Award-winning writer, performer, and composer Eisa Davis was born and raised in California’s Bay Area. A niece of Angela Davis and the daughter of civil rights lawyer Fania Davis, she came of age in a rich political, creative, and intellectual milieu. She earned her B.A. at Harvard and a dual M.F.A. in acting and playwriting at the Actors Studio.
Davis was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play Bulrusher. A recipient of the Herb Alpert Award in Theatre, she won the Helen Merrill Award and the Whitfield Cook Award while a resident playwright at New Dramatists. She wrote and starred in Angela’s Mixtape, which was named a “Best of the Year” by The New Yorker. Her work as a playwright also includes the Ruby Prize–winning Ramp, The History of Light, Paper Armor, Umkovu, Six Minutes, Warriors Don’t Cry, ||: Girls :||: Chance :||: Music :||, and Mushroom. She has collaborated on the projects AFROFEMONONOMY // WORK THE ROOTS, Maze, The House on Coco Road, Active Ingredients, and Hip Hop Anansi, and she wrote the voiceover text for Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal. She also wrote for the television series She’s Gotta Have It and Justified: City Primeval.
Davis’ work as an actor has garnered her an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Performance, multiple Lucille Lortel nominations, and other accolades. On television, she is best known for playing Cynthia Driscoll on House of Cards and Bubbles’ sister, Rae, on The Wire. Recently, she has appeared in Kindred, Mare of Easttown, Pose, Betty, Succession, and numerous other shows. She has also guest-starred and played recurring roles on many television series and appeared in over a dozen movies, including After the Wedding, First Match, Free Angela, Welcome to the Rileys, In the Family, and the upcoming Men of Divorce. On the stage, she has recently performed in The Secret Life of Bees, for which she won an AUDELCO award; a Drama League–nominated role in Kings; Shakespeare in the Park’s Julius Caesar; and other works. Further past performances include Broadway rock musical Passing Strange, Antigone in Ferguson, Luck of the Irish, and Yale Repertory Theater’s revival of The Piano Lesson at Yale Rep, for which she was also composer and music director.
An accomplished singer-songwriter, Davis has released two albums, Something Else and Tinctures, the latter of which had selections appear on Soul Food. She has performed at many renowned venues in the New York City area and beyond. Davis was also a featured performer in Carrie Mae Weems’ touring production of Past Tense.
A 2020 Creative Capital recipient, Davis has received fellowships from Sundance, Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Cave Canem, the Hermitage Artist Retreat, and the Doris Duke, Van Lier, and Mellon Foundations. She is a member of the Actors Studio and a Usual Suspect at New York Theater Workshop. A previous artist-in-residence at Symphony Space, Davis has taught at Princeton University, Williams College, and many other institutions. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is currently at work on The Essentialisn’t, a sound art installation/performance piece, and a musical version of Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress.
Photo by Matthew Thompson.