it to be seen and heard. I just thought, why not see these stories as much as we see everybody else’s?"